The city’s rich heritage inspires an award-winning author’s heartfelt love letter.
We love you, Mobile. We love majestic oak trees on Government Street, hot summer nights at BayBears games, and the blue plate special at the Tiny Diny. We love the way your azaleas paint the city every spring and the way the sun sets over the Bay in the fall. While you share with other Southern cities a passion for music, food and hospitality, your Gulf Coast culture is unique.
Arts activist Bunky Ralph puts it well: “Mobile has a true sense of who she is and celebrates it fully, lavishly, and as often as possible.”
We fancy you for being a city rooted in tradition, because in the South, we believe in celebrating the past. You give us, of course, Mardi Gras, complete with krewes and the Camellia Ball. During carnival season, Joe Cain’s Merry Widows offer one of your best local rituals. This group of feisty women holds a graveside vigil on Joe Cain Day each year to mark his passing.
The southern side of the county offers other rich customs. Here we find the annual Blessing of the Fleet, which honors coastal culture with its parade of shrimp boats ready for the harvest. Then there are the Christmas lights at Bellingrath Gardens and Home, which have entertained families for more than three generations.
For the thousands of students who have walked the halls of Murphy and McGill-Toolen high schools, one beloved rite is the painting of the cannon at the Loop.
Diane Maisel, a former vice principal at Murphy, waits for the inevitable each year. “Fall is marked not by changes in the color of the leaves, but by the change in the color of the cannon from black to orange or blue, ” reflects Maisel, who now teaches at UMS-Wright. “The morning after the Murphy/McGill game, my daughters and I rise early to inspect the artistry of the most recent winner. This last year, (after McGill’s win) the cannon was black when we made our way to the intersection of Government and Houston streets. A sign propped against its base read: ‘Black paint courtesy of Murphy High School.'”
Just as your old traditions have a special place in our hearts, Mobile, so do new customs that are being cultivated. We look forward to Saturdays in the spring and summer months, when locals congregate in Cathedral Square for the farmers’ market. Yes, the home-grown food is the main attraction, but people also come for the fellowship. The LoDa ArtWalk, another fresh ritual, invites musicians, performers, visual artists and poets to entertain in downtown Mobile. Every second Friday, the city scene is abuzz with the arts.
We also love your landmarks, which offer a feeling of familiarity and a connection to our past. You wouldn’t be the same without the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, the new Moulton Bell Tower at the University of South Alabama, and Termite Hall. The Battle House, Bienville Square and the Saenger Theatre remind us of downtown’s vibrant history.
The Avenue of the Oaks at Spring Hill College provides a breathtaking welcome to all who enter. Tom Loehr, a professor at Spring Hill, first saw the oaks when he arrived on campus in 1975 to interview for a job.
“It was a beautiful, mystical passageway into a new world in which creativity, academic pursuits, growing and learning of all kinds could and would take place, ” says Loehr, who will retire this year after 35 years of teaching. “Having the graduation ceremony there every year has been a reaffirmation of the mysterious promise of that day – not only for the graduates, but for all of us, and for me in particular. It has always marked a beginning, not an end.”
Your affection for music, Mobile, has inspired our love affair with you. Chip Herrington, a lawyer by trade, is a trumpet player by passion. “The things that attracted me here in the first place remain the things that keep me here today, ” says the Mississippi native.
Mobile’s vibrant music scene tops his list. “We’ve got the Mobile Symphony Orchestra and the Mobile Big Band Society Inc.; honky-tonks and blues bars; BayFest and the Saenger Series, ” he says. “And don’t get me started on the church music. This place is heaven on earth for a music lover.”
Many Mobilians say they are most fond of the musicians who make up the Excelsior Band. The 10-piece brass ensemble, founded in 1883, plays Dixieland and traditional jazz.
County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood recalls, “Most bands in Mardi Gras parades were from high schools. I remember
being impressed that members of Excelsior maintained their love of music well into their adult lives. These extraordinary musicians inspire me!”
Mobile, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention your food. Whether fresh local seafood, home cooking or modern cuisine, there is always a good meal to be had. You offer something for everyone, from a hot dog at the Dew Drop Inn Restaurant to hummus from the Jerusalem Cafe. To satisfy our sweet tooth, you provide us with divinity from the Visitation Monastery and fresh chocolates from Three Georges Candy Shop. And, of course, the glow of the Krispy Kreme “Hot Now” sign incites a Pavlovian response when seen from a distance.
You still boast neighborhoods where friends mingle on front porches and kids chase the ice cream truck down the street – communities where we celebrate one another. Street parties are beloved events on Georgia Avenue, Monterey, Reed Street and other byways. In Spring Hill, residents spend hours sipping coffee at Carpe Diem Coffee & Tea Co. and catching up on the local gossip. And when the cup runs dry, there is always something tasty waiting at Pollman’s Bake Shop.
The “town hall” of the Oakleigh Garden District, Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, hits the trifecta: good beer, a nationally famous burger, and some of the best music on the Gulf Coast. Who could ask for anything more?
Elizabeth Doyle, a resident of Oakleigh, can’t imagine living anywhere else. “Living in Oakleigh is like living in a world where you can turn back the clock. It’s not just because of the physical surroundings, the stately old homes and the 300-year-old oak trees, but in the feel of the community as a whole, ” Doyle says. “Our neighbors love my children and treat them as family members.”
Mobile, you’ve given us a home with a storied history, a varied landscape, a unique culture and a friendly atmosphere. So, as your citizens, we make a promise to keep you unique, to honor your spirit, and to savor that local flavor the makes you our true love.
Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder