Mardi Gras

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Rex Vulcan III & Queen, 1898, courtesy BPL Archives

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

Main article: Mardi Gras 1886

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.

Carnival Society

Program from Rex Ball III
Invitation to Rex Vulcan IV Ball (postponed due to winter weather)

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."

1897 Mardi Gras parade on 20th Street

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.

There was a final evening parade in 1900, along with a ball hosted by the Krewe of Proteus and two at the French Opera House presented by the Mystic Krewes of Comus and Momus.

In 1901 the Carnival Society did not parade, but did stage one last Mardi Gras ball before ceasing operations.

Later observations

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.

Royals

Rex Vulcan I

See also

Current celebrations

Notable annual Mardi Gras events in the Birmingham area include:

References

  • Baggett, James L. "Birmingham's Ill-Fated Mardi Gras." (Birmingham Timepiece Series) Birmingham Magazine. [1] - accessed April 13, 2006
  • Bryant, Walter (February 19, 2007) "Mardi Gras came to Birmingham, shivered, vanished in Victorian era." Birmingham News.