Memphis Mardi Gras
In 1872, Memphis as much of the South, was suffering from the
devastation of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The city fathers
thought that Memphis needed some show of civic pride that would bring
the residents together for a common good and demonstrate to the outside
world that the city was alive and well. They decided on a Mardi Gras
celebration to help re-invigorate the spirits of the population. The
city of Memphis celebrated Mardi Gras, and a Carnival season based on
the traditional Christian liturgical calendar just before the season of Lent, similar to what is still practiced in cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana, Mobile, Alabama, Galveston, Texas, Venice, Italy and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
During the early twentieth century, great interest developed in creating a city-wide event like Carnival, and re-establishing the Mystic Memphi. As more and more influential Memphians became actively interested, Memphi and the Memphis Cotton Carnival Association were established in the early 1930’s. The efforts were conducted to bring a sense of excitement and life back to the city of Memphis and its people. However, rather than following the Lenten calendar and being held strictly to celebrate Mardi Gras, designers decided that this festival would promote something else, Memphis' primary asset at the time-cotton. During this time, Memphis and the Mid-South region, like the rest of the United States, were in the throes of the Great Depression. Many were out of work and the region's cotton, was selling for pennies a pound. The prosperity of the Mid-South was dependent on cotton and measures had to be taken to increase the use of this precious commodity. At the same time, the Memphis Chamber of Commerce was having trouble raising money to compete with other cities in the South, such as Atlanta and New Orleans. A. Arthur Halle and a group of businessmen called on Herbert Jennings, a downtown theatre manager for a donation. Jennings agreed to contribute and shared an idea that he believed would help promote business and draw attention to cotton. To help publicize an upcoming movie, Jennings offered local retailers the opportunity to display cotton goods in his theatre and planned to encourage them to use their own store windows to promote cotton clothing. Halle was intrigued by the idea and envisioned a larger city-wide promotion and called upon Everett R. Cook, who was President of the Memphis Cotton Exchange at this time. Cook was invited to come to the theatre to hear the ideas. Those ideas quickly grew into a plan for a grand celebration with a King, Queen and Royal Court that would involve people from all over the Mid-South. The idea was to promote the use and wearing of cotton products which would lead to increased demand and stimulate sales. It worked, as people began to demand more cotton products from socks to ball gowns and the rest as they say, is history.