Mummers strut for the 107th time

January 1, 2008 8:15:33 PM PST
Thousands of costumed mummers, undeterred by a rain delay, did their traditional New Year's strut down Broad Street on Tuesday in the 107th year of what has been called Philadelphia's Mardi Gras. The Mummers Parade started several hours late due to showers and the threat of stiff winds, but by mid-afternoon there were patches of blue sky and sunshine as brigades cavorted to the delight of spectators lining the route.

"I like all the camaraderie, everybody's real friendly to you," said Philly-born and raised Linda Eichmann, 48, standing alongside City Hall as onlookers blared toy horns as the marchers neared the end of the route.

"It's the one day of the year our city all gets along," she said.

Melvin Mays, of West Philadelphia, holding a toy cutlass given to one of his three young children by a dancing pirate, was enjoying the relatively mild mid-40 temperatures.

"When I was a kid and would come down, it was brutal cold - but still the fun was there," Mays said. "We normally watch it on TV, but when the kids said they wanted to come down, I said we'll come down this year. It's their first time out."

Passing as he spoke was a group dressed as cows in black and white and wishing spectators a "Happy Moo Year." Another group wore pointed witches' hats along with green face paint and long, crooked noses - and, of course, brandished brooms.

One dancer mocked the saga of an astronaut accused of driving from Houston to Orlando wearing a diaper to confront a romantic rival. The purple-wigged dancer cavorted in an orange jumpsuit with a diaper on the outside, carrying a sign saying "Houston we got a problem - jealous astronaut."

Even political protests were muted. The Granny Peace Brigade carried a sign calling for troops to come home, but members wore brightly colored caps topped with life-sized doves, and one sported a blue feather boa.

Crowds stood along the route or huddled on the bleachers, passing each other drinks and soft pretzels, and shouted encouragement as dancers passed by, throwing confetti and bead necklaces.

Relaxing behind the grandstand, former Philadelphia resident Phyllis Rochelle said she had been able to squeeze her 17-year-old daughter up front in the stands for a better view. Rochelle, 50, who now lives in Camp Lejeune, N.C., said she had not seen the parade since she herself was 17.

"The costumes are wonderful, the music - it's exciting," she said.

Another North Carolina visitor, Dan Rockett, 65, of Raleigh, said he had been a mummers fan since he saw a band in Charlotte in 1953. He said he was an honorary member of the Durning String Band and sponsored a November visit by the band to Raleigh, but was sporting a former band's fancy costume - complete with a huge hat topped by a flower pot sprouting daisies.

"I'm posing as the Lost Mummer," he said.

The parade stems from a mixture of immigrant traditions, some dating back of the 1640s, dubbed "mummer" probably from the German word for "mask." Different neighborhood celebrations began to coalesce in the late 19th century, and the modern parade began with city sponsorship in 1901.

The spectacle now includes competition in four divisions: comics, the satirists; Fancies, with the flashiest outfits; Fancy Brigades, with choreographed theatrical works; and String Bands, the dancing musicians, with their traditional theme "Oh! Dem Golden Slippers."

After the parade, the spectacle moves indoors for two shows in the Pennsylvania Convention Center - and even then, it's not over. After the formal program, mummers and their fans traditionally congregate in South Philadelphia for a celebration that lasts late in the night, Eichmann said.

"You can see them up close, they bring the crowd in with them," she said. "They'll make you strut. It's a lot of fun."


Load Comments