Did you know that Mardi Gras actually started in Mobile, Alabama over 300 years ago? Did you also know that Mobile is "America's Family Mardi Gras" and is appropriate for all ages? If you’re looking to have a fun time out of harm’s way, then party in Mobile instead of New Orleans to enjoy one of the safest Mardi Gras celebrations in the world.
Although today’s Mardi Gras is all about colorful costumes and parades, green, gold, and purple beaded necklaces, moon pies, and much frivolity, Mardi Gras of days gone by weren’t quite so wild. Back in 1703 when Mobile 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 Gras parade occurred in 1840 in New Orleans when a group from Mobile helped that city establish its own celebration.
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, an ordinary citizen decided to do something about the doom and gloom. Needing a departure from the ordinary, Joe Cain decked himself in full Chickasaw Indian regalia, proclaimed himself Chief Slacabamorinico, and climbed aboard a coal wagon with some rowdy friends. The group called themselves "The Tea Drinkers" and road this one-mule, one-float parade through the town. It was a hit. Mardi Gras then reappeared 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 even today, and a special procession is held in his honor each year. Cain's Merry Widows, a mysterious group of women donned in black and all claiming to be his wife, throw black roses and beads from their Mardi Gras float. Following 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 more beads!
The exact dates of Mardi Gras vary each year, but it can always be determined by calculating backwards from the date on which Easter falls. Mardi Gras Day, or "Fat Tuesday" is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which begins the 40-day Lenten season. During this time, over twenty parades (lighted parades at night are really spectacular) and countless parties and balls will be held in celebration. The Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Mardi Gras is the real party with two or three parades held each day. Mark your calendars now and you won’t miss any of the merriment!
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