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!
The Order of the Myths - Tuesday January 5th
The Order of Myths was founded in 1867. They are traditionally the last to parade on Fat Tuesday, as a gesture to respecting the olde traditions. Every year since then, their tradition has folly chasing death around a broken column, said to be a symbol of the defeated South. A man dressed as a jester whips around golden inflated pig bladders tied to a broomstick, aimed at a man dressed in a skeletal death costume. By the end of the parade, folly has conquered death for the day. The float is followed by a flambeaux, a Spanish tradition from which Mardi Gras is said to partly originate. Instead of being led by a vehicle, this float is drug behind a pair of mules, as they were in the olde days before tractors replaced them.
The symbolism seemed quite strong in the interpretation I gathered, which is to fight the inevitable hardships of life with a sense of humor and a light heart. The idea is that death will reach us eventually, but for this one day, Fat Tuesday, the good times will ward off the bad. Researching differing historical interpretation, it is possible that the symbolism is much darker. The dark side of Mardi Gras is something I am educating myself on, and over the course of this season, I'll share with you what I learn. If you can lead me in any direction to further my research, I am open to your insight!
It’s Revelry Not Rowdy - Wednesday January 6th
The Cowbellion de Rakin Society had to make a name for themselves outside of the older generation, who were looking down on their organization as mischievous youth. The Cowbellion began placing ads in the Register in 1834 filled with numbers, letters, and symbolism. The Cowbellion Code was a funny and clever jab at the dark and serious nature of the Masonic Code. Usually just a flyer for the place and time of their next meeting, these ads were silly inside jokes to those in the know, yet mysterious and respected to clueless onlookers. They also brought in the new vocabulary of "revelry" in order to cement their image as classy, and not at all a band of drunk guys. Revelers were the upper crust of the party people, and those who were of a lower class were just plain rowdy.
Son’s Strike Back - Thursday January 7th
Cowbellion de Rakin Society created such an exclusivity for themselves that they refused all newcomers. Even their sons were denied membership. So the boys took it upon themselves to define their group of revelers apart from their fathers, and formed the Strikers Independent Society in 1842, known today as Strikers. Most of these boys worked for their fathers in the cotton warehouses they owned, counting bales by striking each with chalk to mark them. They chose the goat as their mascot, poking fun at their fathers as "old goats." This group of men was known for their generosity. At the Ophan's Fair they gifted a table carved in Scotland donning their slogan, translated from French as, "He gives twice who gives quickly." What was supposed to be a table with feet of carved alligator heads holding up standing goats, but with the Scottish being unfamiliar with Gulf Coast gators and North American goats, the table looks more like rams standing on platypus heads.
The Mother of the Mystics - Friday January 8th
The question of "Who started Mardi Gras" can easily be answered with a respectful nod to each of the reveling port cities, putting this healthy battle to rest, and letting the good times roll in peace. Mobile Alabama was the first city to see the organization of mystic societies in their ideas of exclusivity and secrecy. The secret societies in Mobile held their celebrations on New Year's Eve. New Orleans was actually the first to take this fraternal concept, after a group of the Strikers from Mobile ventured over to the Big Easy, and turn this party into a parade. This form of revelry still kept true to the secretive aspect of the societies, having the members stay costumed and masked while they floated down the streets. Instead of rolling on New Year's Eve, the Catholic laden Orleans rolled on Shrove Tuesday, in order to get out all their sinning before the season of Lent began. In shared respects, New Orleans' Krewe of Comus dubbed Mobile the "Mother of Mystics." With the honored melding of these rituals, we now have the lunacy so beloved to us all, the highly anticipated Mardi Gras season: one of the first, truly original, American celebrations.
Joseph Stillwell Cain - Saturday January 9th
Joseph Stillwell Cain is the man credited for founding the Tea Drinker's Society, The Lost Cause Minstrels, a founding member of the Order of Myths, as well as convincing the founder of the Comic Cowboys that his antics were worth taking to the streets in parade. After the defeat of the Civil War, the South was visibly broken in spirit, and Joe Cain took the responsibility upon himself to lift the spirits of his city. Joe served in the Confederate Army with his friends, and had moved to New Orleans briefly during that time. Since revelry halted in Mobile during the war, Joe saw an opportunity to bring the party back to the streets, with the revision of the creole pre-Lenten timing. This was the time that Mobile's New Years Mardi Gras became a united Fat Tuesday party season. Joe Cain and his friends dressed in their confederate uniforms, with the addition of Chickasaw Indian costumes, to create a fictional Indian tribe from Wragg Swamp led by Joe Cain as their Chief Slacabamarinico, or "Old Slack." These men chose to portray the Chickasaw Indians because this mighty people had never been defeated in battle. It was a symbolic gesture to the people of the region, stating, "...the South may be defeated in war, but we're not crushed or conquered!"
Your Invitation Ma’am - Sunday January 10th
Here in the South, we are known for our manners. Most of us, anyway. We send invitations for an invitation, save the dates and pre-stamped RSVP cards, announcements and thank you notes, thank you notes for invitations and thank you notes for thank you notes. But Mardi Gras Ball invitations are more than just a formality, historically. Balls were mostly held in hotel ballrooms, such as the Battle House and Cawthon Hotel. During Prohibition, obviously, alcohol couldn't be served at the main event. So when a reveler showed up with the invitation from a masked parader, it was traded for the member's room key so they could join friends beforehand for private libations. Today, the balls are mostly held in the Mobile Civic Center or Convention Center. Society members give invitees tickets with the meeting room number printed on them, with groups of members that share floats in the parades in charge of filling these rooms with numerous handles of liquor and locally catered refreshments.