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. With the opening of the new Serpents of Bienville Art Gallery we have been a little behind on the rundowns, so here are two put together, for your enjoyment. So enjoy!
Tuesday January 19th - Roll Ladies Roll!
The Polka Dots was founded in 1949 and the Maids of Mirth were founded in 1950. This was the year that both ladies’ organization took to the streets in revelry. The Polka Dots rolled first, with the Maids of Mirth parading the next night. These parades were the first all women’s parades in history, and the citizens of Mobile treated the event as momentous, as well, showing up in numbers of 119,000. This is even more significant knowing that the population of Mobile in 1950 sat at 129,000. With this amazing turnout, and the gender barrier being broken in Mobile, organizations have been popping up ever since to include women and couples.
Wednesday January 20th - Good News Tourists!
Have you ever wondered what the view would be like from the other side of the barricades? Ever felt the overwhelming desire to be a Mobilian just so you could roll with a mystic organization, chunking moon pies at strangers and and trinkets to children, not unlike a crazed Santa Clause? Do you want to attend a Mardi Gras Ball, witness a traditional tableau, and dance the night away surrounded by masked strangers, though you don't have the ins with enough locals to score yourself a pair of tickets? The downtown Mobile hotel owners and city officials heard your cries! In 1961, Le Krewe de Bienville was formed to give visitors the royal treatment during Mardi Gras season. Known as the Out-of-towners' ball, all you have to do is purchase a ticket, either to the ball itself, or the package that allows you to roll in the parade as well (and as of yesterday, they still had spots open on the floats, so give them a shout!). Not only does Le Krewe de Bienville provide this one of a kind experience, they travel to you during the off-season to recreate mini balls in full costume and educate outsiders on Mardi Gras history, and host hour-long ghost tours in downtown Mobile as well.
Thursday January 21st - Goat Man Saturday?
We all hear about Joe Cain Day being the Sunday before Fat Tuesday during Mobile, Alabama’s Mardi Gras Celebration (the birthplace of Mardi Gras), but does anyone revel for the lesser-known Goat Man Saturday? Prichard is a suburb of Mobile, and celebrates this eccentric man that paraded down the streets in a wooden cart pulled by goats, being the first to ever parade in Pritchard. He would make toys and treats for his neighbors and throw them from his cart in the same fashion we throw moon pies and beads from floats today. On the Saturday before Fat Tuesday, the people of Prichard gather to revel with the Krewe of Goats in the Goat Man Parade, complete with a Goat Master, and yes, more goats.
Friday January 22nd - All That Jazz
People come from all over to attend Mardi Gras for the parades, the floats, the balls, and the costumes, but most of us will tell you proudly, we are really here for the music. The Excelsior Band is the reason for Mobile's strong Jazz tradition, the reason when we think about Mardi Gras, that beautiful brass melody starts us dancing in our heads. The Excelsior Band was founded on November 23, 1883 by John A. Pope as a celebration for the birth of his son. These incredibly talented musicians, seasoned in traditional Jazz and Dixieland, are the only other folks allowed in the Church Street Cemetery on Joe Cain Day, blazing Funeral Jazz while Joe Cain's widows are weeping and carrying on. The opening celebration to Mobile Mardi Gras season has been the parading Conde Cavaliers, founded in 1977, with the beloved Excelsior Band front and center, leading the party, ushering in carnival. Conde Cavaliers roll tonight at 6:30 in downtown Mobile, with the Excelsior Band leading the way!
Saturday January 23rd - Braving the Cold
There are many reasons that I've chosen to stay in the South, and actively avoiding cold weather is pretty high up on the list. So when the temperature starts to plummet in our sub-tropic home and streets appear deserted, I realize my neighbors share my frustrations. But what about the Mardi Gras parades that have been planned down to the last detail, revelers waiting in anticipation to roll down those same chilly streets, fulfilling their annual mischievous duties? The Mobile Register reported on the Mystic Stripers parade of 1951, only their fourth time ever parading. Attendance was quoted at "pathetic" and with 21-degree temps and wind gusts battling the bands and dancers parading on foot, instruments were frozen, and "well-intended toots became ill-sounding bla-a-a-ts or hisses." But locals know what happens when you're one of the brave few to stand in the cold or the rain to enjoy the parade: you get dumped on with more full boxes of moon pies and goodies than Toomey's could possibly keep in stock.
Sunday January 24th - Bubba Likes Moonpie!
The moon pie wasn't always Mobile’s signature Mardi Gras treat! In 1949, Mobilians introduced Cracker Jacks into their party arsenal as a cheap substitute for beads. The boxes of the sugary popcorn were actually cutting people on the face and injuring children, so that sweet was banned from Mobile floats in 1971. Moon Pie is the name trademarked by its home bakery in Tennessee, and the coveted catch is made from marshmallow sandwiched between graham cookies and coated in a sugary shell. Maids of Mirth were the first revelers to throw this now famous Mardi Gras goody back in 1974. Until then, other edible throws included gum, taffy, popcorn, peanuts, and all of these can still be found today. But ever since that fateful MOM parade, Mobile has been the top Moon Pie consumer in the world, which is why there are new and limited edition flavors exclusively sold to Mobile mystic societies each year. It’s a free test market! 2014’s Deep South party goers gave the salted caramel Moon Pie two sticky thumbs up, so, you’re welcome, world! If you guys catch any crazy flavors this year, maybe a COCONUT, let us know if you approve!
