BILOXI -- This year's Children's Walking Parade on March 3 will end at the Magnolia Hotel, where the gift shop already is open and the Biloxi Mardi Gras Museum should make its return by summer.
The route will be reversed this year as kids in wagons, scooters and baby carriages set out from the Biloxi Town Green. The idea is to get people accustomed to the museum becoming the centerpiece of Biloxi's Mardi Gras celebrations, said Bill Raymond, Biloxi's historical administrator.
That recognition began in January, when the twinkling lights of Christmas at Beauvoir were turned off and Carnival season was launched at the Mardi Gras Museum. Then Wednesday, more than 200 people joined the Walk for Exceptional Children that started with a celebration at the museum.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Mardi Gras Museum at the Magnolia Hotel in 2005 and many of the costumes and much of the memorabilia were lost.
"It's all irreplaceable," Raymond said. Insurance doesn't cover the cost, he said, and it's impossible to buy duplicates of the one-of-a-kind costumes.
He is asking the community to share their Mardi Gras costumes, posters, photographs and invitations to be displayed at the museum. "We're looking for it all," he said.
The museum will show all that goes into putting on the annual celebration.
"It's more than big parades and parties," he said. The history of the fatted calf that was paraded in the streets and other traditions will be preserved.
Visitors don't have to wait until the museum opens to admire the 2012 costumes from the Gulf Coast Carni
val Association, on display in the foyer of the Magnolia Hotel, and other colorful gowns in adjacent rooms.
"Wow. We knew they'd be fancy but not that elaborate," is the reaction of many visitors as they step around the long trains that stretch across the restored heart pine floors, said Tanner Cook. He runs the gift shop that is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, where handmade Mardi Gras hats and boas are sold along with a mix of books, pottery and glassware.
Some of the people who visit just want to see the hotel, he said, which has three fireplaces on the first floor and French doors that open to the balconies.
"This building has so much character, I love it," Cook said.
The restoration of the Magnolia Hotel after Katrina provided an elevator that opens the second floor to the public, doubling the amount of display space, Raymond said.
He plans to dedicate one of the rooms on the second floor to balls and other rooms to parades, krewes and children and their introduction to Carnival season.
"It all helps tell the story of Mardi Gras," he said.