Mardi Gras; which is French for “Fat Tuesday”, ends at midnight on the last day of the carnival season. This is 40 days before Easter, which is, the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the beginning of spring. Therefore, it changes every year.
The French brought a form of Mardi Gras to Mobile on March 3, 1699. In 1711, a form of Mardi Gras called “Boeuf Gras”; which was a fatted bull symbolic of the last meat eaten before the Lenten Feast, was paraded through the streets. Once a live version now made of paper mache.
In 1780, the Spanish brought “Flambeaux.” A parade of lighted torches. This was being done at the same time the French were celebrating “Boeuf Gras”, and this is where the idea of Mardi Gras was derived.
In 1830, on New Years Eve, a group of young men were celebrating by visiting the steamboats up and down the river front. They would stop and drink with all the Captains of the boats. One night, while going home, they passed a hardware store. They saw rakes, hoes, shovels, a cow bells. The young men went in and grabbed these items and proceeded through town shaking the tools and ringing the bells. This continued every year and after two or three years, they decided to give themselves a name. They came up with the name “Cowbellion de Rakins Society.” Michael Krafft was the founder of what was the first Mardi Gras Society and Parade.
The Cowbellions refused to take in new members and this made the young men of Mobile angry. So, they formed their own Society and called themselves the “Independent Strikers Society.” This name came from the local cotton business. That’s the type work these young men did, “Striking Cotton.”
In 1857, members of the Cowbellions and Strikers went to New Orleans to help them form their first Society and Parade. They took floats and costumes to loan the New Orleanians and called their group the “Comus Society.”
Along came the Civil War and ended all Mardi Gras activities. At the conclusion of the war, the Union occupied Mobile. In 1866, Joseph Stillwool Cain, “Joe Cain”, realized since the South lost the war, and Mobilians were sad and needed something to cheer them up, he would revive Mardi Gras. He dressed as a Chickasaw Indian Chief named Slacabamorinico, or “Old Slac.” The reason this outfit was chosen was because the Chickasaw Indians had never been defeated in battle. He and six buddies paraded through Mobile in a wagon on Mardi Gras Day, taunting the Union Soldiers, bringing Mobilians from their homes into the streets the first time since the beginning of the war. Therefore, starting the tradition of Mardi Gras once again.
The Joe Cain Procession was started by accident. Joe was buried in Bayou La Batre, when Julian Lee Rayford, an Author, petitioned to have Joe’s body brought back to Mobile. They dug him up and brought him back starting a procession. There have been only 3 “Joe Cain’s” since the Joe Cain Procession was started. The day begins with the Merry Widows going to the Church St. Cemetery to wail and “Raise Cain.” He rides in a wagon, dressed as Joe Cain did, with six riders at the beginning of every procession on Joe Cain Day.
Mardi Gras has been alive ever since, growing in numbers of Societies and people celebrating.
There are coins called doubloons that are thrown to the crowds in each parade. It is a coin made of Aluminum, .999 fine silver, bronze, and gold plate. The aluminum comes in different colors usually silver, gold, green, and purple. These are Mardi Gras colors. The coin bears the Society Emblem on one side and the theme for that years parade and Ball on the other side. Mardi Gras doubloons date back over 38 years. The first doubloon minted was believed to have been on December 5, 1959.
Not all Societies have a parade. Some only have a “Ball.” Known to most as a dance. The Balls are by invitation only and strict dress codes are enforced. The rental of “Tails” in Mobile is second in the nation only to Hollywood.
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