Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is a French celebration preceding Lent in the Christian calendar. Birmingham staged a Mardi Gras celebration sporadically in the late 19th century.
First Mardi Gras
The first parade, on March 8, 1886, was sponsored by the German Society. It processed from the 22nd Street Viaduct, along 1st Avenue North to 16th Street and featured 30 floats sponsored by various businesses and clubs. The "King of Beer" rode the first float, toasting the crowd from his velvet throne. A bakery sponsored two floats with riders tossing pretzels to the crowds. Other participants included vehicles from the Police and Fire departments, and a brass band. The evening's festivities included a masqued ball.
The next parade was staged 10 years later after Emil Lasser, owner of the Cosmopolitan Hotel joined with others to form the Birmingham Carnival Society. The king of Mardi Gras was dubbed "Rex Vulcan" (several years before the Vulcan statue would be conceived). An ice storm dampened the procession of Rex Vulcan I and his queen, but 30,000 to 40,000 people still made their way downtown to view the parade. Some of the many floats, which depicted folklore and historical subjects, were constructed in Mobile. The Birmingham Athletic Club showed "Samson Destroying the Temple" while Schillinger Brewing Company sponsored "Washington Crossing the Delaware."
The young tradition was kept alive for the next few years. Peter Houppert chaired the floor committee for the third Rex Ball at the "new auditorium" on February 22, 1898. A February blizzard in 1899 put the city under a foot of snow. With temperatures as low as -9°, organizers decided to postpone the festivities before Rex Vulcan IV could take up his sceptre. That year's carnival was celebrated in May, culminating with a "Floral Ball" at Lakeview.
In 1901 the Carnival Society did not parade, but did stage one last Mardi Gras ball before ceasing operations.
In 1926 actress Dorothy Sebastian was presented to the king and his consort as a special guest of the court. Lois Wilson was also invited, but was forced to cancel due to tonsillitis. Mr & Mrs Molton Smith brought four members of the 1925–1926 Alabama football team as their guests.
Various groups still use Mardi Gras as the time and theme for their social gatherings and fund-raisers, but no official parading organization has taken to the streets since the turn of the century.
- 1886: King Louis Schwartz, Queen Ada Solomon (See Mardi Gras 1886.)
- 1896: Rex Vulcan I Erwin Schillinger, Queen of Mardi Gras May Clare Key Milner (?)
- 1897: Rex Vulcan II B. M. Allen, Queen of Mardi Gras Momie Terrell
- 1898: Rex Vulcan III M. A. "Bert" Porter, Queen of Mardi Gras Susie Martin
- 1899: Rex Vulcan IV, Henry Milner, Queen of Mardi Gras Mary Claire Milner
- 1900: Rex Vulcan V Ed Wilcox, Queen of Mardi Gras Elizabeth Shelly
- 1901: Rex Vulcan VI
Notable annual Mardi Gras events in the Birmingham area include:
- The Mystic Krewe of Apollo holds an annual Bal Masque at Boutwell Auditorium
- The Beaux Arts Krewe holds an annual Mardi Gras debutante ball in support of the Birmingham Museum of Art
- Crestwood North holds a neighborhood parade to Crestwood Park on the Saturday before Mardi Gras
- The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute holds an annual Mardi Gras fundraiser
- Baggett, James L. "Birmingham's Ill-Fated Mardi Gras." (Birmingham Timepiece Series) Birmingham Magazine.  - accessed April 13, 2006
- Bryant, Walter (February 19, 2007) "Mardi Gras came to Birmingham, shivered, vanished in Victorian era." Birmingham News.