Mobile is home to an array of cultural influences with its French, British, Spanish, African, Creole and Catholic heritage distinguishing it from all other cities in the state of Alabama. The annual Mardi Gras celebration is perhaps the best illustration of this. Mardi Gras in Mobile has evolved over the course of 300 years from a sedate French Catholic tradition into a mainstream multi-week celebration across the spectrum of cultures.
Mardi Gras is celebrated in Mobile, New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities.This festive event was started in Mobile and according to some accounts, dates back to 1703. The celebration was originally called Boef Gras (Fat Beef).
The well-known Mardi Gras in Mobile was begun by Michael Krafft. On New Years's Eve, 1830, Krafft and his friends were reluctant to end a dinner party at the customary time. They raided a nearby hardware store, took up rakes, hoes and cowbells and proceeded to wake the town. They soon formed the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, the first of Mobile's many modern mystic organizations. The Cowbellions presented their first parade, complete with floats and theme, in 1840.
The Civil War brought revelry in Mobile to an abrupt halt. Joseph Stillwell Cain (Joe Cain), on Fat Tuesday of 1866, donned full Chickasaw Indian regalia, dubbed himself Chief Slacabamorinico. Cain and six friends set out to raise the morale of citizens in the defeated city. Dubbing themselves the "Tea Drinkers", and fired up by drink much stronger than tea, they took to the streets in a decorated coal wagon pulled by a mule. Cain was a founder in the Order of Myths, the organization which today holds the final Carnival Season parade Mardi Gras night. He also helped organize many more parading societies. Cain's role in reviving Mardi Gras is observed each year on the Sunday before Mardi Gras Day, "Joe Cain Day." On "Joe Cain Day" thousands of Mobilians in costume and on individually designedfloats parade through the streets of downtown Mobile. The year 2002 saw Mobile's Tricentennial celebrated with parades that represented all of Mobile's mystic societies.
The date of Mardi Gras is determined by the date of Easter. Mardi Gras Day, or "Fat Tuesday," is the Tuesday before the Ash Wednesday which begins the 40 days Lenten season. Nighttime parades and other public festivities begin about 10 days before Mardi Gras Day. Carnival Season balls, receptions and other private functions begin in the fall and continue through Mardi Gras Day.
Entertainment and Performance Arts
The Saenger Theatre of Mobile was opened in 1927 and is a modern dynamic performing arts center. It is home to the Mobile Symphony and Space 301, a contemporary art gallery. It also serves as a small concert venue for the city. The Mobile Civic Center contains three facilities under one roof. The 400,000 sq ft (37,161 m²) building has an arena, a theater and an exposition hall. It is the primary concert venue for the city and hosts a wide variety of events. It is home to the Mobile Opera and the Mobile Ballet. The 60-year old Mobile Opera averages about 1,200 attendees per performance. A wide variety of events are held at Mobile's Arthur C. Outlaw Convention Center. It contains a 100,000 sq ft (9,290 m²) exhibit hall, a 15,000 sq ft (1,394 m²) grand ballroom, and sixteen meeting rooms.
The Playhouse-in-the-Park has been training young people in theatre arts since 1961. Over the years, our program has grown to include four large productions a year; a comprehensive training program of drama, dance, piano and scenic art classes; a travelling professional drama troupe; and an elaborate, full-scale puppet theatre. At the Playhouse-in-the-Park, there is something for everyone of all ages. Joe Jefferson Players, Inc. is the oldest continuing community theater in Alabama. Their playhouse holds a comfortable 350-seat theater, orchestra pit, large stage with runway, lobby, refreshment area, and box office. Backstage, the actors enjoy a greenroom, upstairs and downstairs dressing rooms, costume shop, lighted make-up hall, and prop room.
