Mardi Gras had been celebrated in Europe since the Middle Ages. In 1699, French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville mentioned Mobile Alabama Mardi Gras celebrations in his journal. This is thought to be the first record of Mardi Gras in America. The annual festivities continued when the British took control of Mobile from the French with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Most historians believe that Mardi Gras as we know it today was started by Michael Krafft, a cotton broker, on New Year's Eve 1830. It was recorded that he was having a large dinner party on that evening and nobody wanted the fun to end. That night they left the Krafft home and broke into the local hardware store. There, they grabbed some cowbells and other noise makers and paraded through the streets, waking up all of the townspeople.
Shortly after, they formed the Cowbellion de Rakin Society. This was one of the first mystical societies established in Mobile. They hosted their first parade in 1840. They even created floats for the event way back then!
The Civil War left Mobile residents in a defeated and depressed state. Many did not want to partake in any festivities. Joseph Stillwell Cain (Joe Cain) felt the need to get people out of their depression. In 1866 on Fat Tuesday, while Mobile was still occupied by Union troops, Joseph dressed up as a Chickasaw Indian, Chief Slacabamorinicoco (pictured). Joe and several friends, who were tanked up on alcohol, went out to the streets and started decorating a coal wagon.
Joe Cain founded the society that holds the last parade of the Carnival Season on the evening of Mardi Gras-- the Order of Myths. He also helped to create numerous other parading organizations.
Today we honor Joe Cain on the Sunday before Mardi Gras with "Joe Cain Day." Many residents of Mobile come out in costume with homemade floats and parade through the streets of downtown. This celebration recognizes the fact that Joseph Stillwell Cain brought the fun back to Mardi Gras Mobile, Alabama.
Mardi Gras is celebrated over several weeks. Our modern day parades show off elaborate floats and people wearing incredibly embellished costumes. People even decorate the horses that they ride horses in the parades. The parade participants often throw token gifts to the spectators on the parade route.
These trinkets are plastic beads, doubloons, stuffed toys, candy whistles and similar small items. Most of the "throws" are inexpensive, but people, both young and old, grab them like they are chunks of gold. It's as much fun to watch spectators jockey into catching position than it is to watch the parade.
Chief Slacabamorinicoco still marches in Mobile during Mardi Gras. 2013 marked the 27th year that retired pastor and Mobile historian Wayne Dean portrayed the chief.
There are numerous formal balls including those that are "invitation only" for secret mystical society members. Local pubs and nightclubs host their own special Mardi Gras events. Mardi Gras Mobile Alabama ends on the Tuesday night before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of the Lenten Season.