Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday,” has grown in popularity in recent years as a raucous’ sometimes hedonistic event. Buts its roots lie in the Christian calendar, as the “last hurrah” before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That is why the enormous ends abruptly at midnight on Tuesday. There are well-known season-long Carnival celebrations in Europe and Latin America, including Nice, France; Cologne, Germany; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The best known celebration in the United States is in New Orleans and the French-Catholic communities of the Gulf Coast. Another popular site for the celebration of Mardi Gras is Galveston, Texas. Mardi Gras has become a major influence to the people and the economy of Galveston. With its great history and deep economic impact Mardi Gras is beneficial to both the community and visitors to the Island.The first celebration took place in 1867, when a dramatic entertainment and masked ball took place in the old Turner Hall. The dramatic entertainment was a scene from “King Henry IV,’ featuring Alvan Reed (a justice of the peace weighing in at 350 pounds!) as Falstaff” (Mardi Gras!). The first time Mardi Gras was celebrated to any great extent was in 1871, when there were two night parades by separate organizations, one known as the Knights of Momus and the other as the Knights of Myth, both of which devised masked ball, exquisite costumes. In the years that followed, the parades and balls grew more elaborate and attracting attention throughout the state. After the hurricane of 1900 the events were discontinued for several years. The celebrations were gradually revived, but not on an extensive scale. It was not until 1914 that a group called the “Kotton Karnival Kids” staged parades for both Mardi Gras and the Galveston Cotton Carnival. ” The 1917 masked ball took on added glamour with the first official appearance of King Frivolous and his court,…”(Mardi Gras!). The king was given the key to the city. With the outbreak of World War I, Mardi Gras was confined to small single day festivities. Shortly after the war the celebration a new revival. It was not until the threat war once again placed the celebration on hold. “In 1985, native Galvestonian George P. Mitchell and his wife, Cynthia, launched the revival of a citywide Mardi Gras celebration” (Mardi Gras!). Now under the supervision of the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, Mardi Gras spans two weekends and several days in between with parades, masked balls, and many different theatrical entertainments.
Mardi Gras has brought a significant amount of public participation to Galveston and the surrounding communities. There are more than 400,000 people that flock to the Island over the span of two weeks. With this many revelers, the efforts of the Parks Board are an attempt to expedite the activities, minimize problems, and maximize net benefits to the community. This leads to the question does Mardi Gras benefit the community or does it create more of a problem?
Barton Smith, Professor of Economics at the University of Houston, conducted an analysis of the economic effect that Mardi Gras has had on Galveston. The study conducted by interviews, surveys, and the collection of empirical findings over a two year span of Mardi Gras events. The affect of Mardi Gras effected the hospitality industry the most. “The median gain revenues for all respondents was 20%” (Smith 14). Many of the business did hire new employees and security for the two week span. The study concluded $33.2 million in sales, $10 million in income, and an increase of 320 full time employees. This would lead to a positive effect on the community and the desire to continue this tradition.
There are several problems that can come out of such a large event. The most prevalent is with in the public sector. The excessive consumption of alcohol and deviant behavior are two of the common factors that lead to the negative outlook on the Mardi Gras events. Others involve traffic, the lack of accommodations, and overcrowdingness. Though the latter group is easier to coop with, it is the actions taken while under the influence and individual behaviors that have a greater impact on the community. Christina Woolwine, Vice President of the Park Board of Trustees of the City of Galveston, in an interview said, ” There are always a few individuals that get out of control and those are usually the ones that make the news and create a negative view of Mardi Gras.”
Though there are a few negative aspects associated with Mardi Gras in Galveston, there are far more benefits to the event surrounding the celebration. The rich history of the creation of Galveston’s Mardi Gras stimulates individuals to take an active participation in the events. The positive economic influence that is constructed by the twelve to fourteen days of celebration provides the community with greater than average fiscal incomes. Not to mention the religious influence of the need to “Fatten Up” before the fasting.
“Mardi Gras! Galveston: A 128-Year-Old History.” Editorial. Baywatcher Magazine February 1989, page 11.
Smith, Barton. ” An Economic Analysis of the Impact of Mardi Gras Events in Galveston, Texas.” Professor of Economics: University of Houston. 24 May, 2004.
Woolwine, Christina. Personal interview. 23 March, 2005.