Another year, another Mummers Parade.
The long-held tradition that persuades Philadelphians to bundle up and watch a parade hours after ringing in the new year, or to put on costumes heavy enough to cause back problems if not careful is going on its 119th celebration. So it’s certainly accumulated its fair share of history.
We dug through the Inquirer archives to find bits of odd news from the parade’s earliest days. Whether you’re waiting for the parade to start or trying to find out more about the history of the unusual celebration, here are a few strange scenes from long-ago parades.
Way before Tinder, there was the Mummers Parade. The celebration was a bit of a cupid’s arrow for Gertrude Doran and Francis Gallen, a patrolman stationed at 20th and Buttonwood Streets. Gallen “probably saved” Doran from being trampled by a horse as she crossed the parade route at Broad and Race Streets, the Inquirer reported in February 1911. The article was headlined, “Policeman wins bride by bravery.”
Doran was crossing the street when horses pulling a float became afraid and ran toward her. That’s when things got dramatic.
“Policeman Gallen, who was on duty at that point, saw the young woman’s peril and rushed into the street, clasped her in his arms, and carried her to a place of safety,” the Inquirer reported. “The girl was so shocked by her narrow escape from probable death that she fainted, and her rescuer took her to the Hahnemann Hospital.”
Their story didn’t end there. After finding out that they lived near each other, Gallen visited Doran to see how she was doing. An “acquaintance was formed” and they married on Valentine’s Day.
The ultimate excuse
Ah, right — the old “using the Mummers Parade as an excuse to run off and get married” bit. Classic.
A pair of teen sisters, Anna, 14, and Ruth, 16, of Manayunk, told their parents they were going to “see the Mummers Parade” in a “carefully planned” scheme, the Inquirer reported in 1924. But instead, they tied the knot with two boys, ages 20 and 18, admitting they “had to do a bit of fibbing” about their ages. It’s not clear how they met their future husbands.
Despite the secrecy, their parents weren’t mad at all.
“I couldn’t do anything but just kiss and forgave them,” their mother, Mrs. Jones, told the Inquirer in 1924. “They looked so happy when they broke the news to me. I still think Anna is a bit too young, but I am sure they will be happy, and that’s all that counts.”
‘You’ve stolen my hair’
In 1903, a man was charged with cutting off a “quantity” of Elsie Margerum’s hair as she watched the parade along Girard Avenue — and she was absolutely “grief-stricken over the loss of her golden tresses,” the Inquirer reported in a 1903 article headlined, “Locks were cut among big crowd.”
Margerum was with two friends when she felt a tug and found that “one her thickest curls had disappeared.” A nearby man, John Laudenberg, was apparently acting strangely.
"You've stolen my hair," she said.
He got away, but apparently not far. Two pairs of scissors and Mergerum’s hair were allegedly found on him, though he contended he was innocent. Margerum later withdrew the charge — advice that came from her father, a policeman.
Honey, where are the kids?
Before there were cellphones, GPS tracking, and kid leashes, you were lucky if your lost kids ended up at City Hall.
During the 1923 parade — which was postponed a couple of days because of rain — 33 kids slipped from the grasp of “distracted parents and relatives,” the Inquirer reported.
Police kept themselves occupied "for several hours piloting crying children through the crowds to the police matron's headquarters on the eighth floor of City Hall."
But the building wasn’t meant for dozens of confused kids.
“The crowd of weeping youngsters finally became so great that they were taken to the House of Detention at Twenty-second and Arch Streets, where all persons were directed when they sought lost children.”
It’s stories like these that make you wish you’d been there.
One unnamed woman wasn’t having it when police were clearing a path for anyone who needed medical attention quickly.
We could recount the tale, but it’s best to hear it in 1920s newspaper-speak:
“But for the most part the crowd was good-natured, grinned and bore it, and had thought only for the marching mummers. That was well, for some of the police were not quite so good-natured, and one doughty traffic cop who roughed a woman with a child in her arms has his face soundly smacked. The throng howled with glee, growled in anger, and then forgot it in renewed interest in the passing show.”
» READ MORE: Mummers Parade 2019: Your ultimate guide
One more thing ...
Though they were not detailed in newspaper archives, Montanaro shared some stories that have been passed down through generations.
Turns out the Mummers used to be secretive — very, very secretive.
“Well, rumor has it in the early days of the parade that clubs would try to put ladders on clubhouses and climb the ladders to take a peek to see what their competition was doing,” he said. “Because it’s secretive until New Year’s Day, but that has gone by the wayside.”
Montanaro said competition would get so extreme rivals would kidnap other clubs' captains so they couldn’t march in the parade.
"Mummers are friends 364 days a year," he joked.
Though some parts of the big day are still kept close to the heart until the parade, Montanaro said some of the secrecy has faded because of social media. No longer do Mummers confide their themes to a Catholic priest to ensure they stay secret until the big day — an “old practice,” Montanaro said.
“For instance, the string bands used to give a Catholic priest their themes, and if a band ... said, ‘Father, we want to do clowns,’ the priest would look at his list and if somebody was doing clowns, he would say no. And that’s all he would say and the band would have to go back to the drawing board.”
But as the years go by, stories like that fade into memory.
“These are tales that the old-timers used to tell, but some of those stories are long gone because the individuals have passed,” Montanaro said. “It’s a shame because there were probably some really good insider stories.”