Monday January 25th - The Mistresses of Joe Cain
The Merry Widows are known as the late wives of the Mobile Mardi Gras hero, Joe Cain, but no one knew about the women who celebrated his life in the shadows, scared of public scorn, until 2003. Before that year, the Mistresses of Joe Cain would meet before Joe Cain Day, under the name of the Mardi Gras Luncheon Club, to sip champagne and share fond memories of their old lover. But they decided they could hide their love no longer, and dressed completely in their celebratory bright red funeral attire, marched themselves out to Church Street Cemetery on Joe Cain Day. While the Merry Widows and Excelsior band were inside the walls with Old Slac over his grave, the Mistresses began their now traditional champagne toast, "Here's to Joe!" In the Joe Cain People's Parade, while the Widows are comfortably mourning in their coal wagon, the Mistresses march on foot close behind, rejoicing, "He loves us best!" Cat fights are known to break out between the black laced widows and the fiery red mistresses, but Old Slac is known to willingly throw himself in the middle to break up the commotion. They spend the day celebrating the good times with their lover, not weeping for their loss, and tossing red roses to those Raising Cain with them.
Tuesday January 26th - Christmas Controversy
Christmas was declared a state holiday in Alabama in 1836, the first state to do so. Controversy stirred in northern states where quakers were abundant as to whether Christmas should be celebrated or condemned, do to the riotous behavior that was becoming popular around the holiday season. This, my friends, was the beginning signs of Mardi Gras. People were cross-dressing and masking themselves, known as mumming, in celebration of the Christmas and New Year’s season in the streets, as early as the 1700’s. Northern elite began to look down on the idea of the rowdiness and mischief, buying into the idea that classy folk do not make noise and create a stir, and surely do not mix with the vagrants creating chaos in the streets. By 1836 though, the first mystic society, Cowbellion de Rakin, was already established in Mobile Alabama, amongst all of their Mason-esque secrecy, as high society figureheads that had taken to the streets in rambunctious parading. The southern reporters in charge of recording the festivities for the papers, such as the Register in Mobile and Picayune in New Orleans, changed the word “rowdy” to “revelry” to fancy it up, and partied on.
Wednesday January 27th - Cowbelling On
The early Cowbellion de Rakin parades had their own unique ways to get the community involved. On Christmas morning, as means of reminding folks about their upcoming parade, and alert members of the next meeting, the mascot of the society would march through the streets of Mobile in a horned cow costume. He would be banging cowbells and rakes so people would come out to see the commotion. Around his neck a plaque would be hung that read where and when the next secret meeting would be, such as “O.D. 10 A.M.,” O.D. meaning old den. When parade time came on New Years Eve, everyone that remembered that reveling cow would come out to watch the traveling show. Even if a neighbor didn’t come out of their home, they couldn’t expect to be left alone. Cowbellions were known to stop at friends’ and strangers’ houses and demand they be served libations. When societies became more organized and abundant, they had to stop banging on people's doors and buy their own drinks.
Thursday January 28th - Seriously
If we took ourselves too seriously in Alabama, Mardi Gras may not have ever come to be, or at least not anything like what we enjoy today. "Masquerade" was a popular party theme in the early 1800's, but either became over regulated or denounced in northern states due to their lack of order, or the elites just felt offended by anonymous people's portrayal of themselves. Not in Mobile, though. Mobilians embraced masquerades with open arms and covered faces, creating fictional characters and larger-than-life personas for their most (or least) popular citizens. In Ann Pond's "Cowbellion," part one in her trilogy of Mardi Gras history, she tells a story of the 1838 carnival season. The Cowbellions created a character that was outspoken against the power and influence of the cotton merchants: Major Jack Downing. One of the members dressed as this fictional man and he was paraded and taunted through town, and everyone joined in on the joke. The morning after the public ridicule of Major Jack, a tombstone was prominently visible in the middle of town, Major's name scrawled across the stone.
Friday January 29th - The Theaters That Were
Noah Ludlow is the man that brought theatre to Mobile, but the theatre wouldn't stay put. In March of 1829, Ludlow awoke to see his Royal Street theatre in flames. The very next day, a public meeting was held to raise funds to rebuild the theatre without Ludlow's knowledge. He was an integral member of their community and they weren't going to lose him that easily. 42 days later, a brand new theatre on St. Francis was ready for his talents. In Match of 1830, one year later, the hay bales at the horse stables, next door to the theatre, caught fire and took the theatre with it. Ludlow would travel to perform for the next few years, leaving Mobile in dire need for public entertainment. And along comes Michael Krafft with his Cowbellion krewe.
Saturday January 30th - OOM
The Order of Myths is the oldest parading society of Mobile, Alabama, being founded in 1867. These revelers recreate the most popular symbolism of Mobile's Mardi Gras celebration every year: folly chasing death around the broken pillar. This float is a staple, never changing in its depiction of tradition, or placement in the parade. But societies' themes, chosen by the mystic organizations' selected royalty each year, is the determining factor of how each individual float will built and decorated. The revelers will dress in costume to accompany each float's theme. These four costumes are watercolor designs of the Order of Myth's costumes in 1890: the Four Figures of the Zodiac.