I took off work early, partly because I have spring fever, and partly because I was just plain excited to be going somewhere different, especially mardis gras. So we got all packed up and headed south. I figured we could just stay in Jackson at the cabin since Mobile would only be an hour away. Adam and Katie left after we did, and ended up getting to the cabin about 9pm.
A little bit of history for ya...
Mardi Gras actually started in Mobile in 1703 when it was a colony of French soldiers. After having survived a particularly nasty bout with yellow fever, they decided to celebrate, but since party favors were few and far between in the New World, the men opted to paint their faces red and just act crazy for a few hours. They must have had fun because it became an annual event.
Mardi Gras was transformed into a parade event in 1840 by a group known as the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, the first of many of Mobile's so-called mystic organizations who journeyed to New Orleans in 1857 to help a group there set up a Mardi Gras celebration.
After the Civil War, Mobile was occupied by Federal troops, and it was not a fun place. Hostilities had long since put Mardi Gras on hold. However, in 1866, a man by the name of Joe Cain felt it was time once again to bring back the merriment of Mardi Gras and decided to do his part to put life back into the town. Cain decked himself in full Chickasaw Indian regalia, proclaimed himself Chief Slacabamorinico, climbed aboard a coal wagon with six spirited (figuratively and literally) friends calling themselves "The Tea Drinkers," and road his one-mule, one-float parade through the town.
Mobile during the Festival of Lent has never been the same since.
There are twenty-two parades, with at least one parade each day during the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Day, but the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before, the excitement begins to build up with two to three parades each day. The crazy crescendo is tomorrow, Fat Tuesday when six parades turn Mobile upside-down for the day. My family plans on being down there all day tomorrow to join in the good times.
At the stroke of midnight on Fat Tuesday, it all goes away. But it will be back next year, because as early French colonists and ol' Joe Cain discovered many years ago, enjoying the unreal, getting a little bit crazy, if just for a brief time, is a great way to deal with the real. And, Lord knows, this year we all have a lot of real to deal with.
Our day Saturday began with the Floral parade at noon, followed by the Knights of Mobile and the Order of Angels parades. Then about 1pm, we took our chairs and cooler a couple of blocks over to Bienville Square where we ate a picnic lunch, listened to some music and soaked up the scenery. A lot of Mobile's homeless live in Bienville Square, and even they were in the spirit, covering their grocery carts with beads.
We also spent part of the afternoon walking around downtown Mobile and Fort Conde. Fort Condé protected Mobile and its citizens for nearly 100 years from 1723-1820. It was built by the French as a defense against British and Spanish attack on the strategic location of Mobile and its Bay. The military importance of Mobile and Fort Condé was huge. The fort and town protected access into the lands between the Mississippi River and the Atlantic colonies along the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers. Two other fort served to protect the area as well. Fort Gaines sits on Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan is in Gulf Shores. All of the forts are open to the public, and if you've never paid them a visit, you should take the time to do so.
The Mystics of Time parade was Saturday night, and the police estimated that over 83,000 people were in attendance. The Mystics of Time parade is known as the mammoth parade, and lasted about an hour and a half. It has been said that the Saturday night before Fat Tuesday is when the "lid comes off" in downtown Mobile, and from what we could see after the parade, it definately came off. Downtown was packed with people dancing in the streets and DJ's on balconies throwing beads, cups, and even dollar bills to the masses below. We sat back and enjoyed a hurricane and took it all in. Adam walked around with Aidan on his shoulders and each time they came back by, Aidan had gotten more and more beads. The ladies all thought he was cute, Aidan that is, and loaded him down with goodies.
After watching the crowds for awhile, we realized that we needed to get some food. So we ate at the original Wentzell's Oyster House. Having been in business for over 70 years, they are famous for serving their oysters "fried, stewed, or nude." We left full, happy, and worn slap out.
Needless to say, we were glad to get back to the cabin and crash and go through our loot!
Laissez les bons temps roulez!