Sunday, January 30, 2011

History: Mobile Carnival Museum

Every year in Mobile, Ala. we have our very own holiday. This holiday is known as Mardi Gras.

Mobile is the birthplace of Mardi Gras, with origins in Mobile as early as 1702. Each year the streets of Mobile are filled with people and the sounds of Mardi Gras, and of course the parade floats. Every year the spirit of Mardi Gras is in full swing in downtown Mobile. However, the Mobile Carnival Museum carries the spirit of Mardi Gras all year round.

Mobilians always knew there should be a museum dedicated to Mardi Gras, but it was often viewed as only serving a few people. But, through the efforts of those dedicated to the Mardi Gras industry the museum finally opened in 2005.

The Mobile Carnival Museum not only celebrates Mobile parades, but also its royalty. Featured in the museum is the train worn by Queen Jeanette Goodyear Smith. Many of the items featured in the museum are: robes, crowns and scepters. The robes featured in the museum are the actual robes of the kings and queens of various Mardi Gras organizations. But, Judi Gulledge, Executive Director of the Mobile Carnival Museum said these items have a deeper meaning for Mobile. “Most people don’t realize that anything you see in the museum is nothing that can be bought in a store. Everything is custom designed, custom made and most of it created right here in Mobile by locally talented people,” said Gulledge.

Many Mobilians, take pride in Mardi Gras and the museum, including Gulledge. “It makes me proud as a Mobilian to have something that highlights Mobile in such a positive way,” said Gulledge.

With visitors from all 50 states and 19 countries across the world, the Mobile Carnival Museum makes many Mobilians proud of being from the Port City.

Mobile Carnival Museum
355 Government St.
Mobile, Ala. 36602

Open: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

History: Bragg-Mitchell Mansion

The Bragg-Mitchell Mansion is truly a piece of Mobile's antebellum history.The mansion is named after the first and last owners. Mr. Bragg, who was a prominent lawyer and judge in Mobile, built the house in 1855.

The last owner, Mr. Mitchell was in the timber business, while Mrs. Mitchell was a teacher and principal.

The Mitchell's passed away in the 1960s, leaving the mansion vacant. In 1980, construction began to restore the mansion to its original splendor. It took six years and over three million dollars to restore the antebellum home.

"Even though this was not a plantation, per say, because we didn't have those in the immediate Mobile area, but this is what people envision, what they associate the antebellum South with. It's basically Greek revival architecture and it is just so majestic," said Katie Mulkerne. Mulkerne is Docent for the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion. She gives tours of the mansion and tells all about the history of the splendid home.

The mansion has a lot of the original pieces that were left behind by the owners. Some of the pieces include mirrors that are gold-trimmed.

Another bit of information, Confederate soldiers used the mansion as a hospital.

Every room in the mansion has a special story to tell. Visit Bragg-Mitchell Mansion and discover what antebellum life in the South was all about.

Bragg-Mitchell Mansion
1906 Spring Hill Ave.
Mobile, Ala. 36607

Open: Tues. - Fri. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

History: Fort Gaines

Did you know that a major battle of the Civil War took place in Mobile? It happened at Fort Gaines, which is located along Dauphin Island. The Battle of Mobile Bay took place at Fort Gaines in 1864. The Battle of Mobile Bay was one of the biggest naval battles during the Civil War.

Joseph Everett, Park Ranger for Fort Gaines knows a lot about the history of Fort Gaines and the South. Everett said that the Battle of Mobile Bay was one of the toughest naval battles fought during that time. “Admiral Faragut, the admiral in charge of the federal fleet actually said it was the worst battle he had ever been in, and this was a man who actually fought in battles in the War of 1812, so he knew what battles were all about,” said Everett.
The fort was built as a U.S. coastal defense system to protect foreign powers from invading the Port of Mobile. It had everything that a soldier would need. There was a kitchen and pantry that was stocked with necessities, and there were living quarters for the soldiers. There was even a blacksmith shop. A blacksmith still works at Fort Gaines today, creating nails that visitors can buy for a dollar.
While the fort may now be deactivated, visitors can still get a glimpse of what life what like during wartime. Rooms have signs that tell what each was used for, and there are even letters and photos from the war. Visiting Fort Gaines is like stepping back in time and experiencing how the soldiers lived during the Battle of Mobile Bay.
Fort Gaines
51 Bienville Blvd.
Dauphin Island, Ala. 36528
Open: Everyday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
 (Summer months open until 6 p.m.)

