Seahorse Fever in the Bay Upcoming 200th anniversary of the Battle of the Bay of St. Louis
The most important thing to know about the reenactment is where to get a cool pirate’s costume (see our sidebar!). Of course, any attire that looks even vaguely like it might have been worn around the early 1800’s will make you part of the huge town party planned for Saturday, December 13th, 2014.
The premise is to have the whole community participate in the reenactment of “The Battle of Bay St. Louis,” an encounter that occurred 200 years ago during the War of 1812. Planned events on the actual anniversary include a maritime reenactment – with cannon fire! - a 5K race, a veteran’s parade and fireworks. Two Biloxi schooners from the Seafood and Maritime Museum will take part in the reenactment, but while they’re not “fighting,” people can purchase tickets for on-board tours.
And that’s just on the anniversary day. November 15th has been declared Pirate Day in the Bay as a warm-up for the December festivities. (See details under Upcoming Events). And earlier this year as part of the whole big shebang, a new Mardi Gras parade and a putt-putt Golf Tournament took place. Both were so wildly popular that they’re now going to be annual events.
The entire extravaganza can be traced back to two brothers, Donald and Robin Rafferty.
In late 2013, the two history buffs realized that the 200th anniversary of the little-known maritime battle of the Bay was approaching. The brothers gathered a group of friends for a brainstorming session and within a few months, the Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse was formed.
story continued below -
L to R: Donald and Susan Rafferty, Robin Rafferty, and the 2014 Grand Marshall of the first parade, Chelsea Rick. photo by Margaret Rafferty
Wendy McDonald, the first Queen of the Mystik Krewe of the Seahorse in period costume with husband Henry Winter
The first line of order was to create a new Mardi Gras parade. Community excitement reached a fever pitch when word got around and the Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse had signed up nearly 450 members by March. The first parade marched on Lundi Gras, March 3rd, 2014. More than 90 vehicles – mostly golf carts – registered. Bay St. Louis Councilwoman Wendy McDonald reigned as the first queen. Despite record-breaking arctic weather, 5,000 – 6,000 people came out to watch the parade wind its way through Old Town.
Then in April, a whimsical 18 hole Putt-Putt Golf Tournament in Old Town raised money for the Krewe. The event was such a hit a similar fund-raiser is being planned for 2015. The publicity surrounding these events has brought Seahorse membership to over 550, with more expected to join as the excitement surrounding the reenactment grows.
The historical event that’s at the center of all this merriment happened in 1814 as a precursor to the more famous “Battle of New Orleans.” The Sea Horse was an American schooner that single-handedly took on the British fleet in a “David versus Goliath” encounter, right in front of the Bay St. Louis shoreline. While the little ship was hopelessly out-manned, it managed to delay British forces, giving Andrew Jackson (who was commanding American forces in New Orleans) more desperately needed time to organize that city’s defense and keep control of the Mississippi River out of British hands.
Since the event occurred two centuries ago, accounts of the battle vary, but as local historian Charles Gray often says, “history is lies agreed upon.” His version of the battle, which is made up of “a composite of different sources” will appear in the December Cleaver.
Spoiler alert: The most riveting part of Gray’s version occurs when an elderly woman on crutches shouts to shore-side onlookers of the battle “Will no one fire a shot in the defense of our country?” She grabs a lit cigar being smoked by Bay St. Louis Mayor Toulme and lights the fuse to a cannon, which fires into the midst of the British attackers. Mayhem ensues.
The Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse seems to be embodying the feisty spirit of the cigar-wielding matron. We know the next question avid readers will be asking: How do we join? There’s an actual website and you can download the membership application there. The cost to join is only $30 and it includes a very cool membership card, as well as email updates about all the planned activities – including the Inspection Ball that will take place the night before the reenactment.
On the evening of Friday, December 12th, at the Bay St. Louis Community Hall, a costume ball will kick off the anniversary chain of events. The ball (yet another opportunity to dress in your interesting period outfit!) takes place from 5:30 - 11pm. Tickets cost $25 for members and $35 for non-members. There’ll be food and beverage and major comradery as the names of the 2015 king and queen of the Krewe of Seahorse Mardi Gras Parade are announced.
But you don’t have to be a member of the Krewe of Seahorse to enjoy any of the events surrounding the anniversary. Simply wearing a costume will make you part of the spectacle instead of a spectator. That’s always more fun - and makes for eye-catching photos that will get posted on Facebook and cause a stir with your friends who don’t live in places nearly this interesting.
For more history about the battle, click here for the Krewe’s history page. Also, Charles Gray suggests reading Paul La Violette’s 2003 book, Sink or Be Sunk! The Naval Battle in the Mississippi Sound That Preceded the Battle of New Orleans. It’s available at Bay Books on Main Street.