From just the right angle on the balcony of the National Hotel Sunday morning, Nevada City will resemble New Orleans, as the procession of celebrants will parade down Broad Street in the culmination of the town’s Mardi Gras weekend festivities.
“I’m so excited about this event. It brings a lot of energy to town,” said Cathy Whittlesey, executive director of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.
“February is a slow time for Nevada City, and this event reminds folks of our festive atmosphere,” she said.
At the front of this year’s parade, just behind two color guards but ahead of parade grand marshal Jerry Cirino, will be the Merry Widow Society of California — 12 women whose organization was the impetus for the Nevada City Mardi Gras celebrations.
“We wanted them up front to honor their 20 years,” Whittlesey said.
The original 12 founding members first donned black funeral attire and marched along Nevada City’s sidewalks 21 years ago to honor Joe Cain, a Mobile, Ala., man largely credited with reviving Mardi Gras celebrations there after a suspension during the Civil War. Nevada City’s widows weren’t the first to engage in the practice: Groups of Mobile women have marched to Cain’s grave annually as part of Mardi Gras celebrations.
That first year in Nevada City resembled more of a festive social pub crawl, compared to today’s weekend-long festivities.
“We feel proud like proud mothers,” said Mary Ann Crabb, who joined the widows in 1994, adopting the moniker “Sugar Cain.”
“Mothers are always proud of how their children grow,” she said.
In 1993, the city recognized the Merry Widows’ Joe Cain Day, and festivities were taken over by the chamber of commerce in 2003. In addition to the parade, the weekend offers revelers a Masquerade Ball at Miners Foundry tonight and a family-friendly carnival there Sunday after the parade. Also surrounding the parade will be a street fair.
“The weather is supposed to be great,” Whittlesey said.
According to the National Weather Service, sunny skies and a high temperature of 48 are predicted today following Friday night’s 20 percent chance of snow. Tonight’s low will hover around 31 degrees. Sunday’s festivities will find more sun and a high of 52 degrees with the low dipping down to 34 Sunday evening, the service reported.
Today, the Merry Widows’ primary cause has shifted to their scholarship fundraising and annual publication of the Merry Widow Gazette, from which advertising funds go into the pot for the scholarships. The scholarship is awarded to single parents attending college full time. It is awarded based on need and grade point average.
“What we are doing is giving people validation that they are right to take that second chance at education,” said Judith Lowry, aka “Solar Cain.” “It says you are worth it and you are smart and your children will benefit … the whole community benefits when we have educated people.”
In 2012, the widows’ total fundraising surpassed the $50,000 mark, which coincided with their 20-year anniversary.
“Our scholarship program has awarded $52,000 to single parents to help with furthering their education,” Crabb said. “It’s rewarding to know these parents were able to be more self-sufficient and good role models for their children.”
Mardi Gras events kick off tonight with a Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball, featuring a live band at the historic Miners Foundry.
On Sunday, the Mardi Gras Street Faire runs from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. on North Pine Street in downtown Nevada City. There will be food, drink, crafts and clothing.
The Mardi Gras Parade begins at 2 p.m. — rain or shine. A procession of masked and themed groups will dole out beads, toys, trinkets, bangles and more.
After the parade, a children-friendly Carnevale will take place between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Miners Foundry. The event will feature New Orleans-style food and desserts and a full bar for adults. There will also be Cajun music, storyteller and juggler Izzi Tooinsky, drummers, belly dancers and a bounce house.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.