There is only one Mardi Gras in America older than the New Orleans Mardi Gras, and that is Mobile’s, only 144 miles away. Begun by Nicholas Langlois of France in 1703, fifteen years before New Orleans was founded, although today the Crescent City’s celebration is much more widely known. In Mobile, the first capital of French Louisiana (1702), the festival began as a French Catholic tradition, as do Mardi Gras around the world.
Mardi Gras in Mobile has now evolved into a mainstream multi-week celebration across the spectrum of cultures in Mobile, becoming school holidays for the final Monday and Tuesday (some include Wednesday),regardless of religious affiliation. Much the same has happened in New Orleans. In downtown Mobile, there are 38 parades over 3 weeks. Baldwin County has a dozen major parades, and outside of downtown there are several parades as well.
When examining the Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Mardi Gras in Mobile, I’m struck by one huge similarity; both have fascinating histories. New Orleans has its ribald parades, Krewe du Vieux for example, but Mobile doesn’t.
Mobile has a number of strange, historic, and strong Mardi Gras traditions. One of my favorites is Joe Cain Day. Joe Cain is credited with re-starting the Mobile Mardi Gras after the War Between the States. In 1868, Joe Cain costumed as Slacabamorinico, a make believe Chickasaw Chief. The Chickasaw, a legendary fighting force, had never been defeated in battle throughout their history. Cain had been in New Orleans the year before for the Fireman’s Day Parade. The next day was Mardi Gras Day, and Cain was impressed with what he saw. His costume was an indirect insult to the still occupying Union force, since the Chickasaw had always won in battle.
A half dozen former Confederate veterans joined Cain later in the day, riding in a decorated coal wagon playing musical instruments. They became known as the L. C. Minstrel Band, now known as the Lost Cause Minstrels of Mobile.
No day is greater than Joe Cain Day. Cain is honored on the Sunday before Mardi Gras every year with a graveyard procession featuring Cain’s Merry Widows, who dress in 1800s funeral attire and weep and wail for their beloved husband. Once they’ve finished this ritual, the Widows throw black beads and black roses to the crowd and head over to Cain’s original home in the Oakleigh Historic District, where they are invited in for cocktails and bicker over who was his favorite.
In the afternoon, the Mistresses of Joe Cain lead the Joe Cain Procession, also known as the People’s Parade, featuring homemade floats made by groups of local friends, families, businesses, churches, and schools. Lasting all afternoon, it is the longest parade of Carnival, and it draws in the neighborhood of 150,000 participants and onlookers.
Cain helped to organize the T.D.S. (Tea Drinker’s Society), one of Mobile’s mystic societies, in 1846; however, their banquets were part of Mobile’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, rather than being held on Mardi Gras day. Other groups had developed Mardi Gras parades, but the Civil War had brought them to a halt.
He’s buried in Mobile in the Church Street graveyard. His gravestone says-
Here lies old Joe Cain
The heart and soul of Mardi Gras in Mobile
Joseph Stillwell Cain
Slacabamorinico – Old Slac
From the blog.al.com web site-
In the final Mardi Gras parade, Folly and Death ride the same float. Folly tries to beat death, since Folly is the only one who would try. Mardi Gras is the one time of the year when Folly triumphs over death. Except today, Fat Tuesday.
They ride the first float of the last parade of Carnival, which is presented by Mobile’s oldest and most storied Mardi Gras organization, the Order of Myths. Pulled by mules and illuminated by flambeaux, the float looks like it did generations ago, creating a portal that carries revelers back to the late 19th century. On the float, Folly chases Death around a broken column — what the OOMs refer to as “the broken column of life.”
During that cartoonish chase, round and round, Folly beats on Death with three inflated pig bladders, painted gold and tied to a broomstick, emitting loud whacks that can be heard across the parade route. The symbolism couldn’t be more universal, and the message couldn’t be closer to the heart of Carnival. Only Folly would ever try to beat Death, since Death always wins.
Except today, Fat Tuesday.
New Orleanians are a very creative lot. Most us have a bag of two of Mardi Gras beads in the closet or attic. Once beads are exposed to the weather for a while, the paint wears off but the beads endure for a long time. Since Hurricane Katrina, the city has had FEMA money to fix a lot of major and minor city streams but so many more haven’t been fixed and are one of the banes of our existence in any older city in America. Combining beads and pot holes makes perfect sense to me. It’s a very quick and somewhat lasting solution.
Political Cartoon from al.com
When Cleopatra and Oshun kick off on Friday evening, we launch the 10 day sprint known as Carnival in New Orleans. Krewe population trends varied around the metropolitan area, an interesting pattern to say the least. Orleans Parish organizations are growing by leaps and bounds, while Jefferson Parish saw several krewes fade away. I really cannot explain this development. The suburbs have been growing for decades as the city lost population. So why did Thor, Zeus and Atlas, three old Jefferson krewes with 140 years of parading history, cease marching?
In the past 17 years, 25 Carnival clubs have quit. The trend precedes Hurricane Katrina. In spite of the Orleans Parish parade moratorium, the Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale received permission to ride this year on February 8. They will parade after the three previously scheduled parades. In Jefferson, the Krewe of Athena Carnival Club received a parade permit to follow Excalibur tonight.
Parade goers will have to come up with a new plan if they set up shop on certain neutral grounds and city street intersections this year. The Army Corps of Engineers’ drainage projects along Napoleon and Jefferson Streets will mess up lots of Carnival plans. Fences on the neutral grounds along Napoleon will severely limit parade watching.
