Everyone on the Gulf Coast is blogging about Mardi Gras, so we’ll meet Joe Cain today. Joe Cain or Chief Slacabamorinico was responsible for the rebirth of Mardi Gras after the Civil War.
Mobile, Joe Cain’s birthplace in 1832, was founded by the French in 1703. Although Mobile became an American possession in 1813, it has maintained a vibrant Catholic population to this day. Catholics—especially in the 18th – 19th centuries—fasted during Lent for forty weekdays before Easter. How often and what could be consumed were mandated by the Church. In Europe, where Mardi Gras (Carnival) began, the days before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) became a period of feast before the famine.
Mardi Gras was not observed during the Civil War. In 1867, while Mobile was still occupied by Union soldiers, a young clerk, Joseph Stillwell Cain, Jr. (Joe Cain), paraded through the streets of Mobile, dressed in improvised costume depicting a fictional Chickasaw chief named Slacabamorinico. Joe was joined by six other Confederate veterans, parading in a decorated coal wagon, playing drums and horns, and the group became the “L. C. Minstrel Band”, now commonly referred to as the “Lost Cause Minstrels” of Mobile.
Joe Cain’s masquerade, lifted Mobile’s spirits and revived the ancient French observance of Mardi Gras According to tradition. Joe Cain was the first Folly to chase the Death round the pillar of life. Joe Cain founded the Tea Drinkers (a now defunct organization) in 1846.
In 1967, Joe Cain Day was established on the Sunday before Mardi Gras Tuesday. What began as a walk at the head of a jazz funeral down Government Street to the Church Street Graveyard, where Joe Cain and his wife were reburied in 1966, evolved into a large People’s Parade.
The Mardi Gras mystic society of “Cain’s Merry Widows” (a women’s mystic society) was founded in 1974 in Mobile, Alabama. Each Mardi Gras, on Joe Cain Day (the Sunday before Fat Tuesday), members of this society dress in funereal black with veils, lay a wreath at Cain’s burial site in Church Street Graveyard to wail over their “departed husband’s” grave, then travel to Joe Cain’s house on Augusta Street to offer a toast and eulogy to their “beloved Joe,” continuously arguing over which widow was his favorite.
Tomorrow: New Madrid: When the Earth Shook & The River Changed Its Course Rita Bay