GULFPORT -- Timothy and Bonnie Leichtle had never been to a Mardi Gras parade until Saturday, when they watched the Krewe of Gemini's day parade roll through the streets of downtown Gulfport.
Self proclaimed "snowbirds," the Leichtles live the majority of the year in Milwaukee, Wis., but it's the four months on the Coast in their apartment in Gulfport they truly love.
"We didn't even know they had Mardi Gras parades in Gulfport," Timothy Leichtle said. "We were at (St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church) and we saw the barricades set up and we decided to check it out."
The Leichtles brought their own folding lawn chairs and set them up in front of Dan M. Russell Jr. U.S. Courthouse for the parade. Although temperatures were in the upper 50s, the slight chill didn't seem to bother Timothy.
"It's funny when people complain about the weather here," he said. "It gets a little chilly, but it's nothing like the winters in Milwaukee."
Bonnie Leichtle said they have been temporary Coast residents for more than a decade.
"People ask us all of the time -- 'Why don't you just move to Gulfport?' -- but, we have six grandchildren and we don't want to be that far away from them the whole year," she said. "We're liking this parade so much that we are going to bring the family down next year."
First time rider
The Krewe of Gemini parade was also a first of sorts for Erin Geist, 18, a senior at Harrison Central High School. Geist said that Saturday was her first time to ride on a float in a Mardi Gras parade.
"I'm very excited about this," she said. "I love Mardi Gras."
Guest, along with several of her peers, was representing the recently-formed Gulfport Mayor's Youth Council by riding on a Gulfport fire truck.
"It's an honor to be on this float and to be a member of the first youth council," she said. "This is one of many events we will be participating in this year."
Relatively new to Gulfport
The Krewe of Gemini has been rolling for 47 years. But author and historian Betty Shaw said Mardi Gras is relatively new to Gulfport.
"Mardi (Gras) is not historically important to Gulfport because Gulfport is different from the other towns on the Coast," Shaw said. "All of the other towns have a different history because they were resort areas like Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis or they were fishing villages, but Gulfport was founded on industry."
Shaw said she remembers a time before Carnival season became popular in Gulfport.
"We didn't have Mardi Gras parades when I was in high school," she said. "We also didn't eat crawfish. We called them 'crayfish' and dissected them in biology."
But Shaw said she has become a fan of the parades on recent years.
"Oh, we love them," she said. "I came with my daughter (Daphne Kelly) because we need some cheering up today."
Thousands of people lined the streets for the Krewe of Gemini's day parade on Saturday. The krewe will roll the same parade Tuesday at 5:30.
Parade organizer Jamie Lord said the parade was one of the largest in recent years.
"The weather was fabulous for the day parade and we had a great crowd," Lord said. "We had right at 70 units in the parade."
Joe and Nancy Powell of Gulfport were the parade's king and queen.