Sowing Seeds

Sunday, December 26, 2010 Road Junkies 2 Comments

Last spring we scouted out some likely places to plant letterboxes in Mobile, Alabama, which has been something of a letterboxing desert.  In the intervening months, we prepared the boxes, and finally this week we returned and planted 9 boxes in and near Mobile to highlight some local legends and locations which we thought would be interesting to searchers.

1.  Mobile Museum of Art
Founded in 1963 by the Mobile Art Association, the Mobile Museum of Art serves the city of Mobile and the South Alabama area. The museum is located in the city-owned Langan Park and in 2002 underwent a major expansion which tripled its size. The museum's permanent collection comprises more than 6,000 art objects spanning two thousand years of cultural history. Changing exhibitions feature a wide range of artists, media, subjects, and time periods. A wide range of educational programs are offered to the public and to school groups.

Located in the museum's picturesque lakefront lobby, the Palette Café offers visitors the chance to enjoy a casual and delicious lunch while visiting the museum. Diners can enjoy a variety of tempting soups, sandwiches and salads, as well as homemade cakes and pies. We recommend it highly.

2.  Azalea City (Mobile Botanical Gardens)
Mobile’s Azalea Trail began in 1929 as a project of the local Jaycees to attract tourists to the city. Mobilians were encouraged to plant azaleas to line local streets. Based on the planting efforts of citizens, an Azalea Trail was designated, running through many areas of the city. The trail was marked by a pink line painted down the middle of the street.

Soon the city became known for its mass of pink blooms each spring. Walter D. Bellingrath opened his elaborate private garden to the public in 1932. These two attractions inspired Mobile's nickname as the Azalea City. There's even an azalea named for the city, the Pride of Mobile. Visitors still come each spring to see the beautiful blooms. You'll see plenty of azalea plants at the Mobile Botanical Gardens in Langan Park.

3.  Old Joe Cain (at Church Street Graveyard)
The Old Church Street Cemetery is located behind the main branch of the Mobile Public Library at 753 Government Street. It is the burial place of a legendary Mobile character, Old Joe Cain.

Joseph Stillwell Cain, Jr. is recognized as the man responsible for the rebirth of Mobile's Mardi Gras celebrations in the years immediately following the Civil War. The tumult of the war had disrupted the annual festivities in Mobile. After the war and under Union occupation, the city was disillusioned and discouraged. On the afternoon of Fat Tuesday in 1866, Joe Cain, a store clerk, set out to raise the spirits of Mobilians.

Appearing as a mythical Chickasaw Indian, Chief Slacabormorinico from Wagg Swamp, he climbed aboard a decorated coal wagon pulled by a mule and held a one-float parade through the streets of Mobile, thus initiating the modern era of Mardi Gras in the city. A Confederate veteran, Cain's decision to masquerade as chief of a tribe that had never been defeated was intended as an act of defiance against the Union occupation of the city. He achieved his goal of lifting Mobile citizens from despair and reviving the celebration of Mardi Gras.

In 1867, Joe Cain made his second appearance as “Old Slac” and was accompanied by the Lost Cause Minstrels, a group of musicians playing drums and horns. This was the origin of The Order of the Myths parade on Fat Tuesday. Cain founded many of the city's mystic societies and built a Mardi Gras parade tradition which continues today. Cain himself participated in each year’s festival until he died.

In 1966, Mobile observed the Joe Cain centennial by having Cain's body exhumed from its resting place in the nearby town of Bayou la Batre and re-interred in Mobile's historic Church Street Cemetery. The event was marked with a traditional jazz funeral procession, beginning the annual celebration of Joe Cain Day on the Sunday before Mardi Gras. The event was the brainchild of Julian Lee Rayford, who claimed Joe Cain appeared to him in dreams and urged him to start a "people's parade." Rayford is now buried next to Joe Cain's plot in the Church Street Cemetery.

4.  Yellow Submarine
In the early 1960s, two Mobile adventurers salvaged a 300-ft troop transporter submerged in Mobile Bay with the idea of building a submarine from the 20,000 gallon water tanks aboard the ship. The tanks were made of welded steel plates, half an inch thick, which the men cut and re-welded into the body of the submarine. When construction was finished, the partners hoped to use the submarine to gather treasures from the tropical ocean floor. A tube with a pointed cap was attached to the bottom of the craft. With the cap removed, the tube was designed to work like a vacuum cleaner, pulling in treasures from the deep. The hoped-for treasures were of two kinds: seafood, especially very large lobsters that migrated at certain times of the year, and treasures from sunken pirate ships.

Once construction was complete, the two adventurers disagreed on the best way to proceed. One wanted to test the craft locally while the other was eager to go out searching for treasure. Eventually they joined together in an unsuccessful effort to locate investors to fund their venture. Meanwhile, the submarine remained on the bank of Three Mile Creek where it had been built, having never been launched in the water.

Years later, in the early 1980s, Jordan Pile Driving leased land along the creek and discovered the submarine in the process of dredging the creek to accommodate the company's boats and barges. The sub was freed using a crane, and Jordan purchased it from the builder, cleaned it up, and painted it yellow in honor of the Beatles' 1968 movie and album. He now tells truckers looking for his business, "Go down Telegraph Road two miles, and turn right at the first yellow submarine."