Mobile is home to a variety of museums. Battleship Memorial Park is a military park on the shore of Mobile Bay and features the World War II era battleship USS Alabama (BB-60) , the World War II era submarine USS Drum (SS-228), Korean War and Vietnam War Memorials, and a variety of historical military equipment. The Museum of Mobile chronicles 300 years of Mobile history and material culture and is housed in the historic Old City Hall (1857). The Oakleigh Historic Complex features three house museums that interpret the lives of people from three levels of Mobile society in the mid-19th century. The Mobile Carnival Museum, which houses the city's Mardi Gras history and memorabilia, documents the variety of floats, costumes, and displays seen during the history of the festival season. The Bragg-Mitchell Mansion (1855), Richards DAR House (1860), and the Conde-Charlotte House (1822) are historic antebellum house museums. Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines, and Historic Blakeley State Park figure into local American Civil War history. The Mobile Medical Museum is housed in the historic Vincent-Doan House (1827) and features artifacts and resources that chronicle the history of medicine in Mobile. The Phoenix Fire Museum is located in the restored Phoenix Volunteer Fire Company Number 6 building and features the history of fire companies in Mobile from their organization in 1838. The Mobile Museum of Art is the area's fine art museum, featuring extensive art collections from the Souhern United States, the Americas, Europe, and non-western art. The museum is host to exhibition programs which range from historical to contemporary, and features an array of diverse educational programs. The Mobile Arts Council helps to promote coordinate and develop activities in connection with the arts. The Center for the Living Arts provides opportunities for the development of interest and participation in the visual and performing arts by the general public, to create in the Mobile area opportunities for learning, practice and display of these disciplines. The Mobile Police Department Museum features exhibits that chronicle the history of law enforcement in Mobile. The Gulf Coast Exploreum is a non-profit science center located in downtown. It features permanent and traveling exhibits, an IMAX dome theater, a digital 3D virtual theater, and a hands-on chemistry laboratory. The Dauphin Island Sea Lab is located south of the city near the mouth of Mobile Bay. It houses the Estuarium, an aquarium which illustrates the four habitats of the Mobile Bay ecosystem: the river delta, bay, barrier islands and Gulf of Mexico.
A fire in October of 1827 destroyed most of the old city from the Mobile River to Saint Emanuel Street and from Saint Francis to Government Street. The city experienced another fire in 1839 that burned part of city between Conti and Government Street from Royal to Saint Emanuel Street and also both sides of Dauphin to Franklin Street. Mobile's downtown was also the recipient of extensive urban renewal from the 1950s into the 1980s and saw the demolition of some of the city's oldest buildings, but many historic structures survive and have been restored.
Mobile has antebellum architectural examples of Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Creole cottage. Later architectural styles found in the city include the various Victorian types, shotgun types, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, Beaux-Arts and many others. The city currently has nine major historic districts consisting of Old Dauphin Way, Oakleigh Garden, Lower Dauphin Street, Leinkauf, De Tonti Square, Church Street East, Ashland Place, Campground, and Midtown.
Mobile has a number of historic structures spread throughout the city. Some of Mobile's antebellum churches include Christ Church Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Government Street Presbyterian Church, and Trinity Episcopal Church. Two historic Roman Catholic convents survive, the Convent and Academy of the Visitation and the Convent of Mercy. Barton Academy is a historic Greek Revival school building and Mobile landmark on Government Street. The Bishop Portier House and the Carlen House are two surviving examples of Creole cottages. The Old Mobile City Hospital and the U.S. Marine Hospital are both restored Greek Revival hospital buildings that predate the Civil War. The Washington Firehouse No. 5 is a Greek Revival fire station, built in 1851. The Hunter House is an example of the Italianate style and was built by a successful 19th century African American businesswoman. The Kate Shepard House is a good example of the Queen Anne style. The Scottish Rite Temple is the only surviving example of Egyptian Revival architecture in the city.
Mobile has several historic cemeteries. Church Street Graveyard contains above-ground tombs and monuments spread over 4 acres (2 ha) and was founded in 1819, during the height of the yellow fever epidemics. The nearby 120-acre (49 ha) Magnolia Cemetery was established in 1836 and was Mobile's primary burial site during the 19th century with approximately 80,000 burials. It features tombs and many intricately carved monuments and statues.
The Mobile Historic Development Commission is a department of the City of Mobile, under the direction of an independent volunteer Commission. The Commission is composed of representatives of various civic and public entities. The staff is a group of four professionals and a secretary who do the work of the organization, and serve as staff for the City’s Architectural Review Board. The Architectural Review Board oversees the work within Mobile’s seven historic districts. Its eleven volunteer members are appointed by the Mobile City Council.