Mobile Carnival Museum

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras Terminology

Gift or souvenir given by a Mystic Society member, usually at a bal masque, often depicting the year’s theme.

Die-struck, usually aluminum, coins bearing the society emblem and current theme. Thrown by maskers and highly collectible.

A mystic member who rides masked and costumed on horseback between floats during a parade throwing trinkets from his saddlebag.

The formal attire required for those attending a bal masque held by a mystic society. Generally white tie and tails for gents and full length gown for ladies.

First thrown by Mobile mystic societies, this traditional marshmallow cookie has become a staple throw over the decades here and elsewhere.

A themed performance taking place at a bal masque involving skits, plays, music and choreography mystics are the players.

Fencing designed to keep revelers a safe distance from the heavy parade floats.

The term used to describe the secret meeting place of a Mystic Society.

French, literally ‘Fatted (Gras) Ox (Boeuf)’. Traditional 16th Century Pre-Lenten feast first observed in Mobile in 1703.

The formal event surrounding the king’s crowning of his queen. The public is welcome by ticketed admission.

The warehouse in which a mystic society stores and builds its floats.

The presentation of favors by Mystics or Royalty to honor those in attendance, usually in exchange for a dance.

The traditional ring shaped pastry iced with purple, green and gold (sugar). The finder of the hidden king baby gives the next king cake party.

(pronounced ball mask) The formal masked ball of a mystic society

A secret organization that presents parades, bal masques, and other activities for the revelry and enjoyment of all.

Mardi Gras Frequently Asked Questions

Toomey’s Mardi Gras is the local headquarters for Mardi Gras throws. They offer two locations – 755 McRae Avenue @ Government Street – 251-450-5012 or at the Gift Shoppe located within the Mobile Carnival Museum at 355 Government Street – 251-431-7666.

The King Cake tradition stems from the 15th century when French farmers would buy baked goods but could not pay the baker until after harvest. The baker kept a yardstick and cut notches keeping count of what the farmer owed. Upon payment, the baker rewarded the farmer with a cake with a chickpea inside. Some say the custom has religious connections celebrating the Epiphany with a little porcelain Christ Child inside. The King Cake traditionally was served on “Little Christmas” or “Kings Day”, which are other names for the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6. Since Epiphany comes on the twelth day of the Christmas celebration, it also became know as the Twelth Night. The cake was baked on Epiphany Eve and served the following afternoon to family and friends. King Cakes appear in Mobile during Mardi Gras season and today are enjoyed as a big Danish pastry with cream fruit filling sporting Mardi Gras colors of purple green and gold. Yes a small plastic baby is tucked inside, and whoever gets the baby (chew carefully!) has to buy the next King Cake! (from Coasting Through Mardi Gras A Guide to Carnival Along the Gulf Coast and idlefolly.com) To purchase King Cakes contact Pollman’s Bake Shop, Inc. www.pollmansbakeries.com 

The word carnival is derived from medieval Latin, meaning “forsaking the flesh”; and therefore it seems likely later celebrations began as a reaction to the rules of abstaining from certain foods during Lent. The Romans imported into Italy many of the Greek mystery cults and the history of the three major Roman festivals have been passed down to us: Saturnalia (honoring Saturnus); Lupercalia (celebrated in the coldest time of winter, our February); and Bacchanalia (celebrating Dionysus, the god of wine). The early Christian church, unable to suppress or contain these universal celebrations, wisely took them to the church calendar – allowing wild “let loose” Carnival before the 40 days of Lent, a period of rest, repentance, meditation and making resolutions. Backed up 47 days before Easter, Mardi Gras can occur as early as February 3 and as late as March 9th. (excerpts from The History of Carnival by Eugene Walter) 

Mobile’s Mardi Gras flag is different from New Orleans flag in that it features only purple and gold colors. Mobilians have always celebrated the simpler, less garish and more royal Mardi Gras, and the greater taste of Mobilians. The colors of the flag, purple and gold, stand for justice and power, respectively. 

