Today marks the sixth time since Little Rock was permanently settled in 1820 that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day. The previous years are 1866, 1877, 1923, 1934, and 1945.
The 1866 Arkansas Gazette for February 14 contains no mention of it being either Ash Wednesday or Valentine’s Day. Eleven years later, the paper carried a history of Valentine’s Day, but no mention of the religious observance on that day. The story in the Gazette discussed the hard work of the designers, lithographers, lace makers, and other artisans who created the cards and other tokens which were sent. The writer noted that none of that work was romantic. It was tasks those people undertook every day. What made it romantic, the writer continued, was the intent of the person who sent it.
In 1923, only one ad in the paper mentioned Valentine’s Day – the Exchange National Bank. There were no stories on Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras or Ash Wednesday. The stories that pertained to churches discussed revivals and new clergy, but no services for penance.
In 1934, the only mention of Ash Wednesday was in the regular Saturday religious feature. It previewed the various churches Ash Wednesday services in addition to discussing Sunday sermon topics. Again, there was no mention that Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day. Camay Soap and Pfeifer’s Department Store were the only ads on February 14 which made mention of the romantic holiday.
The 1945 newspaper coverage was very similar to eleven years earlier. Previews of Ash Wednesday on Saturday the 10th dominated the religious section on Saturday – but no mention of the other holiday. The days leading up to Valentine’s Day saw quite a few advertisements from various national companies and local businesses regarding the holiday. On February 14, however, the only Valentine’s ads were for Pfeifer and for several of the local movie theatres. Blass Department Store, which had been focused on Valentine’s Day through February 13, used the 14th to switch the focus to springwear.
In the post-Civil War era, Mardi Gras was a major event in Little Rock. By the 1870s, newspapers would have stories for several days about preparations for parties and parades which would be followed by coverage summarizing the events.
For instance, the Ash Wednesday 1877 edition of the Arkansas Gazette carried a front page story that discussed Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Memphis. Inside the paper there were a series of stories about the downtown Little Rock Mardi Gras parade. It started at Markham and Rock Streets. Because of the crowd assembled for it, organizers had to reroute the parade that afternoon. Among the entries were the Fat Men’s Club, Butchers’ Benevolent Association (which rode on horses), the Mystic Krewe, and several trade groups. In addition there were many people who marched along in masks. The unnamed writer bemoaned the fact that the masked revelers’ clothing had no theme.
On Thursday, February 15, 1877, there were stories about some of the Mardi Gras balls which had taken place two nights earlier. The paper’s deadline probably was earlier than the parties ended, which is why they were not in the paper until two days later. Among the various events were the Knights of Pythian Ball at the Grand Opera House, the aforementioned Fat Men at a special pavilion set up in the Main Street Cotton Shed, the Mystic Krewe at O’Haras Hall, and the Cosmopolitans at Concordia Hall. There were other events that the writer was not able to attend due to lack of time.
Some of the venues also played host to balls in advance of Mardi Gras. The February 10 Gazette previews some events set for Friday and Saturday night.
By the start of the 20th Century, Mardi Gras was no longer a major social event in Little Rock. But while it lasted, it was quite the production. It appealed to all classes and races of Little Rock’s citizenry. Though most of the events were segregated, the parade did allow for African Americans to participate as well as the white revelers.
Join in one of Little Rock’s most beloved festivals, the SoMa Mardi Gras Parade on South Main!
At noon today (Saturday, February 6)
Floats, bands, stilt walkers, puppets…the parade will have it all! Also featuring music and beer in the Bernice Garden, and of course the highly anticipated Root Cafe Beard Judging to be held after the parade. Special events will be going on all along South Main, so come celebrate Mardi Gras in SoMa!
SoMa Mardi Gras 2016 events:
The Bernice Garden will be hosting the Root Café’s 4th Annual Beard Judging and a Mardi Gras Biergarten featuring Stone’s Throw, Lost Forty, Flyway and Diamond Bear. The Lemon Cakery, Hot Rod’s Weiners and Kincaid’s Coffee will also be set up.
The Green Corner Store- free Mardi Gras face painting from 11-12
Customers in Mardi Gras outfits from recycled materials can register for a great door prize.
Loblolly Creamery- creating a special Mardi Gras ice cream flavor and will have Mardi Gras sundae specials. Also will have an ice cream photo booth.
Root Café- The 4th annual Little Rock Beard Contest judging after the parade at the Bernice Garden. Judges will be Mayor Mark Stodola, Capi Peck of Trio’s and Amber Brewer of Yellow Rocket Concepts. Renee Shapiro will emcee.
Boulevard Bakehouse- Mardi Gras cookies and king cakes for sale.
Sweet Home & clement- free Mardi Gras beads, hot apple cider and gingersnaps.
South Main Creative- free make-and-take recycled craft workshop from 2:00-3:00.
Midtown Billiards- beads and étoufeé.
Esse Purse Museum and Shop- Flyway beer on tap, sponsored by Tonic Media. 10-50% off select items.