Cart Blackwell is curator at the Mobile Carnival Museum, the oldest such museum in the United States.
Most people associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans, but Mobile is home to the country’s oldest Carnival, first celebrated in 1703. Tell us about that history.
Our first Carnival dates back to our early French period, when a group of sailors and settlers celebrated at the original Fort of Mobile on Ash Wednesday. The Americans took it to another level: In the 1830s, a group of Mobile men staged a parade and threw an invitation-only ball. And those two ingredients now define the American Carnival, whether it’s celebrated in Mobile, New Orleans, or Biloxi.
Speaking of other cities, why should people visit Mobile in particular for Mardi Gras?
Mobile’s Carnival is approachable. It’s very family-friendly. Also, the parade floats and costume designs change each year. That’s something special—and not necessarily the case in New Orleans. They recycle a bit.
Where’s the best place to watch the parades?
A really good viewpoint is where Dauphin and Royal streets cross, right in the heart of downtown. Another good location is Bienville Square. You can’t get more Mobile than that, with the beautiful oak trees and the fountain.
Why do krewes in Mobile throw MoonPies?
Previously, the popular throw was Cracker Jack boxes, and they’re hard as can be. A MoonPie is forgiving.
After a long day of parade watching, what’s a good place to get a bite to eat?
One is the Bluegill. They have flaming oysters, which are phenomenal—served smoking, with a wonderful cheese on them. A little more upscale is Felix’s Fish Camp. They have a trio of soups: turtle soup, gumbo, and the best crab soup that you will ever put in your mouth.
Where should Carnival-goers pick up a souvenir?
Toomey’s Mardi Gras. You can get anything there, from costumes and beads to MoonPies and stuffed animals.
Apart from participating in it, how can people learn about Mardi Gras in Mobile?
Come visit us at the Mobile Carnival Museum. We are known for our textiles and have the world’s largest collection of trains, which are worn at presentations and balls. They’re all locally designed and made.
Any other can’t-miss attractions that visitors should check out while in Mobile?
The USS Alabama is one of only a handful of World War II battleships. The conveniently anchored vessel offers a glimpse into the lives of the Greatest Generation, not to mention majestic views of Mobile Bay.
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Southbound.