Home History “Mardi Gras Pensacola’s excuse for topsy-turvy upside-down-dum”

“Mardi Gras Pensacola’s excuse for topsy-turvy upside-down-dum”


Mardi Gras, that period of revelry prior to the solemn and penitential season of Lent, was first celebrated in Pensacola during the 19th century. 

As early as 1838, Pensacolians donned in masks and attired in costumes celebrated on Shrove Tuesday. It was not until 1900 however, that the first organized Mardi Gras celebration was held in America’s 1st Settlement.


Literally meaning “Fat Tuesday,” Mardi Gras is the culmination of a weeks-long Carnival season that ends on Ash Wednesday. While impromptu foot and horseback parades had been a regular Pensacola occurrence for decades, it was in 1900 that the first “krewe” — private groups with semi-mythological namesakes that organize thematic parades — was established.

Many Americans associate Mardi Gras with drunken debauchery and beads (throws is the proper nomenclature, natives will have you know). In fact, if you stroll down Palafox Street at anytime of the year, you’ll see tree branches covered with hanging sets of gaudily colored beads. But most of the season’s celebrations take place with family-filled events and parades. This year, the City of Pensacola has even set up a “family friendly zone” along the parade route.

But according to one Pensacolian in 1912, the Mardi Gras of yesteryear was far from idyllic and he just wasn’t having it. In a letter to the editor, S.D. Bennett, Jr. wrote to the Pensacola Journal that the city and its citizens should call for an end to the annual event, citing the celebration’s”flim-flam farcical foolishness.”

I wonder what Mr. Bennett would think of Mardi Gras today?

Why is Mardi Gras?

Editor Pensacola Journal,

All the world loves a lover, the booster generation an optimism that insures a cordial welcome while the knocker is permitted to flock all by his little lonesome and list to the reverberating echo of his own little hammer. I’ll wager a photo of my twins against a slice of Stillman’s brand of democracy that some folks of this village have, or will, designate me by the latter appellation. Can’t help it. Want to know why is Mardi Gras?

Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, a religious festival ushering in Lent, etc. — certainly, any kid old enough to fight the multiplication table knows that.  To judge by the manner of its observance in Pensacola, it is a season when license is unbridled, licentiousness unfettered, disciples of Bachus given free rein, criminality permitted to exceed the speed limit and the brakes placed in full release on immorality of every form.  

(Pensacola Historical Society/Special to The Pulse)
(Pensacola Historical Society/Special to The Pulse)

 Mardi Gras, like Christmas and many other institutions which had their genesis in the effort of humanity to aspire to the noble and beautiful, has been subjugated to, delegated to, and dedicated to the hydra-headed god of commercialism and this is the paramount excuse for Pensacola’s annual period of topsy-turvy upside-down-dum. 

Perpetuated in the hope that the thousands coming here will become separated from their cash.

They become separated, all right. Who gets it?  Who profits from this free and fast flim-flam farcical foolishness furnished by farmer folk?  — the “57 varieties” of agencies in Pensacola of the most reprehensible business on the face of the earth—saloons. The railroads, boarding houses, the flock of “skin” games operated under the elastic names of “shows,” and the houses in the restricted district. The first and last named carrying off the blue ribbon.

(Pensacola Historical Society/Special to The Pulse)
(Pensacola Historical Society/Special to The Pulse)

The Pensacola species of Mardi Gras means a demoralization before, during and after the date. A two-dat loss from school by several thousand city children. A loss of trade by practically every legitimate business man. A loss of trade by practically everyone through the  devil-invented confetti.  The beginning of many a young boy and girl’s trilby immoral paths to a disgraced goal. A dissemination of contagious diseases through crowds (measles in the present instance). A demarcation — but, space is limited.  Think it out for yourself. Think real hard.

It is not to be doubted that it has been somewhat akin to having a tooth pulled for many of the merchants to contribute to the expense funds annually for they know that they stand to lose the sum contributed and the normal sales on carnival days. Crowds come to see, not to buy. It does look like a flagrant waste of good United States coin, too, when if invested in a hospital for the city’s ill and maimed or a respectable home for the county’s indigent and dependents in place of the disreputable shack in the fertilizer factory neighborhood. Think of the dividends that would result if the sum was spent in the interest of the orphans home, old woman’s home or Salvation Army enterprises.

Who will be the first merchant to brave the odium of the soliciting committee this year and whisper out loud, “No”?

S.D. Bennett, Jr., 1912