The custom of throwing trinkets developed from the European custom of throwing dragees (sugar coated almonds) to the crowds. In the 1850s, New Orleans modified the idea and began throwing small bags of flour that would burst open and shower the onlookers. The first doubloon was thrown in New Orleans at the Rex parade – which became a Mardi Gras tradition. Today maskers in Mobile throw doubloons stamped with their parade themes in a variety of colors – pink, green, purple, etc. (from Coasting through Mardi Gras a Guide to Carnival Along the Gulf Coast ) You might call moon pies the official food of Mobile Mardi Gras. According to legend, a savvy salesman from the Chattanooga Bakery asked a group of coal miners what kind of snack they would like. The miners unanimously agreed it had to be something that could fit in their lunch pails but had to be filling. One held up his hand, encircling the outline of the rising moon, and replied – “About that big!” As the story goes, back at the bakery the salesman noticed some workers enjoying graham cookies dipped in marshmallow. He added another cookie to the mix and covered the entire thing in chocolate, thus creating the first moon pie. Whether this fabled tale is true – the Chattanooga Bakery added the Moon Pie to its list of treats in 1917 and it soon became its number one product. In the 40’s and 50’s it was America’s most popular pre-packaged snack usually downed with an RC Cola. Years later, mystic societies in Mobile adopted the moon pie in a search for something softer to throw to parade-goers than the traditional box of Cracker Jack’s. The Moon Pie was a hit with parade-goers. Today some half a million Chattanooga Moon Pies (the only “official” moon pie) are said to be thrown during Mobile Mardi Gras. 

The first recorded king of Mobile Carnival was 1872 – when Daniel Huger was crowned Felix I. From that time until 1919, a loosely organized group of business men worked together for economic and business reasons to encourage up-country residents to come to Mobile for the social season during Carnival. The idea was that these revelers would come in the city with their families and live in local hotels, spend their money and enjoy the parties and balls at Mardi Gras. In 1920, Alfred L. Staples formally organized the Mobile Carnival Association which is still functioning today. King Felix III, the ruling monarch, and his Queen are selected by the Carnival Association almost a year in advance of Fat Tuesday. The debutantes of the season make up the Ladies of the Court. Each Lady selects her escort or Knight. Events begin in November with the Camellia Ball – traditionally held on Thanksgiving weekend. The Mobile Carnival Association Coronation of the Queen on the Saturday before Mardi Gras marks an event National Geographic magazine has described as rivaling that of royal heads of state in Europe. On Lundi Gras- the Monday before Fat Tuesday- King Felix III and his knights arrive from the Isle of Joy via a yacht to Mobile Landing at the foot of Government Street. The Mayor presents King Felix III with the key to the city – beginning King Felix’s reign of Mardi Gras misrule. The spectacular Queen’s Luncheon that day is followed by the daylong celebration of Fat Tuesday – which routinely draws some two hundred thousand parade-goers to the streets of downtown Mobile. The Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association similarly celebrates King Elexis I – who arrives with his royal flotilla before a colorful coronation and crowning of his Queen the Sunday before Mardi Gras. (excerpts taken from Coasting Through Mardi Gras – A Guide to Carnival Along the Gulf Coast) 

Prichard’s major Mardi Gras celebration – the Goat Man Parade – originates with a legend from the 1920s of a man who tended a small herd of goats in the Bullshead area. He wore handmade garments of bright, glorious colors from discarded fabric remnants – and made all kinds of treasures: cookies, wooden whistles, marbles and popguns. The story goes that he would put the trinkets in his homemade cart – pulled by a dozen or so goats – and then travel up and down the narrow dirt roads yelling for the attention of on-lookers. He tossed away all his handiwork – then off he went until the next year. Every year the Prichard Mardi Gras Association revives this legend and names a Goat Master to lead the Saturday parade – with two real goats at his side. (From Coasting Through Mardi Gras – A Guide to Carnival Along the Gulf Coast)

Mardi Gras Tips

  • Expect traffic delays immediately before and after parades. 
  • Drive defensively. 
  • Medical assistance is available by contacting a police officer at the nearest intersection, or through Mobile Fire and Rescue medics patrolling the parade routes. 
  • Park vehicles in a secure, well-lit area. 
  • Obey barricade ordinances. 
  • Put a nametag on small children with parents’ names and telephone number.
  • Establish a pre-designated place to go after the parade in the event you are separated from family and friends. 
  • Leave purses and valuables at home. 
  • Do not follow floats along the route. 
  • Watch parades from a set location. 
  • Throwing objects of any kind in the direction of floats, band members or parade participants can result in a fine. 
  • Place beverages in plastic or disposable containers. 
  • Metal or glass containers are not allowed. 
  • Silly string and snap pops are illegal. 
  • Skateboards, motorized scooters and laser pointers are not permitted. 
  • All parade routes must be cleared of vehicles two hours before and after parades.
  • Violators will be towed at their personal expense.