MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) — Craig Roberts has stories — lots of them. You could call him an expert on Mobile’s Mardi Gras.
“In the early days they only had to give up for God for lent — 40 days and 7 days before Easter — fatty meats and sausage and bacon. And that’s why it’s called Fat Tuesday — that’s what they gave up — was fatty meats,” said Roberts.
Taking us on a walking tour around Downtown Mobile, Roberts is sharing some of those stories about how the Port City is the birth place of Mardi Gras.
“It’s a billion dollar industry that could be said to be the biggest industry in Mobile,” said Roberts.
Leading to mystic societies and eventually the first paper mache floats parading in 1830.
“So we now have 37 parades that go on for 19 days a normal parade has about 20 floats and 800 floats more or less have to be rebuilt every year with the changing themes they chose every year,” said Roberts.
And then there’s the so-called father of Mardi Gras Joe Cain — reviving the celebration and much loved “People’s Parade” after the Civil War.
We did not get far before the rains pushed us back inside the History Museum of Mobile.
“Moon Pies replaced Cracker Jack boxes. Today we throw 3.1-million Moon Pies from our floats… And therefore we are their best customer — that’s Chatanooga Moon Pie Company,” said Roberts. “How many strands of beads do you think Toomey’s sells every year to the organizations that parad every year — 51-million at last count.”
Mardi Gras royalty steeped with tradtion and of course all those fabulous costumes — some of them on display at the museum.
“The mantles can weigh up to 80 pounds because real crystals have lead in them so they are very heavy and these can weigh up to 140 pounds and often they have rollers in them so they roll easier on the floor when they are dragging them on the coronation floor,” explained Roberts. “You can appreciate that all of this is done hand stitching… This is all done by hand.”
The tour eye-opening for Michigan transplant Leslie Knott.
“Because I was under the impression that Mardi Gras was all about New Orleans… You think of Mardi Gras — it’s all New Orleans — they never mention Mobile or anything… It’s just incredible,” said Knott.
So incredible — nearly 1-million people visit the Port City during the three week celebration leading up to Fat Tuesday.
You can hear much more about Mardi Gras history — at Mobile’s Carnival Museum — where Roberts is a tour guide. He’s also wrote a book about the history of Mobile’s Mardi Gras.