story and photos by Ruby Dean
The Fort Smith Museum of History held their largest annual fundraiser, Mardi Gras on Friday (Feb. 8), at the Immaculate Conception Parish Hall bringing a feel of New Orleans to Fort Smith.
More than 400 people came to the event dressed in disguise to help raise money for the museum. Revelers enjoyed cocktails, an authentic Cajun dinner, a live auction and dancing.
The live auction featured packages such as a train excursion from Van Buren to Winslow and an Ozark weekend full of canoeing, hiking, or just relaxing by the Buffalo River, and an exotic destination package with a trip to Indian Shores, Fla., awarded to the highest bidder.
"This is the main fundraiser for the museum," said Leisa Gramlich, executive director of the museum. “It is the best party in town because of the great food, good company, plenty to drink, and lots of beads.”
Museum supporter Marica Porter said the money raised helps support the museum’s $250,000 annual operating budget.
“Last year, the event raised $41,000 with hopes this year to raise $40,000 plus,” Porter said. “We are in the middle of our capital campaign to raise one million dollars to renovate the museum, opening up all four floors, and changing out exhibits. We hope to put more of our artifacts on the display.”
Tickets were again sold out for the event. New this year was a wine pull, which sold out early. Raffle tickets were also sold on select items including the $2,000 shopping spree to Newton’s Jewelers.
Before the live auction began, a Cajun dinner was served buffet style including the traditional bread pudding. Soon after the traditional dinner, auctioneer Doug Schwartz and emcee Daren Bobb kept the evening moving as they encouraged bidders during the live auction.
Mr. Cabbage Head and The Screaming Radishes performed again this year taking the stage providing dancing music for the guests.
The details in making this event work takes about three months to plan.
"It's always fun. It takes two days to completely decorate for the party,” Gramlich explained. “Everything has to be taken out by midnight. There are masks, trinkets, beads and great auction items.”
The most popular item in the live auction was the German Oktoberfest which will be held at Ron and Abby Novak’s. The winner of this item gets to invite 50 guests served the traditional German food, beer, wine, and mixed drinks all provided by the museum’s board of directors.