Galveston’s Mardi Gras: A Retrospective
The Bryan Museum is thrilled to announce a special exhibition in collaboration with Mitchell Historic Properties. Items in the exhibition include custom doubloons, paintings, invitations, masks, commemorative posters and photographs from the private collection. Celebrate Mardi Gras and learn about the fascinating history of Mardi Gras in Galveston dating back to 1867 through the revival in 1985 with the launch of the Tremont House hotel to today’s modern grand parades and festivities. This exhibition will be on view for a limited run through April 4.
Galveston’s Mardi Gras: More Than 100 Years of History
Mardi Gras, the traditional festival of feasting and merrymaking that precedes the season of Lent, was publicly observed in Galveston Island as early as 1867, when a 350 pound “Falstaff” presided over a performance from Shakespeare’s King Henry IV and a masked ball at Turner Hall.
By 1871, Mardi Gras has grown into a city-wise carnival featuring torchlit night parades of horse drawn wagons decorated in accordance with such annual themes as “The Crusades”, “The Eras of Chivalry” and “Ancient France”. Two rival Mardi Gras societies or “krewes”, The Knights of Momus and the Knights of Myth, staged exclusive masked balls and tableaux. Meanwhile, restaurants, saloons, and gambling houses stayed open night and day.
In the years that followed, the parades and balls grew more elaborate, glittering with pomp and splendor and attracting attention throughout the state. In 1876 the whole city, “in glittering armor, with music and banners and the pomp and pageantry that becomes a king” turned out to welcome the Monarch of Revelry, the Mighty Momus, who arrived by boat at the Port of Galveston. So splendid was the celebration that a photograph of the revelers ran in the New York Daily News.
By 1880, the street parades proved too extravagant and expensive to continue. However, Mardi Grad masked balls continued to flourish through the end of the century, when the Great Storm of 1900 needed all such revelry.
In 1910, the carnival parades were revived by an organization called Mystic Merry Makers. They staged parades and balls both for Mardi Gras and the Galveston Cotton Festival. The 1917 masked ball took on added glamour with the first official appearance of King Frivolous and his court, who arrived by “royal yacht” and paraded through the streets. In 1918, due to the outbreak of World War I and the flu pandemic, the coronation was cancelled, and the celebration was confined to a single day, but the festivities – and the coronation of King Frivolous – resumed the following year.
Until 1928, the Mystic Merry Makers continued to sponsor Mardi Gras parades and balls. Themes in those years included “Dante’s Inferno”, “Song and Story”, “The passing Show” and Events of the Year”. The expense of producing the parades and celebrations forced the group to discontinue their sponsorship in 1929, but the Galveston Booster Club saved the day on short notice, and continued to sponsor Mardi Gras events until merging with the Galveston Chamber of Commerce in 1937 – at which point Mardi Gras came under the Chamber’s purview.
Brilliant and lavish carnivals were celebrated through February 1941, after which they were discontinued due to World War II. For nearly 40 years, the annual celebrations were of a private nature, including those hosted by the Maceo family, the Galveston Artillery Club, the Treasure Ball Association and the Holy Rosary Catholic Church.