FROM COAL MINES TO CARNIVAL: THE JOURNEY OF MOON PIES TO MOBILE’S MARDI GRAS
By: Marissa Deal
New York and Chicago drop a ball. Atlanta is slightly more creative. They lower a peach. But when wandering the streets of Mobile (hopefully on a Bienville Bites tour) be sure to look up – 34 stories up to be exact – to the top of the RSA Trustmark Building and you will discover something truly unique alongside the building. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That really is a giant Moon Pie. The yellow quarter moon sports a calm face and a slight, Mona Lisa-esque smile as it lowers slowly down the building in the final countdown to the New Year.
Visitors and newcomers may wonder, is Mobile where Moon Pies were invented? Are they manufactured here? Or perhaps their corporate headquarters is here? The answer to all of that is…no. The story is far more interesting. But first, we must start at the beginning.
In 1917, a traveling salesman from Chattanooga asked a Kentucky coal miner what his ideal snack would be. According to history – mixed with a touch of legend – the miner said that he wanted a treat made with marshmallow and chocolate and that it be “the size of the moon.” The Chattanooga Baking Company was willing to give it a shot. This encounter inspired a chocolate-y, marshmallow-y, graham cracker-y snack that was portable and delicious. Affordable, yet filling. With that, the Moon Pie was born.
The pies were sold for just 5 cents and were an instant hit from the coal mines to the corner office. By 1929, the Chattanooga baking company was selling hundreds a day. Then, they became a favorite taste of home for American soldiers during WWII. Moon Pies continued to grow in popularity even after the war. By then, Moon Pies had expanded to flavors such as vanilla and banana, in addition to the original chocolate.
Meanwhile, Mobile had a slight problem. The Home of the Original Mardi Gras was full of life and the spirit of celebration each Carnival season. Masked gentleman and maidens upon gorgeous floats tossed beads and other goodies to happy onlookers. However, the most popular throw at the time was Cracker Jacks. And while they are a delicious treat with a fun surprise inside, the sharp corners of the cardboard boxes were a hazard to the catchers and not very aerodynamic for the throwers. They needed a change.
While accounts vary about what mystic order tossed the first Moon Pie and in what year, the popularity of Moon Pies took flight (pun intended) in the 1960s when a ladies’ group from Mobile attended a convention in Chattanooga. There they discovered a treat that felt like a pillow and was shaped like a frisbee. And they were affordable enough to buy in bulk. They had discovered the perfect throw.
And so, with that, the Moon Pie as a symbol of Mobile Mardi Gras began. Now, an estimated 500,000 Moon Pies are thrown at Mobile’s Mardi Gras celebration each year. And, because the Port City likes to celebrate year-round, Mobile consumes around 4 million each year. Moon Pies are the most common throw at Mardi Gras and local lore says that the first pie caught midair must be eaten immediately for good luck. The Chattanooga Baking Company has expanded in recent years to interesting flavors such as coconut, orange, strawberry and salted caramel. Because of their popularity here, we are often a testing site for new flavors.
Since New Year’s Eve 2008, the city of Mobile has been lowering the 12-foot-tall lighted mechanical moon pie to celebrate the coming of the New Year. And if you are in town on New Year’s Eve, be sure to attend the cutting of the largest Moon Pie in history. Weighing in at 55 pounds, the giant Moon Pie kicks off the celebration and is a free, sweet treat for locals and visitors alike.
If you attend a Bienville Bites Mardi Gras tour, be sure to:
1. Try a few Moon Pie flavors. Are you a traditionalist? Or an adventurer?
2. Keep an eye out for new flavors that you can’t find elsewhere.
3. And eat that first pie caught mid-air right there on the street! Then you are doing Mardi Gras like a local! And maybe, a little bit of luck will come your way.