Mummers -- For Jenn and Others
First, for those who are geographically impaired, Wilmington is sort of a southern suburb of Philadelphia and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the DuPont Company though national credit card companies are making inroads.
Lisa has the Main Line and Rittenhouse Square pretty well knocked.
Does anyone remember The Preppy Handbook ? People from the ML and RS tend to send their sons (daughters, too, these days) to the Episcopal Academy, which the PH styled as the #1 preppy day school in the country. Queeg went there, as did Max. Every time there is a reunion, Queeg and I do a poll. One of the questions is always, "How many times did you go to Snockey's last year?"
So, on to the Mummers. It is just SOOO South Philly, which is comprised of working-class neighborhoods. Every year on New Year's Day about 15,000 people take to the streets in outrageous costumes to strut their stuff. There are four classes of Mumming: Clowns, Fancies, String Bands, and the one I can never remember. I don't know if it is possible to be a Mummer if you are not Irish or Italian. I believe Catholocism is a requirement. In the last ten years or so, women have been allowed to be part of the festivities. In the last five years or so, drinking on the parade route was banned.
You haven't lived until you've spent a Saturday afternoon in the 9th Street Market. I LOVE the "real" Philadelphia.
Much Mumming activity centers on what's called "Two Street" and the multiple saloons in that neighborhood. Each club has its own saloon AND its own clubhouse. The saloons feature draft beer that is about 45 cents a draw.
Queeg and I hooked up with Eddie Flynn at Snockey's one night and Eddie invited us to accompany him to a saloon called Jack Daniel's. It's the official watering hole of the Quaker City String Bang which had the longest record of wins going. Their Captain is awesome ... he's 6'8" and almost always brings home the trophy for best Captain.
Eddie is the official Irish florist to dead Mummers. The Ten Pennies Flower Shop serves the Italian contingent.
That night, the President of the Quaker City String Band invited Queeg and me to their clubhouse, deserted at that moment. He popped brewskis for us and we sat and talked for a long time about Mummery. After thinking about it for a while, he decided that he could allow me to do something that no woman had ever done before (or so he said). I was going to go up to the third floor of the row house to see the collection of costumes. (Quaker City is the only club that still does not allow women to march or, for that matter, go above the club rooms on the first floor.) I tried some of them on. And wished, desperately, for a camera.
It may have been the brewskis, it may have been my long-time obsession with the Mummers, but it was SOMETHING to see the sequins, the glitter, and the strands of maribou ground into that last stairway.
How do I know all these things? I have a strange fascination with the Mummers. Queeg has always considered it an aberration. A few years ago, after that third-floor visit, I wrote about the Mummers in an article called "Silver Spoons and Golden Slippers" attempting to explain my fascination with these guys.
It took a long time to sort out. We don't usually have guys in the working trades over for dinner. We don't usually have guys who wear glittery pink dresses ("wenches" in the Comics) over for dinner. We are card-carrying preppies. I finally figured out that I totally admire the sense of community that's been going on for almost 100 years now. Show me a lawyer or a doctor or a CPA who looks forward all year long to dressing up in a totally weird and (often) tacky get-up to march down Broad Street. (Except it's recently been changed to Market Street.)
The costumes are incredible (gotta see 'em to believe 'em) flights of fancy. And every January 2 each club gets together (aspirin is served) to decide on their theme for the next year. Mumming is a total commitment.
Also, there are a lot of "survivors" of the South Philly 'hoods who have become lawyers, doctors, and CPAs and moved to the Main Line. The will have NOTHING to do with the Mummers, even though Mummery is part of their heritage. It makes my heart sing to see a young dad carrying a costumed kid down the street and learn that the child is the FIFTH generation of the family to strut.
There IS an official "strut". It's usually performed to the tune of "Golden Slippers." Queeg has long since gotten over the fact that I know how to do it.
Bottom line, these guys (and their families) live a grinding life ... fixing Main Line toilets, rewiring apartments on Rittenhouse Square, tuning up the richies' Mercedes and BMWs. But, one day a year they are kids again and celebrate it. They are Mummers. And I love 'em.
For what it's worth, the Mummers' Museum, the heart and soul of tackiness, is a short block from Snockey's.
Re: Mummers -- For Jenn and Others
Thanks for the memories Pamda! What a nice piece! I would love to read your article "Silver Spoons and Golden Slippers”.
Mummery was so much a part of my childhood and family heritage. Yes, lots of Irish and Italian Americans are in the parade but don’t forget the Polish and German Americans (my family is of German ancestry). Grandpa belonged to the Greater Overbrook String Band from the West Philadelphia section of the city. He was a line Captain. He had all daughters but a son-in-law (my Uncle Al) carried on the tradition, as did his son Al Jr. Both played the banjo. Unfortunately Al III who is now 23 has no interest. If born male surely my mother and I would have strutted up Broad Street with my Grandfather. As it was, we had to be happy with sitting in the stands at City Hall to watch the parade. Well, at least we were able to get primo seating! After the parade we would take a taxi to the club where all the families gathered for a buffet and partying to the wee hours to await the results of the judges. I can almost smell the roast beef sandwiches and that distinctive “Taproom” smell.
As children, my sister and I would love to explore the basement of my grandparent’s home and see his old costumes. At Halloween he would do our make-up as he had quite a collection of grease paint. How I loved all the ostrich feathers in every color of the rainbow!
And talk about the “Mummer’s Strut”, no wedding (or other large party) was really in high gear until the guests requested and started dancing to “Oh Dem Golden Slippers”.
It’s been too many years since I have seen the parade. It seems to be our luck that when we visit the family for New Years, weather causes the parade to be cancelled till the next weekend! I could never understand why it never made it to national TV like the Rose Bowl Parade! At least one of the cable stations could pick it up! Maybe we need to give the Parade another try this year.
Thanks for bringing back so many fond memories.
Re: Mummers -- For Jenn and Others
I may be living in TEXAS now , but I will always remember Philly and the Mummers. I believe a person has got to know first hand what the mummers are before they really know what y'all are talking about. Sue Sue (Born in bred in Berks County, PA) And as a good PA Dutch girl I was the chosen one to play the accordian. I remember only two songs. The Blue Bird Waltz and .....Golden Slippers of course. When I play it , i just have to start strutting! Thanks for your story, it brings me happy memories.
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