Mobile Carnival Museum

Mystique of the Mystic Series

Past Exhibits in Historical Order

In the Summer of 2018, the Mobile Carnival Museum launched an exhibit series entitled The Mystique of the Mystic. This programmatic sequence of shows will ultimately showcase all of Mobile’s eighty-plus mystic societies or Carnival groups. The aim of the Mystique of the Mystic is threefold: pay respect to a given mystic society, possibly reintroduce said organization to Mobilians, and allow visitors from outside of the Port City to better experience mystic society culture. Occupying two galleries on the Carnival Museum’s uppermost floor, this popular series has garnered considerable community support. Each exhibit is different from the next on account of the varying traditions and focuses of Mobile’s mystic societies. The whimsy that is Carnival in Mobile weaves its way into each ensuing installment though

The “Cows” More than Came Home: The Cowbellion de Rakin Society

Summer 2018

The Cowbellion de Rakin Society, which was founded in 1830, holds the distinction of being the first mystic society to be established in the United States. It was Cowbellions who created the two-part template for modern American Carnival – a parade for all to enjoy and an invitation only. The parade and ball are united by a shared theme.  The “Cows” More than Came Home launched the Mystique of the Mystic series. Comprised almost wholly of pieces from a distinguished private collection, the exhibit featured the Cowbellion order of incorporation, rare costume drawings dating from the 1850s, exquisite invitations from the 1870s, and many other notable works.

From Rebellious “Kids” to Venerable “Old Goats”: The Strikers

Fall 2018

The Strikers are the oldest active mystic society in the United States. While the Strikers have only paraded once since the 1890s, they host the most elegant of Mobile’s many Carnival balls. Their emblem is the rampant or dancing goat. From Rebellious “Kids” to Venerable “Old Goats” showcased a selection of the Strikers’ many treasures and traditions. The Strikers Table and Goat Statue were particularly impressive displays in the exhibit. The former, which was donated to a local orphanage for a raffle in 1848, is a testament to the philanthropic impulses animating mysticism as a whole. The Goat Statue is one of the largest pieces of Postbellum folk art surviving in the American South.

That Pillar within the Community: The Order of Myths (OOMs)

Winter 2018

Founded in 1867, the Order of Myths is the oldest continuous parading society in American Carnival. They also hold the distinction of being the final parade of the Carnival season. The Order’s three-part emblem is comprised of a jester named Folly chasing a skeleton named Death around a truncated pillar known as the Broken Column of Life. Folly is beating Death with gilded pig bladders. The grouping symbolizes that (if only during Carnival) the cares of life are beaten down by a good time. That Pillar within the Community featured paintings from the Order’s incomparable collection of mystic society art. Works by Edmond deCelle, John Augustus Walker, Marian Acker Macpherson, Colleen Comer, Same Hicks, Sara Otts, Kathy Whitinger, and others made for an unforgettable spectacle.

A Knight, a Cat, and an Elephant…: The Infant Mystics (Ims)

Winter 2018 – Spring 2019

The Infant Mystics are the second oldest continuous parading society in American Carnival. With the Order of Myths, the IMs shifted the focus of Mobile’s Carnival celebrations from New Year’s Eve to later in Mobile’s Winter social season. Their emblem is comprised of a knight representing gentlemanly behavior, a cat denoting friskiness and fun, and an emblem recognizing memory or tradition. The IMs stage the grand evening parade on Lundi Gras or Fat Monday and host the greatest of old-school balls following their parade.  A Knight, a Cat, and an Elephant showcased exquisite float drawings, over-the-top invitations, fine silver, and great costumes. Float drawings by John Augustus Walker dating from the 1920s – 1950s were highlights of the exhibit.

Bubbly, Bladders, and a Jester…: The Knights of Revelry (KORs)

Summer 2019

The Knights of Revelry are the third oldest active mystic society in the Port City. Since their first parade in 1874, the KORs have been the motivating force behind some of the best parades on Fat Tuesday. Their emblem is comprised of a jester dancing atop a champagne glass. Dressed in blue and silver, KOR Folly is beating silvered cow bladders against the rim of the glass! The emblem represents figures in many of the artifacts and artworks on display in Bubbly, Bladders, and a Jester. A painting by Devin Wilson, emblem costumes, and pieces by Mark Calmetti were among the many notable works on display.

A Fiery Presence Then and Now: The Order of Dragons (OOD)

Fall 2019

Established in 1886, the Order of Dragons constitutes the first mystic society in Mobile that vowed never to parade. The focus of their energies is on what remains one of the most fun balls of Mobile’s Carnival season. As you might expect, the Dragons’ emblem is a fire-breathing dragon! Beautiful invitations, fine silver, and paintings enlivened A Fiery Presence. Marian Acker Macpherson and Sarah Otts were among the artists represented. The leader costumes were amazing!

