NEVADA CITY Calif. February 8, 2013 - This town's Mardi Gras celebration started in 1993 as Joe Cain Days held - by tradition - on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday and the beginning of Lent. One of its highlights has always been the twelve Merry Widows.
They'll be marching in Sunday's parade representing the fictional widows of the man who restarted Mardi Gras after the Civil War. While Mobile, Alabama, was still under Union occupation, Joe Cain paraded through the streets dressed in an improvised costume depicting a fictional Chickasaw chief named Slacabamorinico. The choice was a backhanded insult to the Union forces - the Chickasaw tribe had never been defeated in war. Joe was joined by six other Confederate veterans, parading in a decorated coal wagon, playing drums and horns at a time when public assembly was banned.
Today in Mobile the Mardi Gras parade is preceded with the visit of "Cain's Merry Widows" to the grave of their "departed husband" and Nevada City has embraced the ladies in black who add riotous revelry to its Mardi Gras procession. With adopted names like Sugar Cain, Candy Cain, and Citizen Cain the Widows will again be a highlight of Sunday's parade, starting at 2 p.m. And this year the Widows will lead the parade!
For the Widows it's more than just a stroll down Broad Street. Our Widows have an important sideline: They have raised and donated more than $50,000 in college scholarships to 44 single parent students. The money is from advertising in their once-yearly Merry Widow Gazette, plus donations. "At least four more scholarships are on the horizon for this spring," Mary Ann Crabb said. She's one of the Widow ringleaders.
"The first couple of years we cleaned cemeteries," she said. "Then we decided that a printed program for the Mardi Gras event in Nevada City was needed and why didn't we use that to benefit the public and raise money for scholarships. We've been doing that with the help of a generous community that advertised in our paper, and through generous donations as well. A hundred percent of donation moneys go directly to the scholarship fund." Advertising money pays the cost of printing the paper and the rest goes to the fund.
The Merry Widow Gazette is a fun-filled free newspaper loaded with articles and photos. This year it's called "Widows Gone Wild." You get the idea.
"I think it's remarkable that a society of twelve women can generate so much for the benefit of our single parents,"Crabb said.
Editor's note: The Mountain Messenger, California's oldest weekly newspaper since 1853, is published on Thursdays from Downieville, California.
The Mountain Messenger can be purchased for half a buck at the National Hotel (sidewalk), Nevada City Post Office (sidewalk), Nevada City SPD (outside) and Nevada City Express Mart (outside.)
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