History: USS Battleship Park

If you want to take a step back in time, then look no further than Battleship Memorial Park. Since 1965, the battleship has welcomed over 13 million visitors.

The Battleship USS Alabama won nine battle stars and never suffered casualties or significant damage during its time in combat. The battleship was brought to Alabama after a two year campaign to raise money to bring the USS Alabama home. According to Bill Tunnell, the Executive Director of Battleship Memorial Park, the campaign began after an article in the Mobile paper that said the South Dakota class of battleships was going to be scraped.

This class of battleships included the battleships:

  • South Dakota
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Alabama
“It took two years to raise the money and get the best air commission from the Navy and in 1964 the ship was given to the state and actually given to the battleship commission that operates Battleship Park as a state agency,” said Tunnell.

Tunnell said the park is a Mobile treasure because there are only seven battleships on display in the United States. “It’s a great draw but has been very good for the Alabama public and we have generated over 500 million dollars in economic impact for the state just in our admissions prices alone,” said Tunnell. Tunnell said the battleship also serves as a landmark for the people of the Mobile and Baldwin Counties. “Battleship is the most recognized symbol of the state of Alabama. You got 22 million people that drive back and forth on I-10 every year, so we’ve been here 46 years now,” said Tunnell.

Visitors of the battleship get the feel of being a World War II soldier, by seeing how the soldiers lived while on the battleship. However, Battleship Memorial Park also contains the Airplane Pavilion and USS Drum. Battleship Memorial Park’s Airplane Pavilion is home to many war planes and vehicles, including a Jeep, which was used during the Korean War. According to Tunnell, the USS Drum is even more celebrated in honors than the USS Alabama. Drum has won 12 battle stars during its time in combat. “USS Drum is actually the oldest existing American submarine,” said Tunnell.

Battleship Memorial Park hosts tour groups, field trips and military reunions to give people an opportunity to see our piece of history on the Gulf Coast.

Battleship Memorial Park
2703 Battleship Parkway
Mobile, Ala. 36602

Open everyday except Christmas Day
Open: 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. October-March
(until 6 p.m. April-September)

Entertainment: Hank Aaron Stadium

Did you know that Mobile has its own baseball team? That's right. It's the Mobile Baybears and they play at Hank Aaron Stadium. 

Hank Aaron Stadium, named after the baseball great, was built in 1997 and holds 6,000 people. Baybears Assistant General Manager, Mike Callahan, said that it is an honor to have the stadium named after the baseball player. "Hank Aaron is a legend. He played the game back when it was played the right way. He played it with dignity, he played it with class. He never cut corners."

According to Callahan, Hank Aaron is just one of the baseball stars that came from Mobile. "This city has a rich baseball history. Five Hall of Famers from Mobile, Hank Aaron, Ozzie Smith, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams and Satchel Paige. The city of Mobile ranks second in the nation as far as producing the most Baseball Hall of Famers," said Callahan.

While the Baybears only play April through September, you can still visit Hank Aaron Stadium year-round. Besides the Baybears, the stadium is also home to the childhood home of Hank Aaron. Inside the home, you can find numerous treasures, such as old pictures of Hank Aaron, furniture from the Aaron home, Hammerin' Hank's uniform from his 1973 season when he became the "homerun king" and one of his four Gold Glove awards.

The museum not only pays tribute to the contributions that Hank Aaron has had on baseball, but also on the city of Mobile. So, if you want to watch a good game and learn about one of the greatest baseball players there ever was, take a trip to Hank Aaron Stadium.

