My Rouses Everyday, January | February 2018
Although the largest and most famous Mardi Gras in America is celebrated in New Orleans, there’s a lot of evidence pointing to the idea that the first such event did, in fact, take place about 150 miles to the east and 15 years before the Crescent City was founded — in Mobile, Alabama, in 1703. In 1699, the explorer Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, had named his Plaquemines Parish campsite “Pointe du Mardi Gras,” realizing that, as he and his party were bedding down by the river, that very holiday was taking place in France. That rustic occasion was probably far less elegant than the masked ball held four years later in
Mobile by the Societe de Saint Louis, a brand-new Carnival organization; the ball, in 1704, followed a more impromptu revel by a group of French soldiers in the city. And in 1711, the first Mardi Gras parade rolled in Mobile.
Mobile’s venerable Carnival celebration now includes 72 mystic societies that parade, present debutantes, host balls, crown royalty or otherwise celebrate; some have been operating consistently since as far back as the 1830s. It’s been the topic of a 2008 PBS documentary, a 2017 New York Times article and photo essay, and certainly plenty of good-natured arguments between Alabamians and Louisianans over the decades.