The last time I attended a Mardi Gras parade or event was, I think, 1974. I grew up in and around Mobile, Alabama and it was part of the culture. I thought everyone had Mardi Gras and took the parades, music and revelry for granted. I moved away in 1980 and was shocked to find that my new city didn’t close schools and shut down businesses for the two days before Ash Wednesday.
It’s an odd thing about Mobile, Alabama. It’s a conservative, mostly Baptist city – but with a French Catholic heritage. Mardi Gras (of sorts) started there in 1703 which, for those of you keeping count, is fifteen years before New Orleans was founded. The annual celebration has continued since with a small interruption during the conflagration in the early 1860s. Joe Cain is credited with bringing the debauchery back to the city and it’s been a presence ever since, despite the fact that the city is much less Catholic these days and Frenchmen are hard to come by.
Urban Brother and I decided our collective 70 year gap in Mardi Gras was enough. It’s been hard for either of us to make it there over the years due to distance and other obligations, but we found ourselves with a little window this year and grabbed it. We drove into Mobile Saturday morning this past weekend and stayed until Sunday afternoon. The timing is good because, in addition to afternoon parades on Saturday, one of the very best parades – and the one we most remember from childhood – the Mystics of Time parade on Saturday night before Mardi Gras Day.
Additionally, the Joe Cain parade is on Sunday afternoon and it’s steeped in as much Mobile tradition as about anything the city has to offer. Joe paraded through the city in 1868 dressed as a Chickasaw Indian and was joined by some Confederate veterans riding a coal wagon. The tradition grew rapidly and Mardi Gras resumed. The Joe Cain Parade started in 1967 and the jazz funeral marched to the re-burial site of Joe Cain in downtown Mobile. The parade now includes Joe’s widows dressed in black and his mistresses dressed in red, along with many Mardi Gras Indians.
The photographs you are seeing here are from Saturday, though I may throw out a post later that includes Sunday’s Joe Cain parade. The parades run for two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday with multiple parades staged each day in downtown Mobile. Happily, I can report that downtown Mobile is undergoing a similar resurgence to ours and to that of many cities across the country.
Interestingly, a large swath of downtown Mobile on Dauphin Street, which is not on the parade route, was closed for the entire weekend to automotive traffic making an Open Streets sort of effect, though with alcohol allowed throughout. To say it was fun would be a significant understatement. It made me wonder why and how Mobile can do this and Knoxville can’t afford to very often close streets.
I took 476 photographs on Saturday alone and I’ve now trimmed them to a bit over two hundred, most of which I will post to Facebook later today. If you like what you see here, be sure to check the Inside of Knoxville Facebook page for the others. These aren’t event necessarily the best, they are just some good ones I could quickly grab. I will try to hit Joe Cain later today so we can keep it all on Fat Tuesday.
Knoxville implication: The photographs you see here and will see on Facebook help explain why I grumble about our floats at Christmas, our biggest parade of the year. I know it’s not directly analogous, but see what can be done? From two story floats to self-propelled, fire breathing dragons, it’s very spectacular.