Mummers march despite money woes

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">A member of the Fralinger string band performs on south Broad St. during the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia, Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009. &#40;AP Photo&#47; Joseph Kaczmarek&#41;</span></div>
January 1, 2009 6:13:09 PM PST
Musicians dressed as Wild West gunslingers and comics dressed as bullfighters, knights and Mexican wrestlers strutted through downtown Thursday during the annual Mummers Parade, celebrating New Year's Day and, perhaps, the fact the beloved tradition did not fall victim to the city's budget ax. Thousands braved sunny but frigid temperatures that rose to 30 degrees to ring in 2009 Philadelphia-style, watching the parade of comics, musicians and others dressed in elaborate costumes of satin, sequins and feathers.

CLICK HERE for a list of parade winners.

"Philadelphia is one of the few cities where New Year's Day is bigger than New Year's Eve," said city resident Brian Castello, 48, who turned out early Thursday to see the Comic brigades that led the parade.

The Mardi Gras-like festivities almost didn't happen this year after the cash-strapped city withdrew more than $400,000 in support. The event was saved through last-minute private fundraising and an agreement to shorten the hours-long pageant, during which about 15,000 participants parade two-and-a-half miles through the heart of the city. The Mummers hit their time target, as the parade lasted just over six hours.

The Jolly Jolly Comics, one of the first groups to perform Thursday, sported bright red and black bullfighting outfits and matching red parasols to suit their "Running of the Bulls" theme. Parasols are a key prop for many Mummers who "strut" to the tune "Oh! Dem Golden Slippers."

"It's colorful. That's what I love about it. It's very colorful," fan Cassie Prichard said. The 56-year-old city native came prepared for the bitter cold in a fur coat and fur hat, and had a blanket wrapped around her legs as she sat in a chair she brought.

Wendy Zebert, 38, who moved to the city just a few months ago from northern California, had her camera ready when the first acts approached. She had become intrigued after hearing the Mummers Parade was a cross between Mardi Gras, Carnival and Halloween - and a century-old tradition.

"I thought, well, I have to get out of bed for this," Zebert said.

Some Mummers routines paid tribute to the city's World Series championship, including a "luau" during which hula dancers held up Philadelphia Phillies pennants. Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino is nicknamed "The Flyin' Hawaiian," after his home state.

One Mummer apparently had a heart attack during a performance in front of the judges at City Hall around 11 a.m. Emergency service workers said the man went into cardiac arrest and took him to the hospital, parade director Leo Dignam said.

Rich Porco, president of the Murray Comic Club, said the uncertainty in the weeks after the budget cuts were announced made it hard to focus on parade preparation. The Mummers understand the city's economic woes, he said, but they also generate millions of dollars in revenue - not to mention "a little happiness."

"The Mummers Parade is synonymous with the city of Philadelphia, like Geno's Steaks is, like soft pretzels are, like the Liberty Bell is," Porco, a Mummer for 51 years, said on the eve of the parade. "We're goodwill ambassadors."

Speaking at the festivities Thursday, Mayor Michael Nutter noted the city did contribute $300,000 toward the event. He called it "a tremendous tradition for Philadelphia."

"We want to keep this tradition going, but we have had to make some tough choices," Nutter said. The city is facing a $1 billion deficit over the next five years.

There are four divisions of Mummers: Comics, or satirists; Fancies, with the flashiest outfits; Fancy Brigades, with choreographed theatrical works and massive props; and String Bands, the dancing musicians.

The often-heavy costumes frequently boast exotic features such as imported ostrich feathers. Many clubs work on them all year long, and spend upward of $100,000, all to earn bragging rights.

In the Comic division, Murray won for the 11th straight year, tying the mark set by Liberty. Goodtimers finished second, and Landi placed third.

Due to city budget cuts, no prize money was awarded.

Had the parade been canceled, it would have been only the third time since 1901. There was no parade in 1919 because of World War I, nor in 1934 due to the Depression and lack of prize money.

The word "mummer" comes from the German word for "mask."

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