Monday, October 15, 2007
If you don't love a parade, but can't get enough of the rich history that surrounds the group there are several books on the subject, the most recent being "Life, Liberty, and The Mummers" by Ed Kennedy.
The 54-year-old captured a year in the life of the Mummers with a 198-page photo essay. Set to be released this month, the book will be available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon.com. Shooting began in '03 when he attended his first parade, not quite knowing what to expect.
"It's like a G-rated Mardi Gras to me," the New Orleans native said with a laugh.
He was welcomed with open arms and spent the next four years with groups like the South Philly Vikings and the Quaker City String Band.
The Elkins Park resident said similarities between his hometown's famed Mardi Gras and our town's celebrated Mummers' Parade drew him to the subject, and it was the bond between the Mummers and the community that kept him coming back for more.
"On Second Street, when you get on it, that's where they're performing for their own community," he said. "You see that closeness, that sense of community. I wrote in my book that South Philly would cease to exist without the Mummers — they both support each other."
Many members date the start of the Mummers to the 1600s — before William Penn even set foot in the soon-to-be Keystone State.
"The Swedes of what's now known as Queen Village would go around and put on plays from house to house," Burke said. "Then they would be invited in to eat and have a few beers. That's how the tradition got started — by being with neighbors celebrating — and the tradition continues to what you see today."
In the 1870s, groups organized with comic and fancy-dress clubs forming, becoming the first versions of today's Mummers. Parades became the focus in the 1880s, with the prize of $25 being awarded in the '88 contest on South Broad. Baked goods, food and beer from local taverns served as prizes, as well.
A year after the city recognized the parade in 1901, string bands joined the lineup and in 1903 minstrel Charles Dumont introduced "Oh! Dem Golden Slippers," which has become a signature song for the group.
In 2000, the Mummers were rerouted from Broad to Market Street, but made their way back in '04.
The Mummers have not stopped growing. Just this year, a new group called the Pennsport String Band formed, with a different take.
"We are a new type of string band," President Robert Simiriglio, a former member of the Durning String Band who will march in his 34th parade this year, said.
The 45-year-old who grew up on 19th and Ritner streets said the different format — with no dues or duties — came from the wishes of its 43 members who wanted to continue Mummering without the intense commitment.
"It's all paid for out of pocket," he said. "We don't do many jobs or parades. We keep expenses low. There's no clubhouse. A lot of members still wanted to march New Year's Day, but they are people who like to spend summers with their families. Some string bands have jobs weekly, but a lot of us don't have that kind of time. We decided this would be a fun thing to do, an easy thing and cheap."
No matter who struts or how many years pass, the Mummer family tree is planted — and firmly rooted — in South Philly.
"I could take a picture of a crowd at the New Year's Day parade, and to find out who that person was, go back to South Philly, stop at a bar or some place and ask, 'Does anybody know who this is?' And they'd say, 'Oh yeah, go down two blocks to the right. It's my cousin's friend's sister,'" Kennedy said. "Even if you're not a Mummer, you know somebody who is. They have a real connection with the community."
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