Happy New Year from Philadelphia

 

For more than one hundred years, the City of Philadelphia has sponsored the Mummers Parade on New Years day.  I thought it would be fun to do some research into the history of this Philadelphia tradition and share the results with you.  The Mumming tradition started  in Europe.  It came to these shores  with  the wave of immigrants that started arriving in Philadelphia in the 1600’s- first the Swedes, then English and then the Irish.  According to Murray Dubin in his book South Philadelphia, Mummers, Memories and the Melrose Diner, the Philadelphia Mummers have been strutting since 1790!  These parades were probably informal at first but became more organized with the passage of time.  As other ethnic groups like the Italians poured into South Philadelphia, they embraced the Mummers tradition.  The Mummers gradually started to form clubs which became an important part of the social fabric of the South Philadelphia working class.

The back of the above photograph says “Chas. Forbes Commercial Photographer  1006 W. Girard Ave.” When was it taken?  There’s no date, but I see a pipe that appears to be for an oil tank for a furnace on the front of the brick row house.  I don’t think oil heat came into wide use until after World War One, so this picture could be from the 1920’s.  For some beautiful photographs of Mummers in modern costumes,  check out the Philadelpha Mummer Flickr site. For an outstanding album of old pictures you’re not likely to see elsewhere on line, go to the Rare Mummers Archives.

Until the late 19th Century, Christmas and New Years celebrations were more like  Halloween or Mardi Gras festivals with people in masks and costumes going from house to house, offering to entertain the occupants with plays, skits or other antics.   People fired guns in the air (illegal in Philadelphia today) and public intoxication was the norm.  No wonder the Puritans banned Christmas!The   Philadelphia New Years Mummers parade has its roots in those raucous winter holiday celebrations of  the past. The first “official” parade was in 1901  when the City decided to sponsor it. There were so many Mummer’s clubs by that time that the City had to  do something to  protect the public safety and cut down on the revelry and  vandalism that accompanied the parades.  The Mummers have marched up Broad Street on New Years day every year since then, with a few exceptions.

There is a lot more to the history of the Mummers in Philadelphia than I could write here.  Click on the links for more information.  Remember, when you watch a Mummers parade,  you are part of an historical tradition you won’t see many other places in the U.S.  You are really looking into a portal to history.

Here are some parades from over the years.

I estimate from the dress that the undated newsreel below is from the 1930’s or 1940’s.  The parade passes a business called “University Motors.” Anyone know when they were in business on Broad Street?  I think it might have been a Studebaker Dealership.

 

 

 

 

When you are in Philadelphia, be sure to stop by the Mummers Museum.

 

5 responses to “Happy New Year from Philadelphia

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  5. Pingback: It ain’t New Years without the Mummers | Ornamento·

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