ST. LOUIS — St. Louis' Mardi Gras celebration will reach a crescendo in Soulard this weekend. The Grand Parade caps off a week of parties and parades of humans and dogs alike.
If you've lived in St. Louis long enough, you've heard the claim that the city has the second-largest Mardi Gras in the country, smaller only than the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans.
Media reports attribute that claim to an off-the-cuff comment by then-Mayor Francis Slay at the 2013 Mayor's Mardi Gras Ball. But is it true?
Does St. Louis have the second largest Mardi Gras celebration by parade size or attendance?
Mack Bradley, president of the Mardi Gras Foundation in Soulard
Danny Zimmern, president of Pensacola's Mardi Gras Inc.
Mary Beth Bassett, spokesperson for Visit Galveston
and a spokesperson for Visit Mobile in Alabama
St. Louis does not host the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States.
According to statistics that are available and Bradley's estimation, St. Louis' celebration is smaller than Pensacola or Mobile.
WHAT WE FOUND
Bradley, who has been involved with Soulard Mardi Gras for 22 years, said this claim may have started as long ago as the 1990s, just a decade or so after the first Mardi Gras in St. Louis.
When asked how often people ask him about where St. Louis ranks in the country's celebrations, Bradley said, "So that’s the great part, I only get asked that question about a million times a year."
"Soulard Mardi Gras has never made the claim to be the second-largest in the nation," wrote Bradley in a statement. "We have no way of accurately counting the number of people who come to our largest events as they are outdoors and not within a single area with turnstiles or counters."
The Verify team reached out to six other cities known for their large celebrations, and heard from Pensacola, Florida, Galveston, Texas, and Mobile, Alabama.
In St. Louis, the Mardi Gras Foundation estimates that there are 3,000 participants in its annual Grand Parade. Galveston provided numbers that add up to about 2,000 participants, and Pensacola estimated 6,000 participants.
As for total attendees across all Mardi Gras events, Galveston reported 350,000 attendees, while Pensacola and Mobile estimated 1 million unique attendees.
While St. Louis could not provide an attendance estimate, Bradley admits Pensacola and Mobile's party numbers are hard to beat.
"I would be very surprised if a million people come to Soulard Mardi Gras," he said.
While Soulard Mardi Gras might not be the second largest in the country, it earned a world title in 2012: the annual pet parade was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest number of costumed dogs in one place in the world.