According to Mark Romig, president of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation, the 2015 season will be a busy one, with many area hotels already filled up between now and Fat Tuesday. However, the Quarter and downtown have suffered recently from bad publicity due to a rash of robberies and assaults.
Additional state troopers were deployed in the French Quarter in August after more negative publicity when a shooting on Bourbon killed one woman and injured several others. Those officers left the city after the 2015 Sugar Bowl was concluded even though the mayor asked Governor Bobby Jindal to extend their stay.
Now, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson says he is working with New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu to extend their tenure. Plus, the tourism industry has ponied up $2.5 million to keep troopers here. That’s an impressive amount of money.
On a lighter note, the New Orleans Advocate is producing 14 full color Krewe Parade Bulletins for 2015. In 1886, the Krewe of Proteus became the first Carnival organization to present full color chromolithograph newspaper editions showing the float designs for it’s street pageant. Other krewes quickly followed suit, and these carnival editions or bulletins continued to be printed and sold on street corners for a dime until 1941.
This year, and this year only, Friday the 13th and Valentine’s Day fall on the weekend before Fat Tuesday. Several krewes will indicate this event via their float designs and throws.
For most of the last 150 years, New Orleans official reviewing stand for Mardi Gras parades has been historic Gallier Hall. That changed when a large piece of the facade fell off the building last year, closing the building for 2015.
The 2015 version of Krewe du Vieux rolled throughout the Marigny, French Quarter, and Central Business District last evening before a large adult crowd, some small children, and a few kids who had no business attending. It was an all new route for the non-profit krewe dedicated to the historical and traditional concept of a Mardi Gras parade as a venue for individual creative expression and satirical comment.
Virtually all the music provided by the parade last night came from brass bands from around New Orleans.- Langiappe, Pinettes, Kinfolk, TBC, New Birth, Jazzmen, Bone Tone, Big Fun, One Love, Young Fellaz, Paulin Bros, Treme, Egg Yolk Jubilee, and Baby Boy. KdV is the top music parade in the city, and that’s no small statement. 20+ great brass bands truly enrich the parade going experience for both the participants and crowd. We march 3.8 miles across Marigny, the Quarter and the CBD, and every step of the way was a joy due to the continuous, non-amplified, mobile concert that accompanied each krewe.
The KdV pre-party was the food highlight of the evening. The abundant Popeyes’ fried chicken, red beans, po-boys, homemade cheesecakes, salads, and finger sandwiches went over very well. The best food I scarfed- marinaded filet mignon sandwich on biscuit with spring greens and goat cheese.
The temperature was in the mid 50s as the parade kicked off. The parade was the peak event of the evening. The brass band marching immediately in front of our mule was the Big Fun Brass Band. Behind me was Underwear stalwart Egg Yolk Jubilee. Both were extraordinary and added a lot of weight to the festivities. Since my position as Escort is next to the float, I mostly heard the band in front of me. After listening to and dancing to them for a couple of hours, I realized how much the band had improved my parade experience.
I have found that the amount of fun to be had being part of a parade is directly related to the amount of throws you have to throw during the parade. If you have enough throws so you can throw from beginning to end, you will have a superlative time. If you have less throws, you may not have as good a time.
Each sub-krewe that collectively make up KdV design their own hard biting, ribald float based on the mother krewe’s 2015 theme, KdV Begs For Change. This makes for well thought out, well constructed floats. I generally include a photo essay from KdV taken before the parade rolls, but after they have left the den and set up in pre-staging before moving to the start of the parade.
12th Night has come and gone. The 2015 Mardi Gras season has arrived. My parade, Krewe du Vieux, rolls later this month with an all new route. That’s for another entry. This entry is about the Phunny Phorty Phellows, who roll on a decorated streetcar and Krewe de Jeanne D’Arc, who rolled downtown in the French Quarter, which means they basically are a walking parade, much like my own KdV.
The next paragraph is from the Joan of Arc Parade web site-
Our medieval-style parade is set in Joan’s time, 1400s France, with medieval costumes and music, characters on horseback, jugglers, knights, stiltwalkers, giant puppets, king cake and handmade medieval throws. In New Orleans, January 6 is also still celebrated as Twelfth Night, an old medieval holiday which is the kick-off to the Carnival season. We are a secular group, and we welcome anyone with an interest in Joan of Arc, be they Catholic or non-Catholic, artist or non-artist, French-speaking or not. We are an eclectic, authentic New Orleans blend of whimsical and reverent, sacred and secular, spectacular and contemplative.
All of Joan of Arc’s throws are handmade. That is rather extraordinary, as krewes, even walking krewes throw a lot of throws. Another interesting aspect of this krewe is their obsession with Joan of Arc. Krewe members often refer to their namesake as ‘Joan’. That is a bit weird.
The Phellows are a historic group, dating back to 1878. REX formed in 1872, making PPP virtually as old. In the old days, they were a parading group. For their first parade, PPP followed REX, which they did for the next few years. They stopped parading in 1898. The modern krewe was revived in 1981 and became a streetcar riding krewe in 1982. From 1981 to 1986, PPP marched with the Contemporary Art Center’s Krewe of Clones. The Clones are the predecessors of Krewe du Vieux. I was in Clones and am in Krewe du Vieux, which any reader of this blog certainly knows.
Other innovations and features: Beautiful invitations and dance cards like 1800s by a series of royal artists: Beth Kesmodel, Hal Pluche, Jeanne Woods, Arthur Nead, and Kevin Barre.