February 13, 1866
Joe Cain Day is a day-long celebration observed annually in Mobile on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. Joe Stillwell Cain, a Confederate veteran, is widely hailed for initiating the way Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras. Cain, clerk of the market, started his own celebration in 1866 by appearing as a Chickasaw Indian chief. According to Mobile lore, his antics marked the first public celebration of Mardi Gras in Mobile since the start of the Civil War, and led to larger festivities the next year. In 1867, Cain wore a tall, plumed hat and red knee boots with spurs. He went through town, banging a huge bass drum that he could barely see over. Cain was so funny, the town’s children followed him the entire day. On Fat Tuesday 1868, Cain was followed on Mobile streets by the Order of Myths, and the city’s modern Mardi Gras was well on its way. Joe Cain Day evolved into a kooky, but grand, spectacle that has attracted up to 150,000 or more people to downtown Mobile, filling restaurants and bars and boosting hotel business. Cain was buried in the Church Street Graveyard.
Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama.
Joe Cain dressed as Mardi Gras fictional character, “Chief Slacabamorinico.” Photograph was taken prior to 1879. (University of South Alabama, Wikipedia)
The 1895 Knights of Revelry float was fittingly dressed for the theme that year, which was “Walking on a Rainbow of Clouds.” (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, S. Blake McNeely Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
Orville Cawthon, King Felix of Mobile Mardi Gras, 1905. (University of South Alabama, McCall Library, Erik Overbey Collection, Wikipedia)
Amelia Lyons, Queen of Mobile Mardi Gras, 1909. (University of South Alabama, McCall Library, Erik Overbey Collection, Wikipedia)
Promotional poster for the Mobile Mardi Gras Carnival, 1900. (Library of Congress, Wikipedia)
Mardi Gras, Mobile, 2010. (Library of Congress, Wikipedia)
The Mobile Carnival Museum in Mobile, 2009. (Altairisfar, Wikipedia)
Mardi Gras beads hang in a tree for weeks after Mardi Gras in Mobile, 2010. (Library of Congress, Wikipedia)
The Excelsior Band performs during the Mardi Gras celebration known as Joe Cain Day, during which revelers dance on the grave of Joseph Stillwell Cain, the man who revived Mobile’s Mardi Gras tradition after the Civil War. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.