Pageantry! Parades! Exotic Floats! Outrageous Costumes! Masked Crowds! Carnival Royalty! High-stepping! Strutters moving to the rhythms of Dixieland Jazz! Uninhibited Merry-making! MARDI GRAS!
Mardi Gras celebrations go back several hundred years. The term “Mardi Gras” means “Fat Tuesday” and refers to the day before Ash Wednesday – the first of the forty days of lent preceding Easter. Christians on the time customarily gave up meat and other indulgences during lent, thus “carneval” or “farewell to meat” - - became “Carnival”, a festive period when over-indulgence was in order.
The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple, gold, and green. However, Krewes (secret groups that make up the cast of characters in Mardi Gras) selected their own colors to brandish during Carnival. Kings and Queens and courts of these krewes are selected with utmost secrecy. Beads, doubloons, and other trinkets are tossed to spectators along the Mardi Gras route as “throws” – the traditional souvenirs of every Mardi Gras.
Because Mardi Gras is celebrated in various cultures around the world costumes and music vary according to location. Lake Wales has incorporated traditions from many of them including feathered costumes from Rio, Dixieland Jazz, Blues and Zydeco music, Cajun food and mask from New Orleans. Another tradition adapted from New Orleans is the Krewe of Rex as the lead Krewe in the parade escorting the Queen of Carnival and Prince of Wailes (our version of rex, King of Carnival). The Prince of Wailes is selected from the members of the Krewe of Rex. The Queen of the Carnival is selected by the hiding of the “Golden Bead” in the ceremonial “King Cake” which will be served to all the ladies present – she who finds the golden bead will take her place beside the King of Carnival.
The essence of Mardi Gras is in participation and be best explained in the words of Robert Tallant:
“Mardi Gras is s spirit….an immortal one….as immortal as man’s ability to make believe, to escape the dreariness of everyday life that is most of men’s portion, to have fun, laugh, and to play…Mardi Gras is very old, but it is also very young. It belongs to the past, yet also to the present and the future. It will exist in other forms, in other times, in other places. It would be wonderful if the clown in the grinning mask should appear on all the Main Streets of the world, if . . . there could be a season, or at least a day, devoted to laughter.”
2019 5k, March 1, 2019
Our heartfelt thanks to the Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing
& TDC for their generous support of the Lake Wales Mardi Gras
Organization and Event
In 1984 the Lake Wales Mardi Gras was created in memory of Vinton Davis, owner and operator of Vinton’s New Orleans Restaurant along with his wife. Vinton was quite a character and loved carnivals and particularly Mardi Gras in New Orleans. In fact, at one time he did join a carnival leaving his wife to run the business.
When Vinton died, his daughter Nancy Estes and his wife Nettie wanted a traditional New Orleans funeral with the parading of the casket with jazz bands and mourners. Unfortunately they could not do that so they decided to have a parade in his memory and call it the Lake Wales Mardi Gras. With the help of his step-son Jim Bernhardt, Netties brother Ed, friend Robert Connors and a handful of others, the Lake Wales Mardi Gras was planned.
The first Mardi Gras parade consisted of one band (Al’s Place Band), four Krewes (The Mystick Krewe of Rex, the Mystick and fair Krewe of Aphrodite, Royal Order of the Red Swans and the Loyal order of Wild Shiners) and several marching revelers. They formed before a crowd of a couple of hundred spectators. Today we parade with over a dozen floats and krewes and march for about 50,000 spectators.
Nettie Davis - owner of world famous Vinton's Restaurant in the French Quarter of Lake Wales - beautiful lady who exuded hospitality to all who came in contact with her - she co-founded Lake Wales Mardi Gras in honor of her husband Vinton Davis who passed away and requested a celebration of music and dance -- passed away December 1, 2001.
Marc McClernan - promoter and president of Mardi Gras for many years -- co-hosted "Your Show" with Pat Turner on WIPC radio 1280 AM -- many Mardi Gras people and musicians were on the show over the one year he was part of the show -- wonderful friend to us - sorely missed - he passed July 10, 2001
Scott and Liz Haxton - owned Mechanical Consultants on Orange Avenue - great friends of Mardi Gras - gracious host and hostess - Liz was Queen of Carnival -- they belonged to the Legion of Zombies -- sadly missed by all who knew and loved them - passed together on May 30, 2001.
Others notable names:
Al Rattey - Musician & former Prince
Delores Baldauf - Past President
Crys Anderson - Former Secretary
Panama Francis - Musican, Advisory Board Member & Grand Marshall
Nat Adderley - Musician, Advisory Board Member & Grand Marshall
Herman Macy - Former Prince
Charles L. Tillman - First Prince
Nick Arpino - Former Prince
John Marsh - Benefactor
Emil Jahna - Benefactor
We are located on the crossroads of U.S. 27 and Highway 60; dead center of the state.
Take I-95, U.S. 1 or the Florida Turnpike to Highway 60 and go west into Lake Wales. Or Take I-75 to Highway 60 and go east into Lake Wales. Or If your'e coming in by commercial airline, fly to Orlando International Airport, take the 528 west to I-4 west to U.S 27 south into Lake Wales.
The Chamber of Commerce is located on Central Ave just east of U.S 27. Maps and guides are available there. You may also Email us for more detailed information.
Parking for Mardi Gras is located east of Scenic (alt 27) between Central Ave. and East Crystal Ave.