'Twas the eve of Lundi Gras, when all through the house
We were busy preparing to mourn our dead spouse.
Mobile slept after a night’s celebration
Of Mardi Gras, the oldest in the nation.
Beads hung from power lines, MoonPies littered roads
As we grieved at the grave of our beloved beau.
The widows of Joe Cain congregate once a year
To march Church Street to Oakleigh to honor our dear.
It’s a tradition most know little about
And a story that some even question and doubt.
Our goal is to remain somber and genteel
As wives of the man who revived Mardi Gras in Mobile.
We cry and we wail as we pay our respects
And dress all in black for dramatic effect.
Then we take to the street for all to watch and cheer
Such a sight that Chief Slac would surely revere.
We were raising a glass in a toast to old Joe
Telling tales of a man who could put on a show.
He died, so some say, to get back at his wives
Twenty of us gals, and we’re all still alive.
When out on the square arose such a clatter
Neighbors filled the streets, all buzzing with chatter.
Oh, I couldn’t believe what I saw up ahead
If it wasn’t old Joe Cain, risen from the dead.
The stout spirits he drank up had served him quite well
He was perfectly preserved and looking so swell.
I threw off my black veil as quick as a flash
For courage took a nip from my secret stash.
Dressed like an Indian, decked out in feathers
He wore a fur skirt and belt made of leather.
A bag of throws on his shoulder, just like St. Nick
He’d fling them out to all, and they’d go rather quick.
He was taller and leaner than I recalled
But that cheap weave couldn’t hide the fact he was bald.
With the wink of his eye and nod of his head
He hinted it was him, though nothing was said.
He spoke not a word as he worked a thrilled crowd
Generously doling throws, which made me proud.
Joe could never recall: Was I wife six or eight?
It didn’t matter, because I know we’re soul mates.
I tried to get close; I wanted one little kiss
But fans swept him away in their revelry bliss.
This was a day to go down in history
How he rose from the dead, eternal myst’ry.
Sounds of the band could be heard in the distance
The drums and horns in complete coexistence.
The cheers from the throngs were getting louder and near
I knew this would be goodbye, at least for this year.
Then, as quick as he came, he vanished like a ghost
The most celebrated man here on the Gulf Coast.
Was he real? Who could tell? That mischievous trickster!
Then we heard him exclaim, “Throw me something, mister!”
“Cain’s Merry Widows” is a 40-year-old Mardi Gras society celebrating the life of Joe Cain, the man credited with the rebirth of Carnival in Mobile after the Civil War. On the morning of March 2, watch the widows begin their grieving procession at Cain’s burial site in the Church Street Graveyard, continue on to his home on Augusta Street and eventually lead the People’s Parade through downtown Mobile.
text by Elyzabeth Wilder • illustration by Kelan Mercer