I originally wrote this post for the Mills Apartments' Neighborhood Blog. Here it is reposted here with a few things added in after a talk with local historian, Jay Gibbs.
Now that the holiday season has come and gone, it's time for the "Carnival season", more commonly known as Mardi Gras time . Seems really early, doesn't it? The Epiphany or "12th Night" falls on January 6 each year and the season ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. This year, Fat Tuesday falls on Feb. 21 with Ash Wednesday on Feb 22 and Easter Sunday on April 8. The date of Easter Sunday is calculated through some formula that I understand even less than women and dating. Here's the explanation via Wikipedia in case you were wondering.
In St. Louis, most of us probably only think of Grand Parade Day when we think of Mardi Gras. In fact, that Saturday in February or March (Feb. 18 this year) is one of the many events put on by Tim Lorsen and his team over at Mardi Gras Inc. in Soulard. The crew there also helps coordinate volunteers for other events around St. Louis like Taste of St. Louis, the ASAE kickoff party under the Arch over the summer, and the Cardinals World Series Championship parade. Mardi Gras Inc was formed in direct response to the Fat Tuesday riots of 1999.
12th Night begins at Johnny's with people from the community petitioning the Mardi Gras Board of Directors to declare the start of Mardi Gras season. The petitions can be in the form of " a reading, a poem, a skit, a song, a puppet show or love letters" according to the event page. At 7pm the Board will step out onto the patio overlooking Russell and a proclamation will be read.
Why Johnny's? The food is "better than it has to be." Not enough of an explanation? The real reason is that Johnny's is the birthplace of St. Louis' Mardi Gras as we know it. This was before Johnny's was Johnny's. In the 1980 it was an apartment that was pretty much the place to be in Soulard, according to some long-time residents. The apartment was owned by Hillary Clemens. I hear rumors of an enormous hot tub close to where back stairs to upstairs are now. A group of friends from the neighborhood got together for a Mardi Gras celebration and ended up parading up to McGurk's and back with musical instruments, masks and boas at the ready. A tradition was born. The building would later become Hillary's before becoming Johnny's around 1993, but will always be the "birthplace of Mardi Gras in St. Louis.
After the proclamation is read, the real fun begins. A musical procession leads the street parade through Soulard with stops at many local establishments to give them time to salute the start of the season with some free samples for the adults. The parade will end at the Rudy Commons in front of Soulard Market with the raising of the Mardi Gras flag and fireworks. The flag will fly through Fat Tuesday at 7th and Soulard in front of Lift for Life Academy.
If you have never been to Soulard, 12th night pretty much sums up the festive nature of "The Island".
Here's the schedule of events for the season from the Mardi Gras Inc. website. The Beggin' Pet Parade and the Family Winter Carnival are two family-friendly events for those of you who think Mardi Gras is all about amateurs "actin' a fool".
Do you have a favorite event? What about a favorite memory?
Remember to check out iLoveSoulard.com throughout the Mardi Gras season for pictures, videos and whatever else I can come up with.
If you are active in the Twitter-verse, be sure to use and follow the hashtag "#stlmg" for the best real-time updates, pictures and maybe some nonsense.
Photo courtesy of iLoveSoulard.com
Post brought to you by Mills Properties