Fifteen years ago, my sister wanted us to join her on a trip to Mobile, Alabama and attend a Mardi Gras parade. I really wasn’t eager to drive ten hours to see a thirty minute parade. Besides, Mardi Gras was in New Orleans with beads and boobs. She wasn’t tricking me.
“Actually,” Laurie said. “Mardi Gras was born in Mobile. And they don’t do it like New Orleans. This one is more family friendly.”
“You want me to drive ten hours for a family friendly parade? What’s the fun in that?”
I agreed to go, but I was skeptical about her claims of Mobile being the birth place of the celebration that had become synonymous with New Orleans. Before we left, I entered Barnes and Noble, grabbed a cup of coffee and set about to prove my sister wrong. However, I was the one with faulty knowledge. You can imagine my shock. My sister was right!
Some trace the first Mardi Gras to the year 1703, one year after the founding of Mobile. Originally called Boeuf Gras (Faulted Ox), it was a great celebration on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (now returned to as Fat Tuesday) with quite a bit of eating and revelry to usher in the Lenten season. Of course, this wasn’t the Mardi Gras we know today.
It wasn’t until 1830, however, that it really took off. Although it began on New Year’s Eve and not Fat Tuesday, Michael Krafft formed the Cowbellion de Rakan Society and kept their dinner party going. They raided a nearby hardware store, making off with rakes, hoes and cowbells and went banging these merriments through the streets. It was here that the modern Mardi Gras began with its mystic societies. New Orleans didn’t get involved until 27 years later when members of the Cowbellion de Rakan Society traveled to the famous city to help it form its own mystic society and the Crew of Comus (Krewe of Kumus) was born.
The Civil War brought an end to the fun as war is ought to do. At the end of it, the south lost and was back under the Union. Our country was whole again, but Mobile was a discouraged city in a state of mourning. Enter Joseph Stillwell Cain.
Not wanting to see his city continue in its state of depression, Cain set out to bolster their spirits and remind them that life is a celebration. That’s something many of us need to be reminded of quite often. On Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras Day, in 1866, he made himself up to resemble a Chickasaw Indian, decorated a coal wagon, and with the assistance of a mule pulled his way in a one-float parade up and down the city streets of Mobile. Mardi Gras was reincarnated and has continued to expand and thrive ever since. It has even made its way down to Florida where I am.
I’m not sure when the flashing of boobs for beads began and I refuse to ask my sister for more information. She’s been right enough for my lifetime.
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