NEW ORLEANS (WAFB) - Alabama likes to boast that it's the site of America's original Mardi Gras, and now it's advertising that claim in the city that made the celebration epic: New Orleans.
Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell says the state purchased 10 billboards around New Orleans and southern Mississippi to promote the Carnival season in Mobile.
The billboards are subtle: Rather than mentioning Mobile, they tell drivers how many miles they are from "America's original Mardi Gras." Sentell says that forces people to "do some math" and figure out it's Mobile.
The claim, made by the Sweet Home Alabama Travel bureau, reinforces the notion that Mardi Gras was first celebrated in Mobile. The pre-Lenten celebration was first held in Mobile in 1703. That was 15 years before New Orleans was established along the Mississippi River.
The state's tourism bureau seems to ignore the fact that the first Mardi Gras in Louisiana was noted in 1699 when French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans, which is now Plaquemines Parish, and named it "Pointe du Mardi Gras" when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. Bienville later went on to establish "Fort Louis de la Louisiane" three years later, which is now Mobile.
The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe, passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. From here, the traditional revelry of "Boeuf Gras," or fatted calf, followed France to her colonies.
The billboards are the latest jab in a friendly rivalry between the two Gulf Coast port cities.