Hank Aaron Stadium
755 Bolling Bros. Blvd.
Mobile, Ala. 36606

Visit the link below for a complete list of home and away games for the 2011 season

Entertainment: Crescent Theater

Are you tired of going to the mega-movie theaters? Do you want to enjoy a film, but still feel like you're at home? Then you will love Crescent Theater.

Crescent Theater, located in downtown Mobile, prides itself on being a different type of movie theater. There is only one screen in the theater, making the experience more private and enjoyable.

Crescent Theater tries to show a wide array of movies, such as independent films. "We aim for the kind of movies that they're not gonna show at the Wynnsong or Hollywood 18," said Will Fawcett, Assistant Manager of Crescent Theater.

But just because there is only one screen does not mean that the same film will be playing for a whole month. "A lot of films run for one week," said Fawcett.

The exception to this? Every year during Mardi Gras, Crescent Theater plays the Rocky Horror Picture show.

Besides the smaller, more private viewing area, there is also a concession stand where you can get popcorn, as well as candy and drinks. But the coolest thing about Crescent Theater is that you can kick back in a leather recliner to watch your film!

So, if you're tired of the same old film experience, then try Crescent Theater.

Crescent Theater
208 Dauphin St.
Mobile, Ala. 36602

Film showings: Everyday 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Weekend Matinee at 2 p.m.

Entertainment: Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

The stars of the 2006 Animal Plant series, “The Little Zoo that Could,” are located just off Highway 59 in Gulf Shores, Ala.

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is home to numerous animals; including: lions, tigers, bears and monkeys. In fact, it is the only zoo in the country to have all four color variations of the tiger species.

“The zoo is small, very up-close and personal with the animals,” said Patti Hall, Director of the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. “When you can see it, when you can feel it, smell it, feed it, touch it, you connect to the animal and if everybody walks out of here with just a little more respect for an animal we feel like we have done our job,” said Hall.

Visitors of the zoo can get an up-close and personal experience with the animals in an exhibit called, Animal Encounters. This exhibit is where you can actually go in with the animals and partake in the exhibit. Currently, the zoo offers encounters with baby kangaroos, tigers and lemurs; with a new reptile exhibit coming soon. The reptile exhibit will have a baby alligator for its visitors to enjoy.

After 23 years at the current zoo location, it will be moving to a new home. However, the zoo will still be located off of Highway 59. The current Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is nearly seven acres. When the new location opens it will be 25 acres. The new location will have hurricane resistant building to hold off winds up to 250 miles per hour. These buildings are an effort to prevent the devastation that occurred at the current location, due to Hurricane Ivan. According to Hall, the zoo lost over 20 trees and their ornamental landscaping was taken over by Hurricane Ivan.

According to Hall, the new location is set to open in late 2011 or early 2012. But, the animals are not quite done getting to know their visitors in their current location just yet.

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
1204 Gulf Shores Parkway
Gulf Shores, Ala. 36542

Open: Every day of the year, except Thanksgiving, New Year's Day and Christmas
 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.


Entertainment: Bellingrath Gardens and Home

No matter what season, Bellingrath Gardens and Home is always in full bloom.

Bellingrath Gardens has been open to the public for over 75 years. According to Leslie Schraeder, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, over those 75 years the visitors have enjoyed two locations within the gardens in particular.

The grotto is a series of waterfalls that take the water through artisan wells and down to the Fowl River. Another favorite is the rockery. This was designed by the late Mrs. Bellingrath. The rockery takes the water to Mirror Lake that contains rock gardens with more waterfalls and different plantings. Schraeder said the serine atmosphere of the gardens takes guests away from their daily routines. “We all get wrapped up in our day-to-day lives and it’s nice sometimes to get out in the quiet,” said Schraeder.

But, the gardens are not the only attraction at Bellingrath. The Bellingrath Home has been open to guests since 1956.

According to Schraeder, the gardens attract many visitors in March. In March, 200,000 azaleas line two miles of the gardens pathway.

