Sunday, January 08, 2012

Philly Mummers memorable moments

We visited Philadelphia in time for the 112th edition of the New Year's Day Mummers Parade. Put this on your bucket list!

The Mummers are made up of some 44 New Year's Day Associations and Brigades, marching up Broad Street, in a parade lasting from 09:30 until 19:00. This is followed by an evening event indoors at the Convention Center. The show was covered throughout on live TV on Channel Phl17, with extensive coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer. We chose grandstand tickets, in the City Hall Performance Zone, at $18 each, positioning ourselves in JFK Plaza at the finish line.
The Mummers are constituted in societies which have a history of founding, merging and disbanding; a shifting coalition. The music chosen included the Sound of Philadelphia with Mummers in costume dancing in the street, with umbrellas or parasols, a signature motif. Rosettes were also much in evidence. The event features four main categories: Comic, Fancy Costume, String Band and Fancy Brigade.
The comic division included old timers, babies, Oktoberfest, clowns, smurfs, wenches (traditionally men dressed as women), Lady Gaga (from Vineland, New Jersey), and Super Mario. We also saw Musketeers (I even spotted a Cardinal), Lola the Showgirl, Gorillas, Keystone cops and gangsters, Chinamen and the Disco Duck. Themes vary year to year, including topical and political: this year the BP Oil Spill and vote Ron Paul 2012. We also had lampooning the Occupy Movement with Octopi and Froggupy. Each troupe had a limited time in front of the judging stand.

Also strutting their stuff were pirates (with sailing ship tableau), Hot n Chilli Peppers, Mardi Gras, Egyptians, Oregon Wench Brigade, Jokers, Romans, Astronauts and Aliens, Werewolves, Gators and Frosty the Snowman.

Participation runs in families. The Penguins had two marchers under age one. I even heard: "Bringing them up in the tradition." One gentleman, introduced to the crowd, had been parading since 1937 earning a place in the Mummers Hall of Fame. The comic division was won by the Wenchtoberfest of the Two Street Stompers.

After a while jazz bands show up on the back of trucks with the Fancy Costume Division. There is no attempt at costume accuracy - the Fralinger sequinned Scotsmen in kilts were a parody. The Hog Island NYA won the Fancy Costume Division, a cumulative points competition with nine categories. The String Bands winner was Woodland with "It's A Jungle Out There!"
The event was sponsored by SugarHouse Casino, a Pennsylvania gaming house built to rival Atlantic City. Participants competed for $395,000 in prizes. Free samples were handed out to the crowd including Goldenberg's peanut chews, Turkey Hill lemonade and iced tea, and Phl17 inflatable flags. Serving soldiers, parading with flags, were well received. The weather was relatively warm, untypical for the time of year.

The Fancy Brigade Finale was held at the Convention Center, a choreographed display by ten societies, which has been running for the last 15 years. The move indoors was somewhat controversial, but serves to promote Philly as a tourist destination, being compared on TV to Broadway shows or Las Vegas. The city sees its future in the hospitality industry. The displays set to music featured elaborate, intricate staging:

Downtowners Fancy Brigade - Pirates Dead or Alive, 5th
Saturnalians NYA - Empires of the Deep, 6th
Avenuers NYB - India: The Maharaja Celebration, 7th
South Philly Vikings - Kalightoscope, 1st
Golden Crown NYB - World of Witchcraft, 4th
Jokers NYA - Ancient Egypt, 3rd
Bill McIntyre's Shooting Stars NYB - Quest for the Yeti, 2nd
2nd Street Shooters - Monsters unleashed, 9th
Satin Slipper NYB - Dragon Emperor (disqualified, staging malfunction)
Clevemore Fancy Brigade - Voodoo, 8th

The Mummers are strong in South Philly and they claimed the big prize on the night. We'll have to wait until next year to hear "Oh dem Golden Slippers" once more. Pics by Annette and RLT.

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