Galveston’s Mardi Gras: Pageantry and Revelry

With this colorful array of garments, let us celebrate the fantastic legacy of Galveston’s Mari Gras Krewes! Each piece of clothing represents not only a time of celebration but passion, community service, collaboration, and often incredible craftsmanship. With themes changing yearly, this is not your regular party garb! Behold the phenomenal Treasure Ball Monarch Butterfly cape from 1981 and the Krewe of Gambrinus’ Night in Old Havanna – themed costumes from 2018. This exhibit represents a portion of the organizations past and present that celebrate Mardi Gras on the Island. From the oldest costume in the exhibit (the King’s regalia worn by Charles Dibrell in 1938) to the newest (the blue gown worn by Francis Margaret Kusnerik for the 2020 Momus Coronation Ball), we hope you enjoy this journey through Mardi Gras fashion!

This exhibition will be on view for a limited run from January 21 through March 27, 2022

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-wide 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 Gras masked balls continued to flourish through the end of the century, when the Great Storm of 1900 hit Galveston.

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.