But, whether visiting in the spring, summer, fall or winter there is sure to be something memorable to enjoy.

During the spring there are three events at Bellingrath that are unique. The Easter egg hunt at Bellingrath gives children of all ages an opportunity to hunt for eggs within the gardens. Bellingrath also offers an Easter sunrise service at 6:30 a.m. on Easter Sunday. The spring car show has become a tradition at Bellingrath. The car show happens the first Saturday in April every year with over 300 classic cars on display at the gardens.

Throughout the summer Bellingrath offers wonderful Wednesdays. Wonderful Wednesdays are classes at the gardens on various topics. These topics range from gardening, the history of the Bellingraths or the Mobile area.

For the fall, Bellingrath has several fun-filled events. The balloon glow at Bellingrath is a memorable event. At this event, hot air balloons are scattered on the great lawn and visitors are taken on hot air balloon rides. There is also trick-or-treating at Bellingrath, where stations are set up for trick-or-treaters throughout the gardens.

However, no other time of the year attracts more visitors than Christmas time. During Bellingrath Gardens: Magic Christmas in Lights nearly 70,000 guests visit the gardens. Magic Christmas in Lights begins the day after Thanksgiving and runs through the New Year. Over 3 million lights adorn the gardens and home with themed scenes throughout the gardens.

Bellingrath Gardens and Home
12401 Bellingrath Rd.
Theodore, Ala. 36582

Gardens: Open daily from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
During Magic Christmas in Lights-daily from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Bellingrath Home: Guided tours begin at 9 a.m. with the last ticket sold at 3:30 p.m.
During Magic Christmas in Lights guided tours begin at 9 a.m. with the last ticket sold at 7:30 p.m.

Fine Art: Mobile Museum of Art

Did you know that the largest art museum along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Tampa resides in Mobile, Ala.?

The Mobile Museum of Art is home to both permanent and traveling exhibits. The Mobile Museum of Art features art from all over the world.

The permanent exhibits of the museum contain American, European, African and Asian art. Director of the Mobile Museum of Art, Tommy McPherson said many of the permanent exhibits contain “turned woods, ceramics, glass, and paintings that incorporate technique.” The museums traveling exhibits usually stay around 10-12 weeks.

The museum offers numerous volunteer opportunities as well. These opportunities range from educating children in art to internships and even assisting with the American Cancer Society’s Chili Cook-Off.

McPherson said students can learn a lot from the museum, while enjoying themselves at the same time. “Its fun can expand their horizons and they’ll see things they won’t see without traveling to major cities,” said McPherson.

Located in Langan Park, the Mobile Museum of Art is an educational experience that no one is sure to forget.

Mobile Museum of Art
4850 Museum Drive
Mobile, Ala. 36608

Open: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.

Fine Art: Space 301

Space 301 is a contemporary art museum in downtown Mobile. The museum, opened in 2003, is operated by the Centre for the Living Arts. The Centre for the Living Arts is an organization whose goal is to promote arts in downtown Mobile.

Space 301 displays numerous types of art, from sculptures and drawings to films. Located across from Cathedral Square, Space 301 showcases artwork from all over the United States.

According to Cindy Phillips, Education Coordinator for Space 301, the variety of art is constantly changing. "Our exhibits change every two months and they're coordinated with the LoDa art walk, which occurs the second Friday of every month in downtown Mobile. So you can come down on the second Friday and every other month you will see a new exhibit," said Phillips.

There is also a people's art exhibition that happens every few years. Members of the community have a chance to display their art on Space 301 for people to see.

Space 301 also offers internships and a variety of classes. There are numerous art classes, as well as yoga and other types of activities.

Admission is free, so there is no reason why you shouldn't go and see the variety of art displayed at Space 301.

Space 301
301 Conti St.
Mobile, Ala. 36602

Open: Wednesday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.

Fine Art: Playhouse in the Park

Acting, singing and dancing come together on stage at the Playhouse in the Park.

