Here we stand before your door
As we stood the year before
Give us whiskey, give us gin
Open the door and let us in.
It was 1901 when the City of Philadelphia admitted defeat in the face of thousands of years of merrymaking instinct, and officially embraced the spontaneous street music and masquerades that have become the modern New Year's Day Mummers Parade.
Mummers officially strut their sequins for the crowds and judges on Broad Street, but once the competition performances and judging are complete, many clubs proceed to their clubhouses on South Second Street - known in the neighborhood as Two Street, and Mummers Row - for a welcome-home party as storied as the official event.
"The Second Street Strut is the clubs coming home to their clubhouses, and the neighbors coming out," says Ed Smith, a 21-year captain of O'Malley Wench Club. "It was never official - just playing music for the people that support them all year, appreciation for the donations that support them, and for the people who can't make it to the Broad Street parade."
For many participants, the Two Street celebration is the first time they will see their families, find out who has won their divisions, have a chance to relax after performing, and enjoy the fruits of a year's labor.
Elena Leamer Eaton, who grew up on the 100 block of Pierce Street, shared memories of "listening for the beat of the string bands, open houses with pepper-pot soup, kielbasa and sauerkraut, chili, family and friends and dancing in the street to welcome the New Year" on a Two Street blog post written by veteran Mummers Parade broadcast host Steve Highsmith, in 2012.
But for the last decade, this familiar homecoming fun has taken a turn away from neighborhood block party toward boozy free-for-all. "Lots of people never knew about the Two Street parade," says Smith. "In the last few years, they heard about it on TV, they promoted it more, and over the last 10 years, the crowds are three- or fourfold what they used to be."
"The Two Street tradition is the march home," says Jim Moylan, a Pennsport resident and president of the Pennsport Civic Association. "We are inviting the community into our homes, and we've been feeling put upon in the past couple of years. It's becoming uncontrollable."
Addressing the logistical requirements of what has always been a loosely organized, unofficial event requires coordination among residents, Pennsport and Whitman civic associations, Mummers clubs, the Philadelphia Police Department, and Councilman Mark Squilla's office - a job that now falls on the Second Street Strut Committee, the volunteer organization formed in January 2015 to address Strut challenges.
"In the last 10 years, things have gotten out of hand," says Tom Betteridge, chairman of the committee. "Too many people in the street, and underage drinking is the biggest problem. We cannot have kids coming from all over the city to drink. The police are going to arrest kids for underage drinking."
Quite a bit of planning is involved in making sure everyone can have a safe, and fun, time on Two Street.
"We meet with the police in September or October, just as a matter of preparation," says Moylan. "This is not something you can do on the fly."
Other than curbing underage drinking, a major challenge faced by Strut organizers is getting Mummers clubs down the street in a timely fashion. With overenthusiastic spectators attempting to jump in with clubs, and a lack of specifically detailed police, crowds have halted progress down Two Street in prior years.
"Most of the suggestions for this year come from the Mummers and PPD [Philadelphia Police Department] themselves," Moylan says. "We heard from the Mummers that they would like to be able to march from Second and Washington all the way down to Ritner or Porter in under four hours - and it's been getting more and more difficult to make that travel. The tradition of serenading each other's clubs, to stop and celebrate, becomes frustrating when it's not moving, when there is a massive standstill."
At the suggestion of the Police Department, metal barriers will run the length of the Strut, and only costumed, badged club members and support staff will be allowed on Second Street itself. Spectators are asked to stick to the sidewalk and closed-to-traffic cross streets.
To better distribute the flow of spectators and avoid jams at the big clubhouses, performance areas with food trucks and restrooms will be set up at Second and Reed and Second and Ritner.
"This committee is the gateway, a way to discuss ideas and move them forward," Moylan says. "We as neighbors, residents, and the clubs themselves, we need to take control of it, because if we don't, someone else might. And we would not like how they did it. It's our tradition. Mummery is more than just this one day - the clubs are here year-round, they rent the clubs, they have choreographers and musicians and music lessons, they are the men and women coaching our teams and involved in the community. It gets a bad rap as a one-day drunk-fest, but it's so much more than that."
"Come down and experience it for yourself," advises Smith. "It's all about having fun - we worked all year on this, since January 2. Some who come out love it so much, they join a club. O'Malley takes 300 up the street; we had 100 10 years ago."