Chattanooga Pies: A Mobile tradition

by Jason Johnson

It’s been more than 50 years since three Port City mystics made an important discovery in Chattanooga, Tennessee — stumbling upon a delectable treat that made a lasting impact on Mardi Gras and ultimately on Mobile itself.

On the surface, the MoonPie isn’t too different from many other mass-produced, prepackaged snacks you might list as a guilty pleasure. There’s no culinary secret. A standard MoonPie consists of two soft graham crackers stuffed with marshmallow filling and dipped in a flavored coating.

Back in 1963, it wasn’t the taste of the MoonPie that caught the attention of the three traveling mystic Mobilians. Instead, the three Maids of Mirth were drawn to the circular confection’s low cost and light weight.

Photo | Dan Anderson

Photo | Dan Anderson

“They were on a trip up in Chattanooga and just happened run across some MoonPies there at the bakery,” said Judi Gulledge, executive director of the Mobile Carnival Museum. “They were actually in the market for something that was an affordable throw but also had some weight to it, so they could easily throw it into the crowd. Being female riders, some things could be a little bit of a challenge to throw.”

Gulledge said in the time before the MoonPie, parade-goers lined up to catch serpentines, Cracker Jack boxes, rubber balls, handfuls of taffy and other candy.

While sweets and serpentines are still common throws, Cracker Jacks and rubber balls were eventually banned because of the “potential danger” they posed to the unaware. To fill their void, there was the MoonPie — a tradition that only took a few years to catch on.

“Those women bought several cases of them, brought them back here to Mobile and threw them that very first year. The next year, they actually made a trip to Chattanooga just to buy them,” Gulledge explained. “After the members went back up there, the other crews and mystic organizations began to purchase them too.”

According to Gulledge, it was about three years later that local suppliers got in on the action and started purchasing MoonPies in bulk to resell to the mystic societies and parading organizations.

Today, suppliers continue to sell millions of the treats in what has become a seasonal tradition almost entirely unique to Mobile. According to Stephen Toomey, owner of Toomey’s Mardi Gras, his company alone sells more than 3 million MoonPies in a single Carnival season.

“We sell them year-round, but the lion’s share occurs during Mardi Gras,” Toomey said. “Some of those are shipped out to Pensacola and other locations, but most of them are bought locally.”

Though the city of Mobile appears to agree on the MoonPie in principle, exactly which variety or flavor is still up for debate. However, whether the traditional MoonPie, the double decker or the minis popular with the downtown parades, most any Mobilian worth their salt has a favorite.

Bartering in the wake of parades is now commonplace. Whether it’s a strawberry traded for banana or two chocolates swapped for a double-decker peanut butter, there really isn’t a bad deal.

While new additions — like the 2014 debut of salted caramel — always keep things fresh, many in Mobile annually shout “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez” with a heavy heart, knowing once-treasured MoonPie flavors have seen their last throw.

Baldwin’s Mullet Mates parade for the people

By Eric Mann

At age 2, Brennan Griffin rode in the back of a pickup truck in the inaugural Krewe of Mullet Mates parade in Point Clear. At 18, he’ll be the parade’s grand marshal.

Brennan has watched the Mullet Mates roll past his family’s front yard on Baldwin County Highway 1 south of Point Clear for as long as he can remember. Most years, his Feb. 3 birthday coincides with parade day, so friends and family have watched the Mullet Mates as part of his party.

Known as a “people’s parade,” the Mullet Mates march five and a half miles down Baldwin County 1 from Mullet Point Park to Pelican Point. Parade entries are homemade and can be as elaborate as some of the traditional papier mache floats in Mobile, while other paraders decorate boats and pull them behind their pickup trucks.

(Photo  | courtesy of the Mullet Mates )

(Photo | courtesy of the Mullet Mates )

Typically the Mullet Mates grand marshals have been adults — University of South Alabama football coach Joey Jones, Fox 10 news personality Chasity Byrd, State Rep. Joe Faust — but this year Brennan was selected for his bravery in the face of a life-threatening illness.

The McGill-Toolen marching band snare drummer was diagnosed with leukemia in October. Brennan is in remission now, but travels to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for regular chemotherapy treatments. After he was diagnosed, he was hospitalized two months.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Brennan said. “I grew up watching the parade so it is great to be a part of it this year.”

Brennan’s mother, Lisa, said the family was thrilled when the Mullet Mates approached them about including her son in the parade.

“He is excited about it, but I think he is also a little upset he won’t be able to eat boudin sausage in the front yard with the rest of us during it,” she joked. “He is a tough kid with a long road ahead of him. We are honored they asked him.”

Queen Tami has led the Mullet Mates parade with husband King Ken for four years. She said this year the organization wanted to honor Brennan as a teenager who has made their community proud.