For over 50 years, the Playhouse in the Park has been entertaining Mobile with their performances. Danny Mollise is the director of Playhouse in the Park; he said the theatre has come a long way from when it began over 50 years ago. “In those 50 years, we’ve gone from very small, tiny theatre to the third largest community theatre in the state,” said Mollise.

According to the Playhouse in the Park’s charter, their mission is to “bring theatre and the creative arts to the community.” Through its charters mission it has reached thousands of children’s lives. And over its 50 year span, there have been many successful former students. Currently, one of their former students is on Broadway.

“We train kids from the ages of 5 to 25. We also have a dance program, music lessons, guitar and piano. And sometimes voice too,” said Mollise. However, the students learn more than just performance skills at the playhouse. “They learn to work together and a lot of responsibility,” said Mollise.

The Playhouse hosts four performances a year. Three of their performances are musicals with the other being a straight show. Many of Mobile’s best performances happen at the Playhouse in the Park, located right across from the Mobile Museum of Art.

Open auditions are held for the playhouse four times a year. According to Mollise, the auditions consist of singing, dancing and on occasion reading from the script. Rehearsals for each production begin between five and eight weeks prior to the first show. Rehearsals for each production occur up to three times a week from 6:00p.m. to 8:30p.m., with a dress rehearsal the day prior to the show's opening.

And over the past five years, the Playhouse team has been creating their own, original productions that are performed for half of the season for people to enjoy. There are numerous opportunities to be involved with the Playhouse in the Park; from lighting designers, costume designers and painting scenary.

Tickets for the Playhouse are available by calling the box office of the Playhouse or before each performance.

Playhouse in the Park
4851 Museum Drive
Mobile, Ala. 36608

Visit the link below for a schedule of the current season's schedule.

Restaurant: Dick Russell's


With an old timey atmosphere and country cooking to top it off, Dick Russell’s highlights its southern roots.

According to Shane Popple, General Manager of Dick Russell’s, his grandfather opened the restaurant in 1952. However, Dick Russell’s has been at its current location since 1982.

With a made from scratch, homemade breakfast to kick off your day; at Dick Russell’s breakfast is only where it begins. Dick Russell’s also has daily lunch specials. One of their dishes is even featured in the top 100 things to eat before you leave Alabama. This famous dish is the southern classic, chicken and dumplings.

Popple said it is the small town atmosphere that brings the customers back to Dick Russell’s. “Everybody knows everybody. Everybody’s been here a long time.”

Dick Russell’s is sure to bring southern charm to your meal.

Dick Russell's
5360 Highway 90
Mobile, Ala. 36619

Open: Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Restaurant: Wintzell's Oyster House

Since 1938, Wintzell’s Oyster House has been serving up seafood to the Gulf Coast. What starting out as a six stool oyster bar in downtown Mobile has turned into one of Mobile’s most beloved restaurants.

With 12 seafood restaurants along the Gulf Coast, there must be a secret to their success. Downtown Mobile Wintzell’s Oyster shucker, Russell Mauceri said their secret, simply put, is “it just tastes better here because people are a lot more friendly.”

Wintzell’s serves all gulf seafood; including: shrimp, crab, salmon and of course, oysters. Wintzell’s is known far and wide for its oysters; whether, fried, stewed or nude. Many come into Wintzell’s each year to have their first oyster at the oyster bar.

Wintzell’s is also famous for their award-winning seafood gumbo. According to Mauceri, it does not matter which contest Wintzell’s is competing in, they always win best seafood gumbo. It has been voted numerous times as the best seafood gumbo, by the Taste of Mobile and Reader’s Choice.  But, Wintzell’s offers much more that just seafood. Wintzell’s has salads, chicken, steaks and burgers. Wintzell’s also caters and has banquet facilities available at any location.

Whether visiting Wintzell’s for the first time or going back again make sure to sit back, relax and enjoy Wintzell’s famous signs, they just might make your day.

Wintzell's Oyster House
Historic Downtown Mobile Location
605 Dauphin Street
Mobile, Ala. 36602

Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.