A new account of Joe Cain’s legacy as the “patron saint of Mobile Mardi Gras” may change the way his contributions to the city’s carnival season are remembered. In the 2015 issue of the Mobile Mask, on stands this week, publisher Steve Joynt writes about what he found while investigating Cain’s historical record.
According to legend, Cain resurrected Mardi Gras in Mobile by parading through the streets in 1866 and 1867, before the newly-formed Order of Myths organization joined the celebration in 1868. The number of mystic societies and parading organizations grew from there.
But years of research anchored by a key newspaper clipping suggests Cain did not parade in Mobile in 1886 and was in New Orleans during Mardi Gras season in 1867, only to actually began Mobile’s celebration alongside the Order of Myths in 1868.
“The way we’ve been telling it, he brought Mardi Gras back to Mobile and there really was no Mardi Gras prior to that,” Joynt explained. “There were masked balls and various secret societies — primarily to celebrate the New Year — but no public demonstration around Fat Tuesday.”
Lacking any dated, written record of the account, Joynt combed through old newspapers for any hint of a spectacle regarding Cain, who legend has it, wore traditional Chickasaw dress while parading through the streets. Yet, at a time when the city had three daily newspapers, not one mentioned the episode, either in 1866 or 1867.
In fact, a newspaper on microfilm currently housed at Louisiana State University indicated Cain was observing Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1867, while a story from the former Mobile Daily Register a year later suggested any celebration around Fat Tuesday was “heretofore unnoted.”
“I think if you’re a member of the Order of Myths, it makes your organization look a little less like a copycat and a little more as being on same footing as Joe,” Joynt said about the impact of his discovery. “They weren’t years apart, they were hours apart.”
Joynt will be delivering a presentation on his findings during the Learning Lunch program at the History Museum of Mobile at noon, Jan. 14. Mobile Mask is an independently owned, once-a-year guide to Mardi Gras in the Mobile area. The 2015 edition is 84 pages and includes ball and parade schedules, parade route maps, and feature stories about the people and organizations that make Mardi Gras happen. It is available at all area Rouses’ and Toomey’s stores, plus several other retail outlets and online at themobilemask.com.
Joynt compares Mobile’s recollection of Cain to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s account of Paul Revere.
“I think we can continue to refer to Joe Cain as the patron saint of Mobile Mardi Gras,” he said. “As I say in the story, the legend and the facts tend to coexist fairly comfortably, and you’re never going to dissuade people from the legend because it’s a good story. Joe has become a rallying figure because we think of him as our own and as the founder of Mardi Gras and that’s fine. in his own time, he was referred to as the founder of Mardi Gras. So I don’t think it’s important in the overall scheme of things, but it does give us a better understanding.”