Past Treasure of the Month – January 2006

Mardi Gras Galveston: 1867 – 2006
Mardi Gras Galveston: 1867 - 2006

An exhibit featuring photographs, documents, and souvenirs related to the history of Galveston’s Mardi Gras was on display at Rosenberg Library during January of 2006. On display were beautifully hand-tinted photographs of debutantes from the 1920s and charming black-and-white images of children at Junior Mardi Gras during the 1930s. Colorful invitations dating back to 1873 could be seen, as well as detailed design sketches for Mardi Gras costumes from the 1930s through the 1950s. An exquisite Queen Isabella II costume from the 1952 Court of St. James was also on display.

Galveston’s first Mardi Gras celebration was held in 1867. Festivities that year included a masquerade ball and a performance of Shakespeare’s King Henry IV. By 1871, Galveston’s Mardi Gras had become a much more elaborate event. Two rival krewes, the Knights of Momus and the Knights of Myth, emerged. Each krewe hosted its own parades and lavish balls. The general public was welcome to participate in the parades, but the masked balls were invitation-only parties. From the 1880s to the early 1900s, Mardi Gras was scaled down due to the enormous costs associated with the event. However, in 1910, a new Krewe, the Kotton Karnival Kids, organized a revival of the more elaborate Mardi Gras traditions. Mardi Gras was discontinued during the time of World War II, but it resumed in 1949. City-sponsored Mardi Gras celebrations ended after the mid-1950s because they were too expensive to continue.

In 1985, Galvestonians George and Cynthia Mitchell launched a revival of Mardi Gras, and it has been a great success for the past twenty years. The twelve-day event still includes the traditional street parades, theatrical performances, and galas. However, art exhibits, live music, and sporting events have also become part of the Mardi Gras celebration. Today, there are sixteen krewes that participate in the activities.