America’s Oldest Mardi Gras
Our early days of Mardi Gras in Mobile, community involvement,
and the MCA today.
The Mobile Carnival Association has many events for the week of Mardi Gras. See this year’s schedule.
The Mobile Carnival Association is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit entity. All donations are tax deductible.
Mardi Gras History
As history tells us, Mobile is the birthplace of Mardi Gras in America. In 1703, the first carnival observance took place in the French settlement of Fort Saint Louis, just north of Mobile at Twenty-seven Mile Bluff. On New Year’s Eve of 1830, a group of young men were celebrating New Year’s Eve by visiting the steamboats tied up on the waterfront. On their way to the boats, they came across a hardware store and “borrowed” some rakes, hoes and shovels to make noise along the way. As the Year’s Eve tradition continued, they organized themselves into a group they dubbed the Cowbellion de Rakin Society. The Cowbellions were a tight knit group and celebrated in grand style for many years. They were so selective in the membership and they didn’t even invite their sons to join them. This sparked the sons to form their own mystic society, the Strikers Independent Society, who are still thriving today as the oldest mystic organization in the country.
During the War between the States, the mystic societies functions as well as the Mardi Gras celebrations on Shrove Tuesday were discontinued. At the conclusion of the war, union troops occupied the city and Mobilians felt physically and morally defeated. But hope and gaiety were soon revived in 1866 by a Mobilian named Joseph Stillwell Cain. Joe Cain revived Mardi Gras and mysticism.
Carnival is deeply rooted in the cultural fabric of the city. Today, there are over 80 mystic societies in Mobile, with more than 38 of them parading during the 2 ½ weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Day. Over a million folks flock to downtown to experience carnival. In addition to parades, most societies celebrate in grand style with formal balls and abundant food and libations. Carnival season is celebrated from start of Epiphany to Mardi Gras Day, which is French name for Fat Tuesday. Ash Wednesday follows with the beginning of Lent. But, the preparation for the next carnival season begins almost as soon as the current season ends.