Article and Photos by Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel
A band struts by, horns blaring, drums thumping. A papier-m�ch� float,
representing a medieval castle and festooned with sparkling decorations,
approaches. The riding masked revelers cast gifts to the throngs below.
The crowd goes wild. "Throw me something, mister!" they shout. I grab a
moon pie. Others catch beads, candy, stuffed animals and more. Soon the
somber season of Lent will be here. But right now, laissez les bon temps rouler!
(French for "Let the good times roll!")
Ah, yes… Mardi Gras in New Orleans. No! It's Mardi Gras in Mobile,
Alabama, the birthplace of the famous celebration. The festival harkens
back to the city's French heritage when in 1703 the first mystic society
was formed. Now, for three weeks before Ash Wednesday, 31 organizations
parade day and night through the streets of downtown Mobile. Without the
raunchiness that depicts New Orleans' festivities, families feel
comfortable in Mobile with its wholesome atmosphere. No nakedness or
alcohol is allowed, and police patrol every street corner. Children are
even included in the activities. For instance, in the private ball that
follows each society's parade, children often appear in the court of its
king and queen.
I learned everything I needed to know about Mobile's Mardi Gras at the
Mobile Carnival Museum. It highlights the history and culture of the
event through multiple displays, videos and fabulous costume exhibits of
past galas, including an interactive children's gallery. Many items,
such as crowns, gowns and 80-foot trains, rival the grandeur of 18th
century France. You may tour the building on your own or request a
docent to guide you.
Of course, I expected to find the beauty, charm and history of the old
South in Alabama's oldest city. The architecture, customs and cuisine
reflect its multi-cultural heritage. The French, Spanish, English,
Native Americans and Africans have all taken a turn stirring Mobile's
melting pot. Don't miss visiting the Museum of Mobile which sheds light
on the city's past with interesting and informative permanent displays.
It also presents fun temporary exhibits, like the current show, Up, Up & Away -- The Evolution of the
Comic Book Hero that runs until March 3, 2013.
No location typifies the beauty and gracious living of old Mobile like
the preeminent Bellingrath Gardens and Home. Almost 65 acres of
cultivated gardens are open to the public year-round. After I toured the
Rose Garden, the Asian-American Garden and other specified gardens, I
visited the elegant home of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath, who rose from
humble beginnings. He started bottling Coca-Cola for Mobile and
delivering it on foot – the rest is history. A guide takes you through
the residence that's filled with original furnishings, all the while
regaling you with antidotes about the Bellingraths.
To get a personal feel for old Mobile, stay at the historic Battle
House. Since 1852, it was the place Mobilers went to see
and to be seen. After being closed for 33 years, the property reopened
in 2007 with a major renovation which has wed 19th-century
opulence with 21st-century convenience. You'll be blown away
when you enter the lobby that explodes into a space of 5,600 feet,
illuminated from above by a huge stained glass dome. Luxuriously
appointed guestrooms and suites, bars and restaurants, (including
Mobile's only Four Diamond restaurant, The Trellis Room,) the exquisite
Battle House Spa, a fitness center and access to two courses on the
renowned Robert Trent Jones golf trail make this grand hotel
the place to stay in Mobile.
And Mobile is the place to see and be seen as you roll with the good times.
For more info: www.mobilecarnivalmusuem.com
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