NEW ORLEANS — The year was 1699, when Iberville and Bienville landed at the mouth of the Mississippi River and christened it “Point du Mardi Gras” in the name of Carnival celebrations taking place in their beloved France.
But it wasn’t until a few years later in 1703, when French colonists celebrated the first organized North American Carnival celebration in Mobile, Alabama, though back then it was Mobile, Louisiana, the capital city.
So, how did Mardi Gras come to New Orleans and evolve into the spectacle it is today?
We talked to Mardi Gras historian Errol Laborde to find out.
The cities of Mobile and New Orleans were both settled by the same people — Iberville and Bienville. They settled Mobile first, Laborde explained.
Both cities were part of the original Louisiana Purchase, “and in that sense there was a kinship between the two cities,” he said.
New Orleans eventually became the kingpin of Mardi Gras, but it started as a thought from Alabama’s oldest city.
In 1830, a group of men in Mobile started a New Year’s Day parade, the Cowbellions. Later, some of those men moved to New Orleans and started a parade here in 1857 called Comus. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
“The first floats were smaller in scale,” Laborde said. “They were probably along the lines of the floats in the Krewe De Vieux, that size, and of course they didn’t have tractors to pull them and so they had a mule or were pushed by the members.”
The invention might belong to Mobile, but as New Orleans contributed with the colors — purple, green and gold — the concept of parade krewes and, of course, Mardi Gras music, Mardi Gras evolved in New Orleans and became the premiere destination for Carnival in North America.