Crowds were larger for Tuesday’s 119th edition of the Mummers Parade than for last year’s subfreezing Code Blue outing, but crowds were not what they should have been, given weather as warm as at the Rose Parade.
Passable sidewalks in Center City are the new normal for Philadelphia’s original, the oldest and largest folk celebration in the United States.
Light attendance is a shame, because to this veteran parade observer (and former Comic marcher), the performance quality on the street was above average this year — for those who could see it. The only people with an unobstructed view of performances complete with all props and scenery were the few hundred people in City Hall bleachers looking west on Market Street.
In recent decades, compromises have been made to resuscitate what had been a stop-and-go parade that had fallen into bad health. The parade was put on a diet, reducing its time and distance.
Once upon a time, the parade ran north from Oregon Avenue to Girard and could take 12 hours. Now it’s limited to 9-to-5, covering 1.3 miles south from City Hall to Washington Avenue. Full scenery and props are used only at the City Hall performance area, with cut-down versions in front of the Union League, at Pine and Carpenter Streets.
The parade officially started at 9 a.m. at City Hall under cloudy skies at an amazing 58 degrees. (It unofficially began earlier as Wenches noisily walked up Broad Street out of South Philly to their assembly point west of City Hall.)
By noon the sun had come out, and some costumed marchers started shedding shirts and sweaters. Winds forecast as gusting to 50 mph fortunately stayed away. High winds can play havoc with air-catching elaborate back pieces. No one wants to see Mummers become a kite.
The parade ended around 5 p.m. with no controversy I could detect. MrMummer.com reported complaints from supporters of President Trump over skits that satirized him.
However, City Council President Darrell Trump — oops, I mean Clarke — sent out a hysterical news release Wednesday morning accusing the Finnegan New Years Brigade Comic Club of violating the ban on blackface, my colleague Chris Brennan reports. Clarke did worse than go off half-cocked. He went off uncocked.
The Finnegan skit was a live recreation of a Signe Wilkinson cartoon — and it had been approved by the city in late September, Finnegan Captain Mike Inemer told me.
Clarke blasted out his slanderous news release with minimal, if any, checking, then backtracked -- without apology -- to call the skit “minstrelsy,” which insults Darrel Young, the black Philadelphian who played Jay-Z. Clarke falsely accused and convicted all Mummers of bigotry and then didn’t have the spine to say he was wrong. Just gutless.
As usual, the parade had no overarching theme, but unity could be heard in something repeated over and over: “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!”
Anything wearing an Eagles logo drew cheers from a crowd more upbeat than usual, maybe due to the mild weather, maybe to basking in the reflected glory of the Eagles' championship season.
At the height of the parade, with string bands marching down Broad, only three rows of spectators stood in front of the Academy of Music at Locust, a prime viewing spot.
Along the parade route, a few Comics and Wenches handed out trinkets to fans behind the barricades, and also posed for pictures, particularly with kids. More of that should be done to connect with fans and build future fans. Kids love the parade because of the color, the costumes, and the music.
String band aficionados felt sadness as the Peter A. Broomall string band made its 89th and final march on Broad Street. Its swan song was a strong performance. The Broomall family of National Park, Gloucester County, is hanging up its golden slippers, but band members plan to reemerge as the Jersey string band.
Theirs is an understandable emotion, but why? Does the parade need 16 bands, some of which are chronically weak? Might it be better to populate other bands with members of the former Broomall? Might the Mummers consider sweating down the number of bands to a dozen? That would result in fewer, stronger bands and a shorter parade.
Strong bands include Quaker City, Fralinger, South Philly, Woodland, Ferko, Hegeman. I am not telling anyone to disband their band. I know many clubs are made up of friends and family members.