Monday, February 23, 2009

Mobile Mardi Gras

Mobile is not only recognized as celebrating the first-known American Mardi Gras celebration in 1703 (yes, even before New Orleans), but also as home to the "America's Family Mardi Gras" delighting both young and old from around town and across the nation. This magnificent celebration lasts for over two and a half weeks and culminates on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent.
For weeks, the streets of downtown Mobile are filled with the sights and sounds of live marching bands, brilliant-colored floats and of course teeming crowds of parade goers. The floats are glowing spectacles manned by masked riders festooned in satin and sequins, and armed with crowd-pleasing "throws" such as beads, moon pies, doubloons and candy. Mardi Gras must be experienced to be fully understood and Mobile is the perfect place.As a major holiday in parts of Europe and South America, the celebration dates back to 1703 when the tiny French colony of Mobile observed North America's first Mardi Gras. The Cowbellion de Rakin society took loudly to the streets in 1830 armed with rakes, hoes and cowbells plundered from a hardware store, and no doubt later kept the feast with whatever food and drink they had. Although they marched on New Year's Eve and not Fat Tuesday, they were a true antecedent of Mardi Gras in Mobile and the first mystic societies, which were later formed in the 1830s. Later, in 1857, the Mobile members of the Cowbellian de Rakin Society traveled to New Orleans and assisted with the formation of the Mystic Krewe of Comus, to this day New Orleans' most prestigious Mardi Gras society. From these early roots grew the wonderful Mardi Gras celebrations found today in the Port City.
The stress of the Civil War brought an end to the annual festivities in Mobile. After the war and under Union occupation, the city was disillusioned and discouraged. On the afternoon of Fat Tuesday in 1866, Joseph Stillwell Cain set out to raise the spirits of Mobile. He donned Chickasaw Indian regalia, called himself "Chief Slacabormorinico," climbed aboard a decorated coal wagon pulled by a mule and held a one-float parade through the streets of Mobile. Mardi Gras with all its frivolity was reborn!
Cain founded many of the mystic societies and built a tradition of Mardi Gras parades, which continues today. In fact, he is remembered each year on Joe Cain Day, which is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Known as "the people's day," Mardi Gras revelers decorate anything they can push, pull, or drag for the Joe Cain Procession and parade, which is as much fun to watch as it is to ride. Cain himself participated in each year's festivity until he died at age 72.

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