Mobile Museum of Mardi Gras

When you think Mardi Gras, you think New Orleans, right? Well, think again. Mardi Gras in America began in Mobile, Alabama, in 1703, well before that “other” town to their immediate left. Mobile was founded by the French, and they brought the Catholic celebration of Mardi Gras with them. Of course, it was small way back then, but over the 316 years since then, it has grown into an entire industry in this Southern port city. Today, over 30.000 people work in the “Carnival” business, from designing and building ornate floats, to producing numerous Balls and parties, to making thousands of costumes, and working in  the hospitality industry to accommodate the over one million tourists who flock to Mobile for the three weeks before the start of Lent. 

The parties and Balls begin after Christmas, with two sets of kings and queens crowned to preside over the festivities. For years, the White people had their royalty, and the Black people had theirs. Both groups merged their schedules years ago, and the result was even more parties, more scepters and tiaras, and more parades.  For the eighteen days leading up to “Fat Tuesday” (which, by the way, is what Mardi Gras means in English), parades are held, day and night. Parties are happening all over the city.  The week before “Mardi Gras Day” is a state holiday. Alabamians take their Mardi Gras VERY seriously.

So naturally, they needed a first rate museum to showcase all of this history, and to keep the spirit of the celebration going all year long.  It’s called the Mobile Carnival Museum, and it resides inside an expanded Italianate Revival mansion right smack dab in the middle of Mobile’s Historic District. The Bernstein-Bush House was built in 1882, and features the classical high ceilings, chandeliers, and Italianate molded archways and original floors that one would expect from that period. 


You’re greeted by two Jesters on the front porch, holding inflated Pig Bladders, because balloons weren’t invented until much later.

images (2)    masks

Although one large room showcases the artistry of the parade floats…mobile-carnavalmuseum-dragon

…the rest of the museum concentrates on the Balls and Coronation festivities, and the long history of the costumes that are at the heart of the months of merrymaking.

banquetA Royal Banquet…

 Queen’s handmade Robe and Train…

Shell Robe

throneKing and Queen’s incredibly extravagant costumes…

parlourThe historic splendor of the Bernstein-Bush Mansion…

Two robesThese rabbit fur lined Trains can weigh nearly 100 pounds, and cost  $50,000 to construct. Often, they remain in the possession of elite families, and might be used multiple times as many generations are crowned as King and Queen of Mardi Gras.


HallwayChildren are an important component of the parties, and they have their own costumes.

posterA poster competition is held annually, and a new theme is chosen every year. These creative designs are on display throughout the house.  Even the carpeting is specially woven for the museum.

gownAn entire room is devoted to the Queen’s gowns, past and present…

The detailed hand sewing on antique costumes is rermarkable…a costume

California 3You can even become Queen and King of Mardi Gras for the Day, if that’s your thing.

And if souvenirs are your thing, there’s a giant gift shop.. These three colorful masks set me back less than ten bucks…souvenirs

If you can’t get to Mobile for Mardi Gras, you must find the time to visit this gem of a museum. You’ll be really glad you did, and it was all for only  $8.00. Such a deal…


They toss beads, coins,  and special Moon Pies from the floats… You DO know what a Moon Pie is, don’t you????

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