A true Mobile Mardi Gras isn’t complete without experiencing Joe Cain Day. On February 27, celebrate the man that brought Mardi Gras back to Mobile with eccentric events, crazy costumes and a people’s parade that’ll make you feel like one of the locals. Keep reading for more on this uniquely Mobile holiday, and reasons why you’ll want to make the trip to see it.
What is Joe Cain Day?
Joe Cain Day occurs annually on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday and is in honor of Mobile native Joe Cain, who is responsible for reviving the carnival-style Mardi Gras celebration Mobile is well-known for. The day consists of quirky traditions including the People’s Parade, live music, creative costumes, a local dressed up as Cain and the iconic Merry Widows appearances.
Since the first Joe Cain Day in 1967, the event has transformed into a can’t-miss spectacle that captivates and lures hundreds of thousands of people to the City of Mobile.
The history behind the day
When you think of Mardi Gras is your first thought Mobile? If not, it probably should be since the celebration actually originated there in 1703, with parties in the street that rival the more commercialized New Orleans scene.
However, there was a time that Mardi Gras ceased to exist in Mobile. That is until Fat Tuesday of 1866 when local Joe Cain donned a plaid skirt and headdress and paraded around the streets as fictional Native American Chief Slacabamorinico. The choice was made to insult the remaining occupying Union soldiers, as it was believed the Chickasaw tribe had never been defeated in war.
He celebrated the day in front of Mobile citizens and the soldiers, and his rebellious procession helped bring back the city’s carnival tradition shortly after the Civil War.
How do the people of Mobile celebrate?
The biggest part of Joe Cain Day is the People’s Parade, one of Mobile’s longest Mardi Gras parades and unlike any other. The floats in this procession are made for the people by the people, consisting of flatbed trucks, wagons and citizens marching through the streets with homemade costumes and a variety of goodies to throw.
A special group to look out for during the parade is Joe Cain’s Merry Mistresses, not to be confused with Cain’s Merry Widows which you’ll learn more about next. These mistresses dress in bright red gowns and throw roses into the crowds, so they won’t be hard to spot.
Meet the Merry Widows
A huge tradition of Joe Cain Day is the appearance of the Merry Widows. First formed in 1974, this mystic group of anonymous women dressed in black mourning clothes from head to toe as they visit Cain’s gravesite to “mourn” and wail. Later, they head to his old home on Augusta Street to make a toast in Cain’s honor and hilariously bicker over which one of them he loved the most.
Since Cain actually only had one wife, the unique procession is perfect Mardi Gras comedy and a favorite event of locals for years. If you’re downtown day of, you’ll most likely catch a glimpse of the 20 or so ladies as they play out their characters with fake identities and names, including Sue Ellen, Scarlet, Emmy Lou, Pearl, and Mary Jane.
Keep an eye out for souvenirs as the Widows throw black beads, black roses, and black garters to the crowds—these are some of the most coveted items one can grab during Mobile Mardi Gras.
For more cool stuff happening in Mobile check out Mobile Tourism’s website or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
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