Mardi Gras of yesteryear wasn’t quite so raucous as it is today. Back in 1703 when Mobile, Alabama was basically a colony of French soldiers, a few men painted their faces and acted crazy for a few hours. They were celebrating because the city had come through a bad bout of yellow fever and diseases such as that weren’t easily out-lived back then. The celebration caught on and became an annual event. The first Mardi Grad parade occurred in 1840 in New Orleans when a group from Mobile helped that city establish its own celebration. Mystic organizations developed and continue today (these groups plan and fundraise throughout the year). Membership in a mystic society is taken very seriously and his highly coveted, but mystic doesn’t mean black magic. You can tell by the funky names— Knights of Daze, Maids of Jubilee, Mystics of Pleasure, Krewe of Merry Mates, Comic Cowboys— that it’s all about the fun.
Who is Joe Cain?
After the Civil War, the Southern way of life changed forever. Mobile was occupied by Federal troops, and many celebrations and traditions were put on hold. After years of no Mardi Gras, in 1866, Joe Cain, an ordinary citizen, decided to do something about the doom and gloom. Needing a departure from the ordinary, Cain decked himself in full Chickasaw Indian regalia, proclaimed himself Chief Slacabamorinico, climbed aboard a coal wagon with some rowdy friends, called themselves “The Tea Drinkers” (betcha they had imbibed in stronger spirits than that!) and road his one-mule, one-float parade through the town. Mardi Gras was revived and the city of Mobile got a much-needed boost of life. Joe Cain’s choice of an Indian character for his costume was a subtle insult to the Union forces— the Chickasaw had never officially surrendered during the Civil War.
Thanks to his antics, Joe Cain holds a special place in the hearts of Mobilians, and a special procession is held in his honor. Cain’s Merry Widows, a mysterious group of women donned in black who throw black roses and beads from their Mardi Gras float, are a regular part of his procession. After the Joe Cain parade, Cain’s Merry Widows partake in a mock funeral at his gravesite, located at the Church Street Graveyard in downtown Mobile. The widows weep, throw beads, weep, and throw even more beads! This year’s parade honoring Joe Cain is Sunday, February 14, 2010. Nevada City, California is the only known city outside of Mobile that also celebrates Joe Cain’s revival of Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras is a southern traditional that must be experienced to be understood. If you’ve not yet participated, take the family to where it all began— Mobile, Alabama. The original home of the crazy celebration is the best place to discover just how many colorful beads one person can wear— your neck definitely gets put to the test! Grab all you can, because at the stroke of midnight on Fat Tuesday, the wackiness vanishes to make way for Lent. But until then… laissez les bon temps roullex… let the good times roll!Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
Try the RV LIFE Pro Bundle FREE for 7 days
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com