5.  Fort Conde Museum and Visitor Center
Originally a part of French Louisiana, the Alabama Gulf Coast was a focal point for colonial exploration and settlement. Located upriver, Mobile was the first capital of the French colony. Disease and flooding led to the move of the town to its present location in 1711. After the warm humid climate led to the deterioration of the wooden stockade fort constructed to protect the town, a new brick and stone fort was built in 1723 to guard against Spanish or British attack on the strategic location of Mobile and its Bay as a port to the Gulf of Mexico.

Named Fort Conde in honor of King Louis XIV's brother, the Prince of Conde, the fort served as a defense for Mobile and as a base for French exploration and expansion into much of the modern state of Alabama. Fort Conde remained in the hands of its French builders until 1763, when it was turned over to the British along with the rest of Alabama as part of the agreement that ended the French and Indian War. In 1780, Mobile became part of Spanish Florida, and the Spanish held the fort until 1813, when it was occupied by U.S. troops.

After guarding Mobile and its citizens for almost 100 years, the outdated fort was dismantled in 1820, and commercial and residential development spread over its former site. About one-third of the fort was reconstructed at 80% scale during the 1970s. Fort Conde now serves as the official Welcome Center for the City of Mobile. Visitors can explore the reconstructed walls and rooms where exhibits relate the history of Mobile and the fort.

6.  USS Alabama
Commissioned in 1942, the USS Alabama is 680 feet long and 108 feet wide. Under battle conditions, the ship weighed in at more than 45,000 tons. With a crew of 2,500, the ship saw 37 months of active duty in World War II, earning nine battle stars in the Atlantic and Pacific arenas. "The Mighty A" never suffered any casualties or significant damage due to enemy fire. After the war, the ship remained in the U.S. Navy's reserve fleet until the early 1960s when it was designated for scrap. A grassroots fundraising campaign brought the ship to Mobile to serve as a museum and the centerpiece of Battlefield Memorial Park.

The park was established to honor all Alabama veterans who have participated in all conflicts of the U.S. Armed Services and, in addition to the Alabama, features military equipment from numerous conflicts from 1941 to the present.

7.  Little Colt at Spanish Plaza
Presented as a gift to Mobile from the city of Cordoba, Spain, in 1967, the Little Colt is a reproduction of the Potro de Cordoba statue which sits sits atop a fountain near Cordoba's city center. Mobile's Little Colt resides in Spanish Plaza, a downtown city park that honors the Spanish rule in the city from 1780 to 1813 and the city's continuing friendship with Spain.

In 1979, Hurricane Frederic ripped the Little Colt from its pedestal and damaged its rear legs. The statue spent the next two decades in a warehouse full of tombstones, all but forgotten. After a city worker rediscovered the colt in 2000, it took another 10 years for the sculpture to be repaired and returned to Spanish Plaza, where it was restored to its original pedestal in March, 2010.

8.  Ellicott's Stone (Bucks, AL)
Ellicott's Stone is the only surviving boundary marker demarcating the boundary between what was then the Spanish territories in Florida and U.S. territory as negotiated in the Treaty of San Lorenzo. In 1796, George Washington commissioned Andrew Ellicott as the U.S. representative on the commission to establish the international border starting at the Mobile River and working east toward the Atlantic. Ellicott traveled with a military escort and worked together with Spanish commissioners for the next four years. Using homemade surveying instruments and the stars for guidance, Ellicott and his survey crew encountered many obstacles, including rough terrain, dissident laborers, nearly impenetrable swamps, and Indian attacks.

The remaining historic stone marker was placed in 1799 near the bank of the Mobile River where the survey team determined the 31st parallel to be. Despite the limits of their methods and equipment, the stone is placed just 500 feet south of the true 31st parallel. This parallel remained an international boundary for only 14 years, until America obtained Mobile from the Spaniards in 1813. However, Ellicott's Line from this survey, running along latitude 31°N, still defines the border between Alabama and Florida.

9.  Aaron Burr's Capture (McIntosh, AL)
Aaron Burr is no ordinary historical figure. A New York lawyer and U.S. senator, Burr was one of the early leaders of the U.S. and was a candidate in the 1800 presidential election with Thomas Jefferson as opponent. The Electoral College vote ended in a tie between Burr and Jefferson, throwing the election into Congress, which was also deadlocked. Finally on the thirty-sixth ballot, with heavy campaigning by Alexander Hamilton, Congress declared Jefferson the winner and Burr, as runner-up, was named Vice-President.

Burr blamed Hamilton, a long-time political and courtroom rival, for his defeat in the 1800 election and later in the New York gubernatorial election of 1804 and killed Hamilton in a duel. Later Burr organized a venture into the West, perhaps to break up his own country or at least to conquer Mexico, allying himself in this venture with James Wilkinson, who was both a general in the U.S. army and at the same time a paid secret agent for Spain. Burr was eventually accused of sedition by Wilkinson, causing President Jefferson to order that Burr be captured and brought back to the East to stand trial for treason.

Burr fled the chase, heading for Spanish Florida. He nearly made it but was captured and arrested at McIntosh Bluff (then in the Mississippi Territory) in 1807. At his trial for treason, Burr was acquitted by Chief Justice John Marshall, who ruled there were not sufficient witnesses to convict him. After traveling abroad for a few years, Burr returned home to New York and settled back into his law practice. For a time he was moderately successful until personal tragedy and a series of health problems left Burr heavily dependent on friends and family for financial support before his death.

McIntosh Bluff, the site of Burr's capture, exists today only as a roadside historical marker.

Later...
After all the boxes were planted, we were lucky enough to stumble upon our young cousin Ashley at a Mobile Starbucks location.
Later we visited her and her family at their beautiful home, capping off a fascinating and fun planting event in Mobile.