How Mobile’s Joe Cain Day Inspired Mardi Gras in California

Joe Cain Day is the quintessential Mardi Gras season’s unique mobile celebration, where quirky Southern lore and traditions are embellished and culminate in a massive street party.

Few cities, if any, could pull off a mock version of the day honoring Cain, who is credited with reviving Mardi Gras in Mobile after the Civil War.

But there was one city brave enough to try to enforce it by starting its own Joe Cain Day over 30 years ago.

And this city of all places is in California.

More Mardi Gras coverage:

“We have people who are shocked and surprised as to why this is happening,” said Lynn Skrukrud, events and marketing manager for the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, the organization that has hosted the event for the past 20 years.

“I grew up going to this parade. It fits our community,” she said. “We have a free spirit to be a fun, funky, and artistic community.”

Nevada City, a small bohemian community of 3,110 high in the Sierra Nevada, hosts one of California’s largest Mardi Gras parties each year.

The entire event is rooted in the traditions of Mobile’s Joe Cain Day.

“I didn’t know anything about Joe Cain,” said David Parker, an artist and former Nevada City mayor who helped start the celebration in 1993.

“Most people, of course, had no idea,” Parker said. “There are no roots in Nevada City, as you might imagine.”

Chances are, few Mobilians are also familiar with Nevada City, let alone the fact that it once had its own Joe Cain tag.

“I didn’t know that Nevada City, California, hosts an annual Mardi Gras celebration inspired by Joe Cain Day and the Merry Widows,” said Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson. “But I’m not surprised. The city of Mobile has spread Mardi Gras traditions across the United States since it hosted the country’s first organized Mardi Gras celebration in 1703.”

Stimpson added, “Joe Cain Day in Mobile is about bringing people together to celebrate and share our unique traditions. If that’s what Nevada City is doing, then they’re doing it right.”

Mobile rootsWayne Dean of Mobile, Alabama, left, and Curt Colagross of Nevada City, California, portray Chief Slacabamorinico as they lead the Joe Cain Day procession during Mardi Gras on Sunday, February 14, 1999 in Mobile, Ala . Colagross’s hometown of Nevada City adopted the tradition of Joe Cain Day in the early 1990s. (file photo)

The Nevada City tradition grew out of a conversation Parker had at a Nevada City bar with two retired firefighters—Rich Waters and Curt Colagross.

Parker said Waters and Colagross attended a previous Joe Cain Day in Mobile and came home with the big idea of ​​recreating a version in Nevada City.

READ :  Mint Mobile Free Trial: Get a Week of Free Cellular Service

“[Waters and Colagross]were like, ‘What do you think?'” Parker recalled. “After a long conversation, I said, ‘That sounds like our town’ and ‘We can do it’ and then ‘Let’s do it’.”

Colagross became Nevada City’s version of Slacabamarinico, the fictional Indian chief portrayed by Cain in Mobile in 1868. The character, now portrayed by Mobile historian Wayne Dean, remains an iconic figure of Mobile’s Joe Cain Day.

Colagross was joined by a group of women in black dresses and hats who called themselves the Merry Widows. The Nevada City Widows were inspired by Joe Cain’s Mobile version of the mysterious Merry Widows, which has been around since 1974.

A ceremony steeped in Mobile tradition also took place in Nevada City during the inaugural Joe Cain Day. A mock burial site was erected in Cain’s honor and champagne toasted before the start of the city’s first Joe Cain Day parade.

READ ALSO: “No Reason To Be Mourning”: Merry Widows of Joe Cain Continue Mobile Mardi Gras Tradition

In Mobile on Joe Cain Day, the Merry Widows have gathered at Cain’s grave in Church Street Cemetery for nearly 50 years. They then travel to his home on Augusta Street to toast Cain and the day named after him.

“Back in the early days of Joe Cain Day in Nevada City, we followed the same process you did in Mobile regarding what the Merry Widows were doing,” said Mary Ann Crabb, who at 81 was known as “Mother Superior ‘ and is one of the founding members of the Merry Widows Society in Nevada City.

“We led the parade right there with our Joe Cain, who was Curt Colagross,” she said.

In the 1990s, Joe Cain Day — not Mardi Gras — was celebrated in Nevada City on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday.

It grew in popularity and the crowd grew.

“We had a great bar party the first year,” Parker said of the 1993 event. “The second year we had 25 people. In the third year we hit the streets. In the fourth year I reached the top of the hill and looked down and there were thousands of people. After that it never really stopped.”

Colagross visited Mobile in 1999 to ride aboard the coal wagon in the Joe Cain Day Procession with Dean, who has portrayed Slacabamarinico since 1985.

“The only twist he had was that instead of the chief’s black hair, he was white,” Dean said. “It was a California twist.”

