Long before Carnivale was celebrated in Rio de Janeiro or the first bead was thrown in New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama was the capital of French Louisiana (founded 1702) and they celebrated their first Mardi Gras (French for fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the begining of the Lenten season) in 1703. The Boeuf Gras (beef/ox fat) society, formed in 1711, was their first mystic society.
In the first century of Mardi Gras in the Americas the celebrations were social gatherings and masquerade balls that centered around the eating of fatty and sugary foods prior to the deprivations of Lent. In 1830 the Cowbellion de Rakin Society held America's first Mardi Gras Parade with marchers carrying rakes, hoes, and cow bells. In 1840 the Cowbellions added floats pulled by horses to the parade. In 1856 New Orleans first crew, The Mystick Krewe of Comus, formed with former Cowbellions who had relocated to New Orleans.
Mardi Gras continues to be celebrated in Mobile with preparation and festivities begining around Thanksgiving and continuing until Mardi Gras evening.
In Mobile the major parades usually roll on parade route A and line up along side the Mobile Civic Center. For those who want to attend the parade, wave at their family and friends and then go home early, catching the parade along church street as it rolls past is your best bet. For those who plan on making an evening of it, there are hotels, restaurants, and bars along the next leg of the route on North Royal Street and cars park on the Water Street median a block away with police directing traffic and keeping things orderly along the way.
The west end of the parade route is defined by Spring Hill Avenue on the north and Canal Street on the south. North Washington marks its east side and North/South Broad is the west. There are some great places to chill and wait for the parade, such as Moe's Original Bar B Que on Spring Hill Avenue across from the Central Fire Department.
For the diehard parade lover the place to watch the parade is along Government Street between North Claiborne Street and North Washington Street. The parades hit this stretch about halfway through their route before turning onto North Washington and then the parade returns to roll through this stretch again before turning down Claiborne and returning to the Civic Center. This is a great spot to watch if you have friends and family in the parade as you see the floats on both sides for photo opportunities. It is also a great spot for collectors of throws as it gets hit twice and the second time around they are clearing out what they have left.
Often the riders will hang onto special items and tease the crowd along the way with the big, stuffed animals and other prized items. You can expect to see these flying towards the end on Government and Claiborne streets.
While Mardi Gras in Mobile is not a dry (alcohol free) party, it is very family oriented and doesn't have the extreme party atmosphere that many associate with Mardi Gras in New Orleans. So if you always wanted to go to Mardi Gras but were afraid of the excesses you hear about in New Orleans, check out America's Mardi Gras Mother in Mobile, Alabama.
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