A primer on key groups that keep Mardi Gras rolling
The krewes of Galveston have been masters of the island’s Mardi Gras festivities from the very beginning.
The pre-Lenten celebration became a major event in Galveston in 1871 when the original krewes, “The Knights of Momus” and “The Knights of Myth,” first paraded aboard horse-drawn wagons festooned in extravagant costumes.
The term “krewe” originated not long before those Galvestonians began their first festive roll through island streets. The Mistick Krewe of Comus of New Orleans is widely credited with originating the mock-antiquated spelling of “crew” to refer to a group that organizes Mardi Gras parades and other festivities.
Galveston Mardi Gras celebrations died out during World War II, but the event and the tradition of krewes were resurrected in 1985 by island-born oilman, developer and preservationist George Mitchell.
Mardi Gras Galveston now brings more than 250,000 people to the island each year and is known as the third-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the nation, according to event organizers.
The krewes are still at the heart of the 10-day festival, which this year is from Feb. 6 through Feb. 17, and lead the entertainment, social events and passion for frivolity that make Mardi Gras memorable. Each major krewe hosts a parade with elaborate floats and custom-made beads. And they throw parties to get ready for their parties. The groups can be at times glamorous and full of mock grandiosity, but are always known for their love of a good time.
Here are just a few of the major Mardi Gras krewes:
The Knights of Momus
The island’s only all-male krewe is also its oldest. Founded in 1871, the krewe was the first group re-formed when Mitchell revived Mardi Gras in 1985. With more than 600 members, Momus is known for crowning King Frivolous and a Queen each year, as well as forming a court of young women duchesses at its annual Coronation Ball at The Grand 1894 Opera House.
The Momus parade is traditionally the Saturday before Fat Tuesday. This year, the krewe is celebrating the theme “A Salute to Old Shanghai,” with floats constructed by New Orleans craftspeople and decorated with pandas and Asian architecture.
Joe Tramonte, a member of the Momus executive board, said krewes select their king to honor a member who has contributed significantly over the years.
“Being King Frivolous was one of the most fun nights I can remember,” Tramonte said. “It’s good to be king.”
Mystic Krewe of Aquarius
The island’s second oldest krewe, founded in 1985 with the rebirth of Mardi Gras, is known for beginnings and endings. This krewe traditionally throws the Saturday afternoon kickoff parade, the largest parade in the 10-day Mardi Gras season. Aquarius also sponsors the Fat Tuesday evening parade through the historic Strand District in the island’s downtown. The parade gets support from other krewes and marching bands as revelers say goodbye to the festivities. This year, the krewe will have the theme “Mystic Krewe of Aquarius Celebrates 30 Years — Let the Party Continue.” The group, like most major krewes, hosts parties and fundraisers for members year-round.
Krewe of Gambrinus
Gambrinus is known as “The Krewe of Brew.” Formed in 1989 by Larry Del Papa, of Del Papa Distributing Co., and sponsored by Budweiser, this krewe is named after the patron saint of brewing — Gambrinus.
With about 300 members from all across Texas, this krewe handles the evening parade during the first Saturday of Mardi Gras. Last year, Gambrinus members tossed more than 700,000 beads in the parade, including special handcrafted medallions that all the major krewes have in honor of that year’s particular theme, krewe captain George Black said.
Black has worked in the krewe since the early days of Galveston Mardi Gras. He has witnessed the krewe and the event grow over the years.
“I was at the first Mardi Gras when it was brought back in the ’80s,” Black said. “And I think the krewes like Gambrinus are a big part of what everyone remembers when they come every year and why it’s grown. We bring people down here for our parades, for our den party, for our events. We bring people who love to have a good time.”
Other popular krewes
• Krewe Babalu: Founded in 1995, this krewe has floats in the major parades and calls itself “the every man’s Mardi Gras krewe” with affordable membership rates and year-round events.
• Krewe d’Esprit Rosaire: The only black Catholic krewe on the island, is now run by Galveston’s Holy Family Parish.
• Le Krewe Du Lac: The official Krewe of Kemah.
• Krewe of Maximilian: Established in 1986, this krewe is 500-members strong. The krewe’s namesake is Maximilian, the French emperor of Mexico in 1864.
• The Krewe of Thalasar: Founded in 1986 by a group of former Texas A&M University students, this krewe centers around a celebration of the Aggies’ involvement in Mardi Gras.
• Z Krewe: Founded in 1994, any Z Krewe member can be chosen as king or queen. The krewe’s parade includes horse- and mule-drawn carriages making their way through the Mardi Gras entertainment district.
• Krewe of Who?: Established in 1991, this krewe has an annual costume ball during Mardi Gras.
• Krewe of Saints: The island’s newest krewe, Krewe of Saints, was founded by 16 people in 2012 to promote charitable activities and Mardi Gras traditions