A Guide to Mobile Mardi Gras

What’s It All About?

Dozens of mystic organizations, a myriad of kings and queens (two sets in particular), hundreds of float riders, thousands of spectators, millions of dollars spent on throws, clothes and forgetting your woes, all happening in Downtown Mobile and nearby locales to mark three weeks of unbridled consumption before Ash Wednesday. 

On Your Tows

Things happen. Newcomers, and sometimes even Mardi Gras veterans, ignore those purple signs about parade routes. They find their cars at the temporary impound lot at Water and Monroe streets, located between the former Roussos Restaurant and the Mobile Cruise Terminal underneath I-10. The city will return your vehicle for the low, low price of $125. No checks please. 

Lost Children

Lost children are always taken to Police Central Events, 320 Dauphin St. If you lose your children more than three times during one Mardi Gras season, people are going to talk. Mobile’s Mardi Gras is family friendly, after all. Or at least people keep saying that. They tend to work for the Chamber. 

We Invented It, Sort Of

Let’s get this over with. Mobile marked the first Mardi Gras celebration in the New World in 1703. It was already a thing, of course, in Europe. Our beloved sister city to the West has seen its Carnival celebration overtake ours in terms of size, media attention and spectacle, and we graciously acknowledge that. Kind of.

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Pace Yourself, Please

Those new to Mardi Gras’ giddy drinking on the public thoroughfare scene sometimes forget that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Divorce lawyers in town have traditionally held that they’re busiest after Mardi Gras is over, perhaps because of the people who failed to heed this important rule. 

Are You Feeling Lucky, Punk?

Each season, people jump barricades. Many are not caught. But the ones who are will pay a fine this year of $238. Think of all the things you could do with $238. Buy a new gown, rent a stretch limo, buy two rounds of drinks at the Haberdasher. 

RV City

You thought you were the bomb because one year someone in your posse thought to get a room at the Sheraton for after the ball. The people who park their recreational vehicles under I-10 at Canal and Water Streets never have to worry about using portable potties or sleeping (again) on a park bench in Spanish Plaza. If you get a chance, walk through RV City during the daylight between parades. You’ll see things there that you’ll never be able to un-see. 

Breaking News

The Island Mystics, a Dauphin Island mystic society, appear to be out for 2014. The Joe Cain Marching Society and Joe Cain Parading Society have reportedly parted ways over the cost of walking and rolling. Wayne Dean Sr. will nevertheless be on hand, portraying Chief Slacabamarinico for the 30th year and overseeing the confusion. Lundi Gras is changing up for 2015 with the addition of a new group, the Order of Doves, who will follow the ancient and honorable Infant Mystics on a slightly shortened parade route. The Doves are said to be a revitalization of Mobile’s very first African-American Mardi Gras mystic society, founded in 1894, but with an open door One Mobile focus. This year, revelers will also be treated to the insights of a mysterious new columnist, the Mystic Traveler. Watch for his reports exclusively on mobilebaymag.com.

Please Don’t Call 911

From the City of Mobile’s website: Citizens are being asked to refrain from calling 911 or the Mobile Police Department’s non-emergency number for Mardi Gras information requests. “Of COURSE it’s an emergency. I don’t know when the MOT starts.” Mobile Bay Mag has got you covered with a full parade schedule here. Concerned there may be last-minute changes? A number of websites keep updated schedules. Check MobileMask.com and cityofmobile.org.

Get Artistic

“The Art and Design of Mardi Gras, ” organized in partnership with the History Museum of Mobile and the Mobile Carnival Museum, is open through May 3 at the Mobile Museum of Art, 4850 Museum Drive in West Mobile. A stunning display of all things Carnival and what’s required behind the scenes to make the magic happen. Details can be found at mobilemuseumofart.com.

A Moveable Feast

Fat Tuesday is the epicenter of Mardi Gras, and the date changes every year, since Fat Tuesday comes right before Ash Wednesday, always 46 days before Easter. To make things more complicated, Easter falls on the first Sunday on or after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox (first day of spring). Because of all this astrological euphoria, the date of Mardi Gras can be as early as Feb. 3 or as late as March 9. This year it falls on Feb. 17, a delightful midpoint that gives Bay-area livers a chance to rest up before St. Patrick’s Day exactly one month later. 

Dauphin & Jackson Streets

A spiritually charged intersection, said to be a portal between the Mobile Mardi Gras celebration that you can see with your eyes and the centuries of celebration already in the books, not to mention those Fat Tuesdays still to come. One mystic observer used to claim that he and his pals would use the portal to move between their world and ours. But he drank a lot, clearly.

After Hours

Mobile Bay readers tend to know the Carnival season ropes, but if you’re new in town, here are a few things to consider should you have the good fortune to be invited to a Mardi Gras ball. 

  • Mystic societies aren’t kidding about dress code, generally. White tie means white tie. Nothing’s sadder than watching a grown man be turned away at the Civic Center door for wearing a tuxedo. Ball gowns should touch the floor and preferably show less skin than beachwear. 
  • How do I put this delicately? Watch your step. During Mardi Gras the streets of Mobile are open to horses, used by law enforcement and mystic society marshals, those debonair gents who police their own paraders. The horses leave all-natural, organic gifts that don’t mix well with fancy shoes. 
  • Timing matters. In Mobile the younger crowd skips the tableau scene, feeling (justifiably in some cases) that it stretches beyond the pale and delays the party getting started. But you should sit through a few. It teaches patience and shows you’re a thoughtful guest. Plus, every drugstore sells flasks this time of year. What you put in them is your business. 

text by The Mystic Traveler

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