Days Gone By - stories from the past

Thanks to Joe Cain, on February 13, 1866 Mardi Gras in Mobile continued formal festivities

On Fat Tuesday, February 13, 1866, Confederate veteran Joe Cain paraded through the streets of federal-occupied Mobile dressed as a Chickasaw Indian chief he dubbed “Slackabamorinico.” The antics of “Chief Slac” marked the first public celebration of Mardi Gras in Mobile since the start of the Civil War, and led to larger, more formalized festivities the next year. Joe Cain Day is observed annually in Mobile on the Sunday before Mardi Gras.

Are you looking for a great place to stay for the Mardis Gras in Mobile, Alabama? Check out the historic Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa.

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Site of hotel since early days

The southeast corner Royal and St. Francis Streets in Mobile, Alabama has been the site of a hotel since the early days of Alabama. The Franklin Hotel was on the site prior to 1829 when it was burned and the Waverly Hotel was next built there. However, it also burned in 1850.

Battle House at Royal & St. Francis Streets, Mobile, Alabama

Battle house ca. 1930

The Three Battle Brothers

Three Battle brothers, James, John and Samuel Battle built a four-story brick building with a two-story gallery of cast iron and named it the Battle House when it opened in 1852. The first Mardi Gras ball held at the Battle House was called The Strikers Ball in 1852. At that time the balls were part of the New Year celebration.

It was described as a “grand imposing edifice—- seemed like some fairy palace which had sprung up.” The grand hotel had many notable visitors such as: Jefferson Davis, Winfield Scott, Henry Clay, Millard Fillmore and Stephen Douglas who spent the night at the Battle House on the eve of losing the presidential election to Abraham Lincoln. A national weather service station was even established at the Battle House in 1880.

Battle House 1901 (Detroit Publishing Company – Library of Congress)

Battle house 1901

Fire destroyed it in 1905

A devastating fire destroyed the Battle House on February 12, 1905, but it was rebuilt and opened again in 1908. The new hotel featured a roof garden and domed art glass skylight in the lobby as well as modern technology.

Battle House, Mobile (1904)


Famous speech made at the Battle House

In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson stayed at the Battle House Hotel when he made his famous speech at the Southern Commercial Congress which led to the what was called the Wilson Doctrine on foreign policy and made the famous statement that “the United States will never again seed one additional foot of territory by conquest.”

Air conditioning arrived in 1949 as a welcome relief to the hot and humid Mobile summers.

Battle House as it probably appeared on President Wilson’s visit (from Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Battle House as it probably appeared on President Wilson's visit

Battle House in 1940s

battle house 1940s

Entertained many elegant guests to Mobile

For 70 years, The Battle House welcomed and entertained many elegant guests to Mobile. Over the years, the hotel had its troubles and was owned by several firms, including the Sheraton hotels in 1958.

Singer-songwriter, Jimmy Buffett, a native of Mobile, stated that the Battle House of the early 1950s was his first encounter with Carnival’s Death and Folly.

According to his book, “A Pirate looks at 50,”  he explains that he rode his father’s shoulders in front of the Battle House at the parade of the Order of Myths one Mardi Gras night. He spotted Death’s skeleton and shrieked. Death looked the youngster in the eye and laughed. And then, Buffett recalled, “I heard a crack that sounded like a gunshot.”

Folly had walloped Death on the backside with the traditional inflated pig bladders. The image persisted into the Buffetts’ Lenten service attendance the next morning and beyond. The minister of abandoned care says the Carnival concept of enjoying life despite the specter of death stayed with him as a life philosophy.

Shut down in 1974

Sheraton Hotels shut the Battle house down in 1974 due to mounting expenses of maintaining the old structure and it stood empty for a number of years. A yard sale occurred in 1978, where many items from the hotel were sold. Rumors of playful ghosts developed over the years. The hotel remained closed and by 1980, it was the only building left completely intact in its city block.

Battle House Hotel today

battle house today

Battle House has been restored

In 2003, the Retirement Systems of Alabama began restoration of the hotel, along with the construction of an adjoining skyscraper, the RSA Battle House Tower.

The projects were completed in 2007. The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa is a member of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Interior of the Battle House Hotel 2010 (by Carolyn Highsmith Library of Congress)

Battle house 2010 by Carolyn Highsmith

Interior of the Battle House Hotel 2010 (by Carolyn Highsmith Library of Congress)

Battle house 2010 by Carolyn Highsmith

Crystal Ballroom was once the restaurant

The lobby floor hosts the Crystal Ballroom which at one time was the hotel’s restaurant. The room has been restored to vintage colors, as it was in 1908. The colors were probably the same when President Woodrow Wilson spent the night there. The Crystal Ballroom is now used for social events such as weddings, meetings, and Mardi Gras balls.

Crystal Ballroom of the Battle House

The Magnificent Crystal Ballroom

    Historic hotels of America
  2. Wikipedia

A Pirate Looks at Fifty by Buffett, Jimmy [2000]

See Donna R. Causey’s novels and Alabama historic books

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1) by Donna R. Causey is a collection of lost and forgotten stories about the people who discovered and initially settled in Alabama.

Some stories include:

  • The true story of the first Mardi Gras in America and where it took place
  • The Mississippi Bubble Burst – how it affected the settlers
  • Did you know that many people devoted to the Crown settled in Alabama –
  • Sophia McGillivray- what she did when she was nine months pregnant
  • Alabama had its first Interstate in the early days of settlement

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1) (Paperback)
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ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1) (Paperback)

By (author):  Causey, Donna R

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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