MOBILE, Ala. — It has rained on Joe Cain’s parade before. After all, Mobile is one of the rainiest cities in the country, and Cain’s name has been synonymous with Mardi Gras for a long time.
But it poured on a wet Tuesday afternoon in October as Cain was celebrated outside of Carnival season at a dedication ceremony for a new historical marker honoring him at the house he built in Mobile’s Oakleigh Historic Garden District.
On Oct. 10, which would have been Joseph Stillwell Cain’s 185th birthday, a soft yet persistent rain fell on partygoers who stood in the street outside 906 Augusta St., the house Cain, then a clerk at Mobile’s Southern Market, built in 1859 and lived in for 17 years with his wife Elizabeth, their three daughters and two sons.
Many of the guests have long been accustomed to attending a street party at what is now Hap Kern’s house on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday each year, following the annual Joe Cain Classic 5K race. The elite mystic society known as Cain’s Merry Widows meets there after visiting Cain’s grave in the Church Street Cemetery and before riding in the Joe Cain parade.
On this day, though, the group gathered to watch as Steve Joynt, publisher of the annual Mobile Mask Mardi Gras guide and website, unveiled a historical marker that tells a little about Joe Cain, the “patron saint of Mardi Gras in Mobile” who is credited with resurrecting the celebration after the Civil War.
The event started with the veiled Merry Widows, dressed in black from head to toe, arriving and cavorting with Chief Slacabamorinico IV, the fictional character Joe Cain created and who is now officially portrayed by Wayne Dean. As they made their way up the sidewalk and onto Kern’s porch, the Excelsior Band, a Mobile Mardi Gras staple for more than 100 years, processed up Augusta Street.
“Joe Cain would’ve been proud,” Kern said to the crowd, huddled under umbrellas in the street outside the white picket fence draped in Joe Cain-themed beads. Now, he said, “casual travelers” will be able to learn something about Mobile’s history as they wander through the Oakleigh neighborhood.
Dean, as Chief Slac, concurred that Cain would have been pleased with the historical marker. “This is an important place,” he said.
Joynt removed the purple-and-gold-striped covering from the historical marker, which stands close to the street, to cheers from the crowd. Shortly after the unveiling, the Excelsior Band led a second-line parade around the corner and along Marine Street to Callaghan’s Irish Social Club for a toast to Cain.
The marker is the second one Joynt has spearheaded in Mobile this year. The spot where Mobile’s Mardi Gras began in 1868, with the first Order of Myths parade, is commemorated with a historical marker on Royal Street in front of the Gulf Coast Exploreum.
The Joe Cain marker, manufactured by the Alabama Historical Association, was funded through crowdsourcing. Over 11 days in late May and early June, 46 donors contributed $2,205.
After the dedication, Joynt said he was “gratified that so many people came out and stayed in the rain.”
“It speaks to this city’s love of Mardi Gras and Joe Cain,” he said. “The Widows, Chief Slac and the Excelsior Band really made the whole thing the kind of celebration I pictured. I just never pictured the rain. But that’s part of Mobile, too. We don’t let a little rain cancel our party.”