May I be one of the first to wish you the happiest of New Years! And with this New Year, I hope you strive to slow down and explore more, especially in your own backyard! Whether you have lived there a year or 20 years, there is always something to discover. Don’t believe me? Well, read on because I’m here to tell you that even lifelong locals can be surprised. I’ve lived my whole life here in Southern Louisiana and thought I knew everything there was to do here. Especially when it came to Mardi Gras. After all, our Carnival celebrations are second only to New Orleans. So when asked by VisitLakeCharles.org to write a piece on the Mardi Gras Museum my first thought was “Absolutely!” My second thought was “We have one of those?!?” Imagine my surprise when I found out this year would be the 20th Anniversary of the museum! Twenty years and I’m just now hearing about it!
Thousands of visitors flock to Louisiana every Carnival season just to experience the extravagant day-long celebration known as Mardi Gras. It’s a time to indulge in endless parades, outrageous outfits, and delectable Cajun cuisine. But few know of the history surrounding these rich customs and colorful traditions that make up Carnival Season beyond the parades. Luckily, Lake Charles not only holds Louisiana’s second largest Carnival celebrations but also boasts the world’s largest collection of Mardi Gras Costumes (sorry New Orleans, we got ya beat on this one). What better place to delve into all things Carnival then the Mardi Gras Musuem of Imperial Calcasieu.
Climb the time-worn stairs of Central School’s Arts & Humanities Center to the second floor where you’ll find hundreds of bejeweled costumes and the smiling face of Mr. David Faulk. Mr. Faulk, once the assistant to one of the Lake Charles’ most prominent costume designers, now lends his wealth of knowledge to guests visiting The Mardi Gras Museum. To begin your jaunt through the more than 295 costumes on display, step into The Captain’s Den.
Immediately, the origins of Mardi Gras come alive through animated mannequins, historical footage, and eloquent costumes. The founding members and Krewe Captains responsible for kick starting Southwest Louisiana’s festivities greet visitors upon entering. Elaborate cloaks drape from the walls while mannequins fashioned after the krewe’s “royalty” gracefully display the lavish gowns and towering mantels. Here’s a fun fact, many of the mantels and collars top out at over 18 feet tall!
Next, take a glimpse into the creative process of bringing such dazzling finery to fruition. The glitz and glamour bestowed on the Krewe’s royality wouldn’t be possible without the sensational imaginations and deft hands of the costume designers. Learn how their ideas go from conceptional drawings and mounds of silks, sequins, and feathers to gravity-defying works of art. You can even don your own costume and strut your stuff. Be sure to tag #VisitLakeCharles and @TheRootedGypsy with your best sequined selfie! And while your at it, don’t forget to connect with me on all your social media accounts!
Follow the dancing steps along the antique wood floor to delight in the tradition of King Cakes. You can even bring home a recipe to try your hand at making one of these sweet seasonal delicacies. Continue two-stepping on and revel in the pageantry of Twelfth Night. On the night of the Epiphany, January 6th, all the local Krewes gather to kick off the Carnival Season as only Mardi Gras Royals can. Surrounded by opulance on all sides, saunter among glittering capes cascading from the ceiling while brilliant feathered collars fan out over dazzling gowns.
Cross the hall and enter into the Ball Room, where flamboyant costumes twirl by, sparkling on their rotating stage. Admire the different types of party favors, such as porcelain masks and personalized goblets, gifted to honored guests attending their favorite Mardi Gras Balls.
The Carnival Season culminates with the Grand Finale, The Krewe of Krewes Parade. So its only fitting to finish the tour off with an immersive parade experience. Climb the steps into the last room, grab a hand full of beads, and let them fly while getting a “float-eye view” of a parade.
- The 2018 Mardi Gras season will mark 20 years for the museum. While their normal hours are Tuesday – Friday, 1-5 pm, they will extend their hours this Carnival Season to accommodate visitors.
- The museum is located on the second floor of Central School’s Arts & Humanities Center, located at 809 Kirby Street.
- Entry is $10 for adults and $5 for children and senior citizens. Group rates are also available. For more information, please contact the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu at (337) 430-0043.