By MATT CRANE
While Fat Tuesday might not happen until Feb. 12, organizers and volunteers at the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum are getting into the Mardi Gras spirit with its newest exhibit.
During January and February, Mardi Gras accessories and festive items — both vintage and contemporary — will be on display thanks to Wanda Thorne, Joan Wilson and Betsy Longest.
Growing up in the New Orleans area, Thorne said she had fond memories of the yearly parades and festivities.
"When I was in elementary school, my father would take me to the parades if I had gotten my homework done during the week," she said. "I can remember they used to pull the floats with mule they used from the sanitation department and since they didn't have lighting on the floats back then, men would carry these lighted poles called flambeaux."
With most of the display coming from her personal collection, Thorne said one item in the display case is filled with Mardi Gras treasures.
"I have a whole collection of doubloons in a cigar box at the museum," she said. "Growing up, they didn't have doubloons, but over the years my mother, who still lived down there, would go and gather them and tons of beads and send them back to our kids."
Attending LSU with her husband Mike, Thorne said she can remember school officials letting students out of school for the annual party.
"They would give a holiday for the actual Mardi Gras day, but you had to be back in class on Wednesday," she said. "Now, I think they give them the whole week off."
Reminiscing on the extravagant krewe balls, lavish parades — she was once featured in one — and the joy of the weeks-long festivities, Thorne said she cherishes the time she spent at Mardi Gras as a child and young adult.
"There are a lot of good memories," she said. "I made a binder that is at the museum that has a lot of material about the history and facts about Mardi Gras that people might not know."
Betty Longest said the Mardi Gras display is a part of an ongoing initiative by the museum to feature a variety of exhibits throughout the year.
"As the year moves on we'll do something in connection with the seasons," she said. "With spring coming up, we'll have one on flowers and gardening."
With construction and renovations almost complete, Longest said she is grateful for the work of the Landscape Architecture and Architecture schools for investing in work the museum does for Starkville and Oktibbeha County.
"We hope that people will find something worthwhile in our rain garden and the various rotating exhibits and programs we plan on providing," she said. "We don't want to just be there, we want people to be actively aware that there is something new to see."
For more information about the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum, call 662-323-0211 or visit http://www.oktibbehaheritagemuseum.com .