The tradition of celebrating Galveston Mardi Gras is a long and storied one. From the late 1800s up until the onset of World War II, Galveston’s downtown district boasted two major Krewes, hosting extravagant parades and immaculate balls. The 12-day celebration leading up to Lent was renowned for its extreme opulence, drawing visitors from all over the state and the world to partake of the festivities.
Unfortunately, economic struggles and fear of attacks caused many of these celebrations to scale down to a mere fragment of what they once were, or to die out entirely. By the 1940s, all of the street parades had come to a halt, and any ongoing parties were hosted privately by the Galveston Artillery Club, Holy Rosary Catholic Church and other small private organizations. The once famous Galveston Mardi Gras celebrations went underground for almost fifty years.
Cynthia and George Mitchell
In the mid-1980s, Mr. George Mitchell, a lifetime resident of Galveston, sought an opportunity to bring tourism and nightlife back to the downtrodden island center. As a successful developer and investor, Mr. Mitchell set out to reintroduce Mardi Gras to the area and bring back the many colorful experiences that he had known as a child.
In February 1985, George Mitchell and his wife Cynthia opened the Tremont House, a nod toward another hotel that had opened in the area back in 1839. The Tremont House was the first new hotel to open on the island in nearly 60 years, and provided a large ballroom as well as spectacular views of the main thoroughfare along the Strand.
With the opening of the Tremont House, Galveston celebrated its first Mardi Gras revival in 1985 with a mile-long parade, featuring jazz artist Pete Fountain and hundreds of marching band players. Eight unique and brilliant floats were built by artist Blaine Kern to celebrate the event, and it kicked off two full weeks of celebrations and indulgence as people made the most of the last days before the traditional period Lent. The event was well received with more than 75,000 spectators in attendance.
Each year since 1985, the Mardi Gras celebration in Galveston has expanded and taken on a new theme. This includes countries from around the world and a huge selection of talented artists and musicians. Even in times of difficult weather and major world events, the party has carried on in Galveston through the years.
Last year, the Tremont House celebrated its 30th anniversary and the Mardi Gras celebration has expanded to include an evening artwalk, more than 20 Krewes and a dozen parades, special musical highlights and more. The Tremont House still serves as a major player in the events as all of its rooms and its rooftop bar provide an amazing view of the parades, as well as a central location to host a midnight masque.
Mardi Gras 2016
In 2016, the Galveston Mardi Gras celebration is scheduled from January 29th to February 9th, and will host several hundred thousand visitors. The schedule boasts 22 parades, 30 concert events, and a wide range of family and kid friendly attractions. Attendees at the event can see the legacy of Cynthia and George Mitchell in and around Galveston, as the island is brought to life in a way reminiscent of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
As a result of the ongoing success of the Mitchell family’s efforts, much of Galveston has been revitalized, and there is a strong tourist and hospitality-based local economy. Many of the old buildings, including the Tremont House itself, have been renovated to bring a more modern touch to the traditional celebration. The Mitchell family has since invested more than $175 million in The Strand’s historical landmarks, and has contributed to the development of housing, shopping centers, clubs and offices on the island.
Mardi Gras 2017
Mardi Gras 2017 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting parties of the year. For the last two weekends in February, dozens of krewes from around the area will be rolling through the Strand, tossing out beads and promoting goodwill for the community to locals and visitors alike. Historic buildings like the Trumpets Building will play host to balcony parties where celebrants can enjoy the parades from a commanding view. And the spirit of laissez les bon temps rouler will fill the streets for young and old alike.
People who are looking for a different experience this Mardi Gras might want to check out the Jolly Jester Jaunt, a 5K and 10K run through the streets of Galveston, going down along the Seawall and back up before coming to a conclusion with libations and celebrations on balconies. There aren’t any medals, no records to be broken, only the joy of running with new friends and old and enjoying the spirit of the holiday.
Some people might not think of Mardi Gras as a family activity, but there’s plenty of fun for families this year. On Sunday, Feb. 26, the day starts with the Shriners Hospitals for Children & Sunshine Kids parade featuring all the mini-cars, clowns and fezes that one street can handle. The Galveston Humane Society is to follows with the Krewe of Barkus & Meoux. Firefighters Local 571 rounds out the day with their Children’s Parade.
All good parties need good music, and there are plenty of great music acts lined up for Mardi Gras on the Strand. Headlining the acts this year are Sugar Ray, playing on the Budweiser Stage on Feb. 18. La Mafia will be playing the Fiesta! Gras party on Feb. 19. And there are plenty of other acts playing during the weekends. On top of that, marching bands from the Houston-Galveston area will be competing on Feb. 25 in the Krewe d’Esprit Rosaire Battle of The Bands.
Two weekends and the glorious Fat Tuesday celebration add up to an exciting time in Galveston this February. Come down, snag some beads, and laissez les bon temps rouler!