Here's to the Ladies...: The Spinsters

Winter 2019

The Spinsters are the oldest women’s mystic society in Mobile. Staging their first ball in 1910, this membership is comprised of young women who recently graduated from college. Like a number of early women’s groups, the Spinsters are a non-parading society. Their emblem – a parakeet – was found in many of the artifacts on display. Designs for tableaux by H.A. Bertolotti and Ron Barrett comprised high points of the show. The organization’s charter and first book of minutes were also on display.

Mythological Chimeras to Mystical Matrons: A Serenade to the Sirens

Winter – Spring 2020

The mythical Sirens described in Homer’s Iliad served as the origin of this society’s name and its emblem. The latter depicts Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship chased by singing Sirens! Fabulous leading lady costumes and cool favors were displayed as per A Serenade to the Sirens. A costume drawing by Edmond deCelle and an emblem painting by Ron Barrett stood out among the many offerings showcased in A Serenade. Of course, the leading lady costumes were otherworldly!

A Century (Plus) of Merriment: Feting the Follies

Fall 2020 

The fourth oldest women’s mystic society in the Port City, the Follies were part of a flowering mystic society culture in the early 20th Century. As with other early women’s groups, the Follies are a non-parading organization. Their ball is the focus of their energies. The organization’s emblem – a red costumed lady known as the Folly Girl – appeared in numerous guises in Feting the Follies. Emblem costumes, costume designs (including a grouping by Genie McCown), ball favors, and leading lady costumes made for a representative installation.

More than Purple, Green, and Gold: The Pride of Carnival

June 2022 – September 2022

As a special extended Pride Month celebration, the Mystique the Mystic Series staged More than Purple, Green, and Gold as a tribute to Mobile’s three oldest active LGBTQ mystic societies. Spotlighting the Order of Osiris, Krewe of Phoenix, and Order of Pan, the show was over-the-top! While each of these organizations will have its own individual show later on in the exhibit series, the collective spectacle was a real crowd-pleaser. Fabulous costumes, historical documents, beautiful regalia, and exquisite costume drawings caused for immeasurable admiration.

The Fab Fifty at Ninety-Five: A Fete Honoring the Fifty Funny Fellows

October 2022 – April 2023

The Fifty Funny Fellows were created in 1922. This non-parading society hosts a jovial ball which is enjoyed by both members and invited guests. The Fab Fifty at Ninety-Nine had numerous artworks and artifacts pertaining to the organization on display. Newspaper clippings, historic photographs, leading lady gowns, and emblem motifs were among the many admired works comprising the exhibit.

Jailbirds, Zebras, and Tigers…Oh, My: The Celebration of the Mystic Stripers Society

June 2023 – October 2023

As is the case with most mystic societies, the Mystic Stripers Society had a very impromptu beginning. On Mardi Gras Day of 1939, a group of revelers did not want to stop having fun. They purchased coolie hats off the street and purloined some prison costumes from the laundry where one of their number worked and staged a walking parade. Within less than a decade, the organization named in recognition of the first costumes was already staging the kick-off parade of high of the Mobile Carnival season. – showcased the street and royal sides of Carnival. Ball favors, queen gowns, royal regalia, and emblem pictures figured prominently in Jailbirds, Zebras, and Tigers.

Mystic Past - Mystic Stripers 1

The Real Mothers of Mystics: The Maids of Mirth (MOMs)

November 2023 – April 2024

Organized in 1949, the Maids of Mirth (MOMs) are one of the two oldest women’s parading societies in Mobile. The organization stages its annual parade and hosts its annual ball two Saturdays before Mardi Gras. The Real Mothers of Mystics was a standout in the Mystique of the Mystic series in that the show featured pieces by all nine of the society’s designers. Float and tableaux drawings by Catherine Cook Haas, a founding member and first designer, stood out in particular. To date, Haas is the only float designer to have an engineering background. Colleen Comer and Sarah Otts were also represented. A selection of emblem costumes, the original emblem float drawing, festive favors, and many other pieces made the show a great spectacle.

More than Checking off the Dots: Order of Polka Dots

May 2024 – September 2024

The Order of Polka Dots is one of the two oldest women’s parading societies in Mobile. These ladies parade on Thursday the week before Mardi Gras. A festive ball follows the parade. Their emblem is a gypsy or Roma dancer. – features a broad selection of artifacts and creations pertaining to the society. Gowns, trains, regalia, favors, pins, and other pieces join emblem costumes in what is a stimulating display that showcases the merriment of Carnival.