“Brennan has lived here all his life and has always loved our parade,” she said. “And he is just an incredible kid. We wanted to do something to recognize that. We are proud to have the opportunity to highlight such a courageous young man and have him lead our parade.”

The Mullet Mates say their parade was “floundered in 2001” when a group of Baldwin County 1 neighbors decided they needed their own Mardi Gras parade. Since then, the parade has grown into one of the Eastern Shore’s most popular and unique. Today there are 200 members in the organizations and most years the parade draws as many as 25,000 people who line the curb of the bayside road for the entire five-mile length of the parade route. The Mullet Mates are known for having the county’s longest parade.

“We are very unlike the other groups,” Queen Tami said. “One of our only rules is that we ask you to just have a good time.”

The parade traditionally has five or six trailer rock bands. High school marching bands usually don’t participate because of the extended route.

The Mullet Mates have a casual Mardi Gras ball, dubbed the Grand Mullet Ball, the week before the parade.

“We don’t do all the pomp and circumstance like some others,” she said. “We just want to have a good time. We do have a few rules, but the biggest one is that we ask you to just have a good time.”

This year, the family-friendly Mullet Mates parade will roll Saturday, Feb. 6, at 2 p.m. The 30 units in the parade will include as many as 24 floats.

Much like their Grand Mullet Ball rules, the paraders aren’t necessarily bound to this year’s “It’s a Shore Thing” theme.

“These are all homemade floats and there really aren’t that many rules about them,” Queen Tami said. “Some people just tow their boat on the back of their trucks and throw from there. But some others go all out and build big papier mache floats.

“This is a people’s parade,” she continued. “It is a parade for the people, run by their friends and neighbors.”

Brennan Griffin agrees.

“I love that the parade is full of people who live around us,” Brennan said. “Most of the people in the parade are our neighbors and friends. That’s what makes this parade so great.”

This year ‘easier’ after ISIS confusion

By Dale Liesch

Isis was the Egyptian goddess of motherhood. Unfortunately for a local Mardi Gras society, it’s also a popular acronym for the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The Order of Isis, an all-female Mardi Gras group formed in 2008, decided in 2014 to only go by the abbreviation OOI, the group’s past emblem said, and aside from a few hiccups, the change has really helped.

During the summer of 2014, members reported encounters at grocery stores involving T-shirts they were wearing, she said.

“People said they were disrespectful to the military,” she said. “Our ladies never want to disrespect the military. It was surprising that people didn’t know that Isis was a goddess.”

Problems also arose on the group’s website, which the past president said received some unusual traffic. She said the group received questions about Mardi Gras from the site. The problems prompted the group to notify the FBI and let them know they were a Mardi Gras society.

“It was not a very easy year,” she said.

The past president said they contacted the Crewe of Isis in New Orleans as well, but that group, which had been established decades prior, hadn’t run into similar problems.

The unofficial switch to OOI happened in September 2014 and since then, very little has been said about the group formerly known as the Order of Isis.

“This year has been a lot easier,” she said.

There is one problem, the emblem said. On banners showing the parade schedule in local restaurants, OOI has been confused with the Order of Inca. Therefore, on the banner the Incas parade is listed twice.

OOI’s membership averages between 80 and 100 people each year. This year, during their parade on Jan. 31, OOI ran seven floats, following Neptune’s Daughters. The group’s ball was held at Fort Whiting.

Downtown parking restrictions during Mardi Gras

By Lagniappe

According to a recent memo sent out by Carol Hunter, communications director with the Downtown Mobile Alliance, Mardi Gras festivities are now in full swing effective this week in the Azalea City.

Conga lines of colorful floats will be seen by a kinetic collage of spectators as they roll downtown along well-trodden parade paths almost every night from now until Fat Tuesday; often with multiple processions daily.

“With more than one million people expected to fill downtown over the next two weeks, parking can be a bit of a challenge. Many of you know exactly where to find the perfect spot, but for those who don’t, please be aware of the streets where parking is not allowed,” Hunter said.

As noted in the memorandum, parking two hours before the parade is not allowed on streets used for emergency vehicles and staging of equipment. These include, but may not be limited to: Conti from Royal to Broad; Lawrence between Church and Government; Jackson between Government and Conti; Claiborne between St. Louis and St. Anthony.

If one of these no-parking signs is seen, parking is prohibited for the entire block. Vehicles will typically be towed two hours prior to the scheduled start of the parade. Shop local and enjoy the sweet lunacy, but avoid the headache (and embarrassment) of visiting an impound yard by steering clear of these zones.

Travel options such as using smartphone request riding app Uber to get around downtown are available this year for those who have the ability to choose alternative methods outside of parking in LoDa so “laissez les bon temps rouler”.