MARDI GRAS - PASS CHRISTIAN
by Adele Bielenberg, 1995
The Mardi Gras Balls in Pass Christian preceded the street celebrations just as they did in New Orleans. They probably began in the late eighteen hundreds. Private Carnival balls were held at the Mexican Gulf Hotel for the guests.
The first Carnival Ball I remember was when I was about three or four years old (circa 1900). In those days children were allowed to see the first part of the festivities and were later sent home. This first ball that I recall was given at the (former) V.F.W. building (now the Palace in the Pass). At that time it was owned by the Chapotels who had a plumbing business down stairs and the family lived upstairs. I suppose the plumbing equipment was moved out to make way for the "Merry Makers". In the early days of those balls the ladies wore evening clothes and did not mask. All the men masked and wore the same kind of long robes of a shiny black material. The costume was complete with a tall black pointed hat which had a piece of material hanging down over the maskers neck. These costumes were called dominoes. The ladies were not supposed to know who their dance partners were until midnight when the men unmasked. I'm sure the women had many surprises.
In later years, Carnival balls were held in an upstairs hall of a Northrop building which was located at the site of the present Hancock Bank. The building housed a drug store, a men's clothing store and a dry goods store on the first floor.
So much interest was created in Mardi Gras that by 1913 a group of Pass Christian men organized the Pass Christian Carnival Association. This organization had a hall built on a piece of property which was owned by Mr. Louis Chapotel and was loaned to the organization. The hall was located a block behind the present V.F.W. on the corner of Fleitas and Second Streets where Dr. Byrne's (former) office (was) located (now a medical clinic). This building became the Carnival den where the parade floats where built and where the Ball was held on Mardi Gras night. In 1914, the men decided to have a parade. Since the organization was made up entirely of men, it was first thought that a man would dress up as a Queen, but almost at the last minute a lady was selected. Mr. Louis Martin was the King of the first parade and he selected Miss Elie Courtenay as his Queen. There was a King's float and the other floats represented some of the States of the United States and some foreign countries. The band members rode on a float and the dukes rode on horses. The parade route was along East and West Beach. East as far as Menge Avenue and West to Leovy Ave. The King and Queen were not given any special names.
The 1914 parade was such a huge success that the organization decided to have another parade in 1915. This one was even better than the year before. The floats in 1915, represented a variety of subjects. One representing the Easter Season was the most outstanding. Ladies and young girls dressed in costumes rode on the floats. Julius Hayden was King of the second Carnival parade and Miss Forrest Lee Springs was Queen and later became Mr. Hayden's wife. A few people think there was another parade in 1916, but I believe they have the dates mixed because the floats are the same as for 1915.
The parade was held on Mardi Gas Day, Shrove Tuesday, and the Ball was the same night. Another interesting feature of Mardi Gras in Pass Christian years ago was that the children masked and dressed in costumes. They went from house to house visiting their friends much the same as the children do today on Halloween, but there were no treats, and the maskers on the floats didn't throw beads or trinkets. The custom of street masking on Mardi Gras in Pass Christian is no longer observed.
The 1915 parade seems to have been the last one held by the Pass Christian Carnival Association. Maybe it was because of the severe storm in the fall of 1915 and the war years that followed.
After a few years the organization disbanded and the hall, or den, as it was called, was torn down, and that was the end of the Pass Christian Carnival Association.
Years later, in 1930, another Carnival Association came into being. St. Paul's School was then St. Joseph and its entire faculty was composed of Nuns . . . The Sisters of Mercy. There was very little money to operate the school so a group of ladies decided to have a Carnival ball on Mardi Gras night for the benefit of the school. This group of ladies was headed by the Knosts and the Langs. They persuaded Bernard Knost to be King of the Ball and he selected Miss Marie Bertrand as his Queen. This was the beginning of the Mercy Carnival named for the Sisters of Mercy. Since there were no gymnasiums in town and no other hall large enough, the first Ball of the Mercy Carnival Association was held in a large tent which was being used for a skating rink. The tent was on the Barksdale Chevron Station property and since there were few buildings on the East Side of Davis Avenue, the tent entrance faced West on Davis. The 1930 Ball was a success so it was decided to continue the Carnival Balls each year for the benefit of the school. After a few years the Mercy Carnival Association became the St. Joseph Carnival Association and when the name of the school was changed it became the St. Paul Carnival Association.
Many different places were used for the Balls since the first Mercy Carnival in 1930 until the St. Paul Gym was built. Sometime during the 50's, the Carnival Association began having a parade in connection with the Ball. Each year the theme of the parade is changed. The Ball is always held on Saturday night and the parade on Sunday preceding Shrove Tuesday. Trophies are now awarded to outstanding organizations and family floats.
Beads and trinkets are thrown from the floats. In the late 60's, doubloons were added to the throws. On one side of the doubloon is a picture of the Pass Christian Marker. On the other side is a picture representing the theme of the parade for that year. It also contains the name of the Carnival Association and the year. The 1953 Kings Float was the first in the history of parades to be pulled by a tractor. The King of that parade was Doctor C.D. Taylor. The floats that followed in the parade were built on truck bodies. Years after, when the floats became larger, more and more were pulled by tractors.
Each year the King and Queen receive Carnival banners from the organization to display in front of their homes on Mardi Gras or the week of Mardi Gras to denote that they are members of the Royal Family of Christian and Christina.
Many Kings and Queens have come and gone since 1930, and many parades have rolled through the streets of the Pass. Each seems to be bigger and better as time goes on; so, . . . long live King Christian and Queen Christina.