Graveyards and Mardi Gras, unbelievably, they go hand and hand. Looking at my pasty white skin and tendency to wear black t-shirts you’d think I’m looking to relive my youth by being Goth, I assure you I’m not.
A visit to a graveyard can be a window into the past, highlight some intricate architecture and if nothing else, you’re almost guaranteed to leave with a story or two, even if you make them up.
This past week I spent several days in Mobile, AL, the birthplace of Mardi Gras. The “How I Survived Mardi Gras Without Losing My Shirt” post will be forthcoming; today we’re going to discuss the Church Street Graveyard.
The Church Street Graveyard is located at the termination of a dead end street, seriously where else would you place a graveyard. The surrounding brick wall was constructed in 1830 and at the time, the graveyard’s location was outside of town by a half mile. Due to urban sprawl, the graveyard now sits right in the middle of downtown.
Wandering through the graveyards approximate 4 acres you can really get the sense of the age and in some cases the neglect that these graves and grounds have seen. Of course what fun is a graveyard established in 2005 and in pristine condition? I saw toppled and cracked headstones and above ground vaults that are missing bricks, all in all, the perfect setting for a Stephen King book.
All graveyards need a ghost or at least one famous or pseudo-famous resident, customer, attendee or whatever you call them. Church Street has theirs, and his name is/was Chief Slacabamorinico. Until last Friday, I had never heard of Chief Slacabamorinico but after hearing Slac-A-Bam-O-Rini-Co roll off my friend lips I had to know more. Well, it turns out that Chief Slacabamorinico was a fictional character created by Joseph Stillwell Cain around 1868, a few years after the Civil War. The story goes that Joe Cain found his way into the streets of Mobile, dressed as a nonexistent Chickasaw chief named Slacabamorinico. Joe Cain used the Chickasaw tribe since the Union army had never defeated the Chickasaw tribe in battle.
Joe Cain has been credited with revitalizing Mardi Gras in Mobile, AL, so much so that on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday they hold the Joe Cain Procession, this year it’s on February 26th. The parade is a fact but beyond that, some of the stories I heard might have you questioning their validity. For instance, most of us have heard the phrase “Raising Cain”; well some believe that the origin comes from the Joe Cain Procession. Let’s make enough noise to raise Joe from the dead. I was also told that he had seven widows, suspicious… yes. However, there is the mystic society of Cain’s Merry Widows that pay homage on Joe Cain day by dressing in funeral black dresses complete with veils. Fact or fiction it makes for a great legend.
If you ever want to visit Joe Cains final resting place just walk through the aged metal gate of the Church Street Graveyard and walk to you left about twenty paces, and you’ll see it, it’s the one covered in beads and trinkets.
As one of the headstones proclaims “When all else fails throw a party“, pretty solid advice be it Mardi Gras or not.