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Mobile, Ala., claims its Mardi Gras tradition stretches back the furthest, but we in New Orleans say otherwise
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01/31/2008 * NOLA Times-Picayune * By John Pope
The first Mardi Gras in the United States had no floats, no beads, no go-cups and no king cakes.

But where did it occur? On a soggy riverbank downriver from where New Orleans would rise, or in the new settlement called Mobile in south Alabama?

This issue has been the basis of a good-natured squabble between partisans of the two cities for as long as anyone can remember because each city's advocates claim their municipality owns the distinction of being first.

New Orleanians can point to March 3, 1699, when a group of French explorers set up camp on the west bank of the Mississippi River, about 60 miles downriver from the site that would become New Orleans.

Since that day just happened to be Mardi Gras, a major event on the French calendar, the group's leader -- Pierre Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville -- dubbed the spot, in the spelling of the time, La Pointe du Mardy Gras.

And that apparently was that. But the location most definitely was in Louisiana. The Rex organization put a marker at the site 300 years later.

Fast forward four years to the event that has given Mobilians their reason to brag: In 1703, a group of French soldiers there held an impromptu celebration. A year later, Nicholas Langlois established the Societé de Saint Louis, a Carnival organization. A masked ball, Masque de la Mobile, was held that year, and the first parade occurred in 1711.

Although these events occurred before New Orleans' founding in 1718, historians say the Alabama celebration came to be known as Boeuf Gras, not Mardi Gras.

Other parades followed in the Alabama city, but, according to chroniclers of the celebration, they generally were held on and around New Year's Day or Aug. 25, the feast day of St. Louis.

Perhaps the most notable -- and probably the noisiest -- was the Mobile procession of the Cowbellions de Rakin Society. It was inaugurated in 1831, when a group of well-lubricated revelers celebrating the New Year "borrowed or liberated" rakes, hoes and cowbells from a store, said Stephen Hales, a New Orleanian who is a Carnival historian and enthusiast.

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Comments (2)
Craig Wiseman January 31st, 2008 08:01:00 AM

1) For Mr. Briley: NOLA vs Mobile Mardi Gras
Timothy Briley 1/31/2008 11:01:18 AM

Ok Craig, now you're messin'!

What's killing me is that Mardi Gras was so early this year that it bumped heads with Lotusphere, (my buddy's krewe paraded on January 18th). Due to January commitments, my wife and I are unable to go to Mobile for any Mardi Gras parades this year. Real bummer.

I hate I didn't meet you at Lotusphere. I did meet 6 or 8 bloggers.

2) For Mr. Briley: NOLA vs Mobile Mardi Gras
Craig Wiseman 1/31/2008 12:14:45 PM

@1 - I don't trash talk unless I've got stuff to back me up.... 8-)

For the 3rd straight year, I was sick during Lotusphere.

I went to the sessions, returned calls and tried to recover.

For many reasons, I'm very happy we have an almost 1st world health system here in the US.

Next year, assuming I'm blest and able to go, I aim to meet-N-greet.

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