The Mardi Gras season is officially underway in the county where it all began in the United States in 1703. This is a favorite time of the year for Edward Ladd, Curator of Mobile’s Carnival Museum. He’s enjoyed the fun and pageantry of Mardi Gras since 1946 following the end of World War II. Ladd recently shared about his lifelong enjoyment of the revelry, and the Mardi Gras treasures available at the museum for everyone to enjoy.
“It was the first Mardi Gras parade after the war (World War Two) and I was a little boy. There weren’t but three or four parades back then, and a child at that age loves Indians. My father was on the Indian float that was fun. I’ve always kind of dabbled and drawn, and when I was in sixth grade, I built one those shoebox floats,” remembered Ladd.
Ladd grew up to become a well known designer and builder of Mardi Gras floats and costumes. Today he is the Curator of Mobile’s Carnival Museum. The seed was planted when he was a child. Ladd’s lifetime love of Mardi Gras was cemented as a young man.
“When I was in the Army, I drew a parade about under the sea and I sent it to my brother. He showed it to a float builder. He said, ‘Yeah, we can do something with these.’ So then, that’s where the egg was planted I guess, how the seed was planted. It was a tremendous thrill to see what you had designed and see it come to life and built and painted. And, then come on the street lighted with the float, with the masks and everything on it. The first parade, it was the epic tale of Beowulf. I was amazed at how good they were, they were very well done,” said Ladd.
Ladd’s ideas for designs were all around him and sometimes they would come during the night while he was asleep.
“It was just great. I wake up in the middle of the night can’t go back to sleep, and I start thinking about what I’m going to design and back to sleep I’d go. And, I never got up and wrote anything down. I just would remember it when the day came. There’s always been something that would kind of intrigue me. This would be a good parade. It’s everything you look at and see, you think how am I going to put this on the float and how am I going to put the colors on there,” stated Ladd.
Ladd was a stickler to detail.
“Color, I love color; the brighter the colors the better: yellows, reds, purples, blues. The more striking they are, the prettier they are; the more you’ll remember them. I would ride on the float, but first I would go down to the corner and watch the parade go by and then I’d get on the float. I wanted to see what they looked like from the street and see if the colors were right because the lights have affect on the colors. I always thought, look at Mardi Gras as being rather gaudy, tacky in some places and it just has got to be a little overdone. Anything you do has got to be overdone, it really is. The second parade I designed was a Japanese theme and it was beautiful. I had the most gorgeous costumes I’ve ever seen. These head pieces just were gorgeous; well they were so big they were falling off people’s heads. And the leader couldn’t get on the float because his headress was too big, so, he had to take his hat off. You learn real quick about the things you do and you don’t do. I did it for 35 years, 350 floats and 350 costumes designed. I loved it. I loved every minute of it, every minute of it, it was fun and my sweet wife put up with me,” shared Ladd.
About seven years ago, Ladd was asked to be Curator of Mobile’s Carnival Museum.
“I was in the right place at the right time, totally a surprise I didn’t have any idea. And, I had no training in running a museum, but I’ve always loved Mardi Gras. Gordon Tatum, who was the first, original Curator, when he passed away, I was asked would you be interested. And I thought what a more wonderful place for me to be than right here. I love it; it’s great. The general public doesn’t see a lot of this, they see the floats, they see the costumes, they see the marshals, the horses and all of that, but they don’t see this part of Mardi Gras. They are really awed by this. They say, ‘Y’all do this every year?’ I say, ‘Yeah, we do it every year.’ And I say it’s all different, and it’s all done here in Mobile. That’s the beauty of it. All of these gowns and all of this stuff is made right here. The crowns and scepters and all of that is done here. It’s quite an industry. The most amazing thing is everything usually on the train is symbolic of something. It’s not just thrown on there just for the fun of it; it’s on there for a reason. And, the imagination of these people just fascinates me, it’s just wonderful that they can come up year after year after year with something different,” said Ladd.
The museum opened in 2005, and donated Mardi Gras memorabilia now fills every square inch.
“People have been very, very generous with us everything here is donated. We don’t have the funds to buy anything, anything like any of these, people donate them. Just like the photograph of the first Queen of Mardi Gras, the family had it reproduced and framed. The DuMont family gave it to us which was very generous. People really give us things all the time, its, it’s amazing,” stated Ladd.
More visitors come every year to see Mobile’s treasured Mardi Gras history.
“We must have at least 30 to 40 countries represented every year. Every state in the union is represented every year, and a lot of people come from Canada. People are beginning to realize what they’ve got here. It’s something to see. It’s a treasure, yeah, it is, and I feel proud to be a part of it, great fun.” shared Ladd.
The Mobile Carnival Museum also features pictures of Mardi Gras festivities dating back to 1886. Ladd has passed the creative torch onto his son who’s now a parade designer. Ladd said that volunteers are a vital part of making Mobile’s Carnival Museum work. They range in age from 80 years young, down to local high schoolers and more are always needed.