As noted here a few months ago, there’s a lot of “feast or famine” in the column’s realm. Apparently, our early Mardi Gras this year is squeezing a bunch of happenings into late January and we’re heavy with a variety of news heading into Mobile’s most manic time of the year.
Best news first: Congrats go out a young artist who has appeared on these pages a few times in the last year as Lucy Gafford recently accepted a marriage proposal from her longtime beau Mike Cast.
Rumor has it Mr. Cast employed his creative energies and secreted the ring within a hand-crafted turtle, then placed it in Gafford’s driveway behind her car. When Gafford went to move it out of her way, she discovered the betrothal request on the bottom of the faux reptile.
Safe to assume her acquiescence didn’t come at a tortoise’s pace. The imagination runs wild with what this fun-loving and quirky couple might have in store for the official ceremonies.
Museum news: The History Museum of Mobile continues to wow locals with the Ark of India exhibit. The museum is taking word on the road as Curator of History Scotty Kirkland entertains and informs with a series of book talks throughout the area in late January.
Kirkland penned a book to accompany the exhibit with the breathtaking volume designed and assembled by Mobilian Tom Mason. The work explores artist Roderick MacKenzie’s Indian journeys in the wider context of Britain’s waning rule over the Asian subcontinent. It is loaded with not just MacKenzie’s visual works but also many of his written descriptions taken from his journals and published articles on the subject.
The dates run as follows: on Jan. 22, Kirkland will meet attendees at Government Street Presbyterian Church, 300 Government St. at noon.
On Jan. 25, Kirkland will address a group at Stewartfield on the campus of Spring Hill College at 2:30 p.m. This appearance is in conjunction with the Friends of the Spring Hill College Library.
Then on Jan. 29, the curator will head back to that neighborhood when he appears at the Spring Hill/Moorer Branch of the Mobile Public Library, 4 S. McGregor Ave., at 6:30 p.m.
Meanwhile back at the museum, they have announced the year’s schedule for their popular Learning Lunch series, something that will continue into the pre-Lenten merrymaking with a Feb. 11 appearance by Bernard LaFayette, Jr., a veteran of the 1965 March on Selma that is the subject of a current theatrical blockbuster. We’ll have more on that and other events like a Feb. 6 African-American music festival in future issues so check back.
Speaking of the Learning Lunches, their latest event on Jan. 14 contained what might be seen as a bombshell of, well, historical proportions when author and publisher Steve Joynt was the guest. His subject aspired to put to rest apocryphal stories about the Mother of Mystics.
As was discussed in a recent Lagniappe article, Joynt took it upon himself to dig into the past of mythical Mardi Gras founder Joe Cain. The popular tale is that Cain assembled the first Fat Tuesday procession in 1866 and 1867 before being joined by the newly formed Order of Myths in 1868.
Joynt uncovered newspaper accounts of Cain’s presence at New Orleans Mardi Gras in 1867. One of Cain’s own accounts places him in the Crescent City in 1866 as well. Joynt maintains Cain’s first appearance in Mobile processions was in 1868.
So what’s the big deal? Put the pieces together.
New Orleans’ first Mardi Gras society was the Mistick Krewe of Comus who paraded in 1857. They were inspired, in part, by the New Year’s activities of Mobile’s Cowbellion de Rakin Society who paraded on New Year’s but weren’t associated with the Old World Roman Catholic tradition of Carnival.
Rumors of a Mobile-based Boeuf Gras society reaching back to the 18th century have never been verified by survey of historical documentation. Plenty have tried, going so far as perusing the Le Moyne brothers’ journals but the proof just isn’t there.
What is known is members of Mobile’s New Year’s groups — who continued to celebrate through the 1880s — went to New Orleans and helped organize Comus in the period preceding the Civil War. Eleven years later, Mobile would begin its Fat Tuesday events.
So the festivities we know in both towns have a symbiotic history. Without each other, neither would have manifested the way they did.
This underscores the silliness of the rivalry some seek to perpetuate between the towns. The whole festive affair continues for mirth’s sake alone. We should follow suit.
Now the not-so-good: It appears efforts to replace the Arts Alive festival in downtown Mobile have hit a major snag. The decade-old event will relocate from Cathedral Square to the Brookley complex in the coming year.
There are also indications without an arts festival in place, South Sounds Music Festival might be in danger of evaporating as well. Nothing has been conclusively settled as yet.
Three years ago, the coordination of Temporal City Festival and South Sounds gave a needed shot in the arm to Arts Alive. It was also a big boost to the slow climb toward downtown resurgence.
Should all of this disappear, it would present another of the “one step up-one step back” happenings that have become frustrating and familiar for Mobile’s ostensible arts and entertainment district. We need to see movement here since the bonds of stasis aren’t healthy for individuals or communities.