Mobile Mardi Gras

February 20, 2012 by staff 

Mobile Mardi Gras, Saturday’s downpour was replaced by cheers, throws and other Mardi Gras flying debris today as the city opened up for one of the largest parading days on record.

Joe Cain Day, the people’s parade, had lots of company as all four of Saturday’s downtown parades joined along. Other than high winds and early cloud cover, the weather was beautiful.

Government, Broad and Royal streets were already starting to fill as church services let out along parade routes, and soon thereafter hundreds gathered at Church Street Cemetery to await the Merry Widows’ arrival at their Carnival husband’s gravesite. And if Joe Cain’s spirit was as present as the city’s presence portended, he must have been smiling as roses, beads and other decorations turned his tombstone into a shrine.

Waiting outside the gates of the graveyard, Tracy Davis and her 15-year-old daughter Ashland were excited as they anticipated their first Mardi Gras. The Millbrook residents from outside Montgomery were taken aback by all the early-day festivities, but there was one thing Ashland wanted most of all.

“I have to have a black rose!” she said.

The two had spent a good deal of Saturday at the Mobile Carnival Museum, where docents showed them around and implored them to visit the Merry Widows spectacle on Sunday.

“She said it’s not to be missed,” Tracy Davis said of the docent’s instruction. “The way it’s done is fun, and not in a creepy fashion.”

Just a few minutes later, amid raucous celebration and a tour bus full of black-clad, wailing widows, the two had their roses, and an emblem necklace to boot.

The Carnival spirit was in full display elsewhere in the city, as families, friends, out-of-town guests and everyone in-between tailgated and festooned makeshift campsites with tables, chairs and plenty of food.

It was a familiar scene, though the energy seemed more like that of Fat Tuesday, where most behind the barricades by noon had plans on still being there, cheering, come the Mystics of Time parade at 7 p.m.

On Bienville Square, grill smoke mingled with soap bubbles in the gusting west winds as the masses packed into the city’s center to greet Chief Slacabamarinico atop his coal cart. The Floral Parade, Knights of Mobile and Order of Angels warmed them up as the sunshine made its full debut in the early afternoon.

Drunk Indians, dead rock stars and a cadre of other maskers filled the streets at 2:30 p.m., throwing quantities of treats that made even the seasoned reveler scramble to snag it all. Some seemed content at a remove from the street, where socializing didn’t necessarily include ducking footballs, cups and bundles of sparkling beads.

Living the philosophy that Mardi Gras is a marathon, not a sprint, Clayton Waite and his group gathered around a large grill near the Bienville gazebo. Cooking primarily chicken and sausage, Waite said they were content hanging back and taking in the spectacle. His friends from north Mississippi were particularly taken aback by teams of police on horseback and “all the wild women.”

On the southwest corner of Conception and St. Francis Streets, the Order of Disorder was holding its seventh annual party, complete with copious barbecue, “drunk gummy bears” and a private restroom.

Sitting on the bed of a truck inside the party area, Lauren Smitherman proudly showed off her three dogs, each dyed one of the three traditional Mardi Gras colors — all for a good cause. With the Dyeing to Save Lives animal aid organization, Smitherman dyes pets to raise money for those with special needs. Suki, Scruffy and Chubby were happy to get the exposure, licking hands and jumping around in purple, gold and green, respectively. All three are available for adoption.

Back in the square, Mirjam Nissinen was enjoying her first Mardi Gras. From Helsinki, Finland, she had made her way to the Port City from Seattle, landing here as part of a couch surfing organization just in time for Joe Cain. And though she’d done diligent research about Mobile’s historic Carnival, she was quite impressed with the reality of the city’s revelry.

“I tried to keep my expectations low, but it’s just been really wonderful,” Nissinen said. “It reminds me of our May Day festival,” in Helsinki.

“You go out and drink beer and just have a good time.”

Tens of thousands did the same today, and as the day started cooling off and Ol’ Slac safely spirited away to his own isle of respite, the air of anticipation was still heavy, for the night promised to offer just as much fun.

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