Goodbye Cain, Hello Widows Tanner Connor portrays Joe Cain for a one-off appearance with the Merry Widows in this undated photo. While Cain is no longer part of the Mardi Gras parade in Nevada City, California, the widows remain. The Nevada City Widows are a tradition inspired by the Merry Widows of Joe Cain, the secret organization in Mobile, Alabama that has been around since 1974 (photo submitted by Mary Ann Crabb).

READ :  This Airstream was just an empty shell and is now a wonderful family motorhome

Eventually, Nevada City dropped Cain after the Chamber of Commerce took over the event and simply renamed it “Mardi Gras.”

“We don’t do Joe Cain here anymore and Curt moved next door to Nevada,” Crabb said, referring to Colagross, who could not be reached for comment on this story.

According to an article last year by SFGate, a news website in San Francisco — about 150 miles from Nevada City — insensitive depictions of Native Americans or the celebration of the Confederacy may have raised concern that the city is losing its Joe-Cain -Roots preserved.

Crabb said there was “perhaps a little undercurrent” of criticism of Joe Cain Day’s Confederate legacy. Cain was described as a Confederate soldier whose wild Mardi Gras revival antics were intended as a sneaky insult to Union troops stationed in Mobile after the Civil War.

“There’s no fuss,” Crabb said. “It can be a problem for some people. But the bright shiny thing is Mardi Gras. It’s a gloomy time of year weather wise and we need a little excuse to throw a party.”

Cain may be gone, but his widows remain. They are considered an important part of the current celebration.

Much like Mobile’s Widows, the Nevada City Widows have been known to fight among themselves over who Joe loves most. In Mobile, the argument takes place during their over-the-top gathering at Cain’s grave on Joe Cain Day, just before they burst into a dance and toss black beads and roses at the onlookers.

In Nevada City, bickering sometimes breaks out on Facebook.

“I posted a picture from the fourth year of Joe Cain Day (in Nevada City) and it was filled with comments from the Merry Widows, ‘He loves me most,'” Parker said. “It blew me away.”

Comparison of widows Who loved Joe best? The Merry Widows of Joe Cain gather on Joe Cain Day at the Old Church Street Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama (left). Joe Cain’s merry widows are exposed and everyone is smiling in Nevada City, California (stock photos)

The Nevada City Widows are part of a non-profit organization that until recently raised money to support scholarships for more than 100 single parents. One fundraiser included the sale of the Merry Widows Gazette, a publication that has been in existence for 25 years. Crabb was the former editor-in-chief.

READ :  Half of Brazilians now use mobile IDs, biometrics are gone

The COVID-19 pandemic “kind of put a damper on it,” and the fundraiser was halted, she said.

But the widows continue to gather and quarrel happily over who Cain thought was dearest.

“We refuse to go away,” Crabb said. “We’ve gotten to a point where our main job is to have a good time.”

The biggest difference between the Mobile and the Nevada City Widows is obvious: the California Widows are exposed, while the Merry Widows in Mobile are one of the most secretive groups of the carnival season.

Nobody knows his identity in Mobile.

Their names are as Southern as a plate of grits and kale, too: Isabelle, Georgia, Savannah, Sue Ellen, Scarlett, Emmy Lou.

The Nevada City Merry Widows is a group of just 12 people and includes a mix of men and women dressed in black and wearing black hats.

“We’re ready to show our faces, no masks or veils,” Crabb said. “I don’t know what the reason for this is. consolation maybe?”

The Nevada City Widows maintain their nod to Mobile’s Joe Cain. Each of the widows has a fictional name ending in “Cain.” For example, Crabb is Sugar Cain.

The Nevada City Widows also perform in other ways throughout the year, most notably during the city’s Constitution Day parade in September.

“A Big Hug” General Doo Dah blows his kazoo and leads a parade during Joe Cain Day 2001 in Nevada City, California (photo submitted by David Parker).

Neither Crabb nor Parker were in Mobile. Crabb said she was once invited to Mobile by one of the Merry Widows. The invitation came while Crabb was doing an interview for the Merry Widow Gazette. The mobile widow invited Crabb to “stay at her beach house,” but a visit never materialized.

Parker said he was “semi-retired” from the Nevada City parade as the character “General Doo-Dah,” the so-called leader of the Mardi Gras kazoo band.

General Doo-Dah would easily fit in with the Joe Cain Foot Marchers who lead the annual procession in Mobile if he chooses to attend the last known remaining Joe Cain Day in the US

“It was literally Joe Cain Day here,” Parker said. “It wasn’t ‘Carnival’ until the Chamber of Commerce took it over. We celebrated old Joe. He was probably rolling in his grave.”

Although Crabb has never visited the city of Alabama, he treasures the Cain tradition, which has been a big part of Nevada City’s Mardi Gras tradition for over 30 years.

“We give Mobile a big hug and say ‘thank you,'” Crabb said.