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Alabama Oddities Weekly Rundown Monday January 11th - Sunday January 17th

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Alabama Oddities Weekly Rundown Monday January 11th - Sunday January 17th

Amanda Herman

We here at Serpents of Bienville have a lot of different projects currently running.  One project that we are particularly excited about is the Alabama Oddities pieces that Amanda is writing for our social media sites.  She is doing daily updates, bringing you a new story every morning, of something strange and odd from our Southern home.  Not everyone has social media, so we will be doing weekly rundown's of her stories, which we will be publishing every Sunday.  We hope you guys enjoy, and remember to follow us on our social media sites to get daily Alabama Oddities stories.  Enjoy!

 

Mobile is for Family - Monday January 11th

What I've gathered as to why Mobile is considered the family carnival, and New Orleans is known for the raunchy party we all know and openly love, goes back to the booming port cities' cotton trade in the early 1800's. In the 1830's, the population of both cities nearly quadrupled. The ports were partnered, with most meetings being held in New Orleans, signing contracts and shaking hands in lavish ballrooms. As the pens were put away, the parties broke out, as the reputation for New Orleans upholds to this day. The businessmen that were traveling to the Big Easy, if they weren't contract holders from the north, were partners from Mobile. These men kissed their wives and kids goodbye in the Azalea City and headed to their overnight meetings. New Orleans, chocked full of travelers and business elite, only stopping in for a small amount of time, became comprised of ideals based in the short term. Live in the moment. That was the mentality of the city, and not only has it stuck, it's melded tightly to the deep roots of New Orleans. We thank our mystic sister city for being our guilty pleasure, with love from the Mother of Mystics.

 

Merry Widows - Tuesday January 12th

Joe Cain’s Merry Widows are one of the oddest Mobile carnival traditions you could possibly witness. These women, whose identities are hidden from the public, show up to the Church Street Cemetery at 11:15 a.m. on Joe Cain Day, dressed in traditional funeral attire and full veils. Truly southern names are chosen as their personas and pinned to their veils. As they circle the resting place of their late “husband,” they pay their respects by screaming, wailing, faking fainting spells, and publicly accusing each other of murdering their husband, Joe Cain. As the leave the cemetery, they throw black roses and beads to onlookers, as they are the only ones allowed to carry and throw the color of mourning. The board a bus and proceed to the house on Augusta Street in the Oakleigh Garden District where Joe Cain actually lived, and enjoy cocktails in his honor. In the People’s Parade, the Merry Widows put on a show atop their float, mourning, wailing, and fighting each other over accusations of poisoning and strangling the man they all love. Police have even taken part in the drama, handcuffing widows and carrying them away from the rolling float. They disperse thereafter, roaming the streets all day, passing out their black roses and sharing stories with the revelers of their one true love, the honorable Joe Cain.

 

Photo: MAMGA Coronation 1977

Photo: MAMGA Coronation 1977

King Elexis I - Wednesday January 13th

It’s a normal occurrence for Mardi Gras revelers to be related to or descending from royalty. Alex Herman received the high honor of being named the very first king of the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association, formerly known as the Colored Carnival Association, founded in 1938. Alex, before being crowned the first King Elexis I in 1940, was a baseball player at Tuskegee Institute, graduated university and played baseball professionally, purchased the Mobile Braves while Satchel Paige was on the team, was president of Unity Insurance Company, served on the Board of Trustees for the NAACP, was an active supporter of the Colored YMCA, and was a founding member of MAMGA. King Elexis I, the name given to each MAMGA Monarch since Alex, is actually a mutation of Alex Herman’s name in respect. Alex’s daughter, Alexis Herman, was crowned MAMGA Queen in 1974, and went on to serve in the White House under the Carter Administration, and the Clinton administration as the Secretary of Labor. As each King and Queen go on about their lives after serving in the royal carnival courts, my only hope is that they still introduce themselves to strangers as honored royalty. 

 

King Cake, Baby! - Thursday January 14th

King Cakes have stemmed from the French tradition, a celebration of the early harvest season. Bakers would give loaves of bread to farmers that contained a chickpea, and finding it was a symbol of the light at the end of the tunnel, the fruits of all their labor. King Cakes are actually named for the kings in christianity, or Three Kings Day. This feast day for western christian denominations, Epiphany, is the twelfth day after Christmas, when it is said that Jesus was visited by the Magi. We hide a little plastic baby in our king cakes today because, as you bite into a hard little toy with tiny hands sharp as hat pins, it is “revealed” to you as the holy child was revealed to the gentiles. This cake has it’s own season, from January 6th until Fat Tuesday, used in Southern cities observing carnival as the most popular gift to bring to a party. Place the baby in the cake before arriving at the event. Whoever finds the baby in their slice of cinnamon sugary pastry will have good luck for the Mardi Gras season, but will also be held under superstitious obligation to bring the King Cake to the next gathering, or their luck will sour.

 

Painting of Tyrone Power

Painting of Tyrone Power

The President - Friday January 15th

In the years that Mardi Gras was taking form, Mobile was a theatrical destination, known for Noah Ludlow and his company’s intelligent and lavish performances. Noah Ludlow played a major role in the formation of Mobile parading theatrics and tableau performances by mystic societies. A famous Irish comedian and actor in 1835 named Tyrone Power had traveled to Mobile to perform at Ludlow’s theatre on Royal Street, and stayed for six years. In 1841, Tyrone Power boarded a steamship “President” to head to England, but the ship never arrived. It was not uncommon for the British ports to overlook reporting the arrival of American ships to their territory, but this was not the case for the President. The Baltimore Sun reported a sealed bottle floating into Buzzard’s Bay with a pencil scratched note reading, “Steamship President, Steward sole survivor, at sea in a small boat. Save me. May 20.” 

 

One of the many influences of the early costumes were like these Tibetan ones.

One of the many influences of the early costumes were like these Tibetan ones.

Evolving and Educating - Saturday January 16th

Costumes evolved very quickly in the early carnival years in Mobile, Alabama . “Grotesque” was the best description for the costumes of Mardi Gras in the 1830’s. The weirder, the better. Animal costumes made of shabby rags and large mache heads, men dressed as scantily clad ladies, ladies dressed as creepy men,  and cryptic cartoon sized heads all rendered the revelers unrecognizable. But ten years later, Mobilians and their societies created the fad of intricately accurate historical themed masquerading. These themes, being derived from Masonic symbols found printed in cryptic messages around the South, included worldly culture study, classical mythological representations, and historically accurate costuming. These themes are now seen as the traditions of today, but were actually embraced all those years ago to create a distinction between the wealthy, educated class from those attending the parades as onlookers, because the literacy rate was devastatingly low in the South at the time. The paraders and performers were reaffirmed in their status if they had to explain their theme or costume to their audience.

 

The Party was Cancelled - Sunday January 17th

New Orleans is known as the city where the party never stops… Unless you were a member of a parading society in 1979. In February of that year, the NOPD was on a police strike. For the safety of its citizens, the city of New Orleans instructed their mystic societies to proceed with their balls and tableaus as scheduled, but they were not allowed to take to the streets. But they didn’t say anything about Mobilians parading over in the Big Easy. In full reveling costume and grotesquely incognito, it is rumored that mystic society members of Mobile, Alabama, from larger founding organizations to Joe Cain foot marchers, made the trip below sea level to join their partners in parade, ensuring that the good times would indeed roll. Since headlines to the outside world read that Mardi Gras was cancelled in New Orleans, Mobile had a much larger influx of out-of-towners coming to witness the madness.