Mardi Gras in Alabama – beautiful, flamboyant and a family tradition

Local expert to speak in Gulf Shores about the history of Mardi Gras

By Allison Marlow
Posted 1/10/18

For much of the year L. Craig Roberts designs one-of-a-kind, private homes – each more extravagant and gorgeous than the last. He is an expert on the wealth of historic architecture that graces …

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Mardi Gras in Alabama – beautiful, flamboyant and a family tradition

Local expert to speak in Gulf Shores about the history of Mardi Gras

Posted

For much of the year L. Craig Roberts designs one-of-a-kind, private homes – each more extravagant and gorgeous than the last. He is an expert on the wealth of historic architecture that graces Mobile – 6,000 buildings and homes in all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It should be no surprise that Roberts is also the resident expert to Mobile’s other elaborate, all-consuming tradition - Mardi Gras.

“As I began designing homes people started inviting me to these Mardi Gras occasions,” he said. “I was absolutely flabbergasted. I had never read, heard or seen anything as elaborate, so totally consuming as this community festival.”

Roberts began giving lectures on the historic architecture and Mardi Gras, soon serving as a docent at the third busiest attraction on the Gulf Coast – The Mobile Carnival Museum, also the only carnival museum in the Western hemisphere.

Recently, The History Press, based in South Carolina, asked him to write the book on Mobile Mardi Gras history. It took nearly a year to put together, published in 2015 with many of Roberts’ own photos.

The pageantry, beauty and excitement of Mardi Gras is something Roberts said cannot be explained except through the eyes of a child who understands Christmas morning for the first time.

“It’s like understanding, for the first time, that Santa is bringing you a gift and you awake Christmas morning with that excitement.

“There is no comparison, nothing even comes close,” he said. “Mardi Gras is the most phenomenal thing to experience and that’s any one parade. We have 37 parades for 19 days.”

Last year, he said, 1.7 million people watched Mobile parades, drawing not just fans locally but nationally and internationally. Roberts has escorted the costume manager for the Broadway production of “Wicked” through the museum as well as two United Nations ambassadors.

“It is amazing what this city does every year at Mardi Gras,” he said.

The top misconception about the annual celebration? The scene displayed every year on national news when reporters film wild college kids on Bourbon Street.

“The rest of the country thinks Mardi Gras is a day where thousands of college kids are flown in to get away with doing anything in public they can’t do at home. Kids do that every Saturday night on Bourbon Street. It has nothing to do with Mardi Gras,” he said.

“Mardi gras is about family reunions, going to your aunt and uncle’s balls, taking kids to parades, tailgating, generations of families getting together and doing all this,” he said.

He urges newcomers and visitors alike to embrace the tradition.

“One reason is to have a good time and enjoy the pageantry. It’s an eye candy thing. If you don’t like to be around a lot of people forget it, it’s not your cup of tea. If you enjoy meeting new people and pomp and pageantry it’s the most incredible thing,” he said.

And if you want to jump in and join, Mardi Gras has a group for everyone, as evidenced by the 180,000 people who attended balls thrown by Mobile’s 77 mystic societies last year.

“We have mystic societies for gay, Jewish, black, women, this is for all walks of life and all levels of wealth,” he said. “Mardi Gras is for everyone.”