FOR THE SECOND consecutive year, financial pressure is putting Philadelphia's iconic Mummers Parade on the chopping block, with George Badey III talking about the possible "extinction of the Mummers tradition."
When it comes to the on-street New Year's celebration (as opposed to the indoor festivities in the Convention Center), Badey, chairman of SavetheMummers.com, speaks for all four, oft-contentious Mummers divisions - String Bands, Fancies, Fancy Brigades and Comics.
At a meeting to discuss the parade with city officials this afternoon, Badey will make a case for economic justice for our fine feathered friends, without which the parade may die.
In pleading his case, Badey told me that he will say that the city hit the Mummers with a double whammy.
A Center City attorney when not playing saxophone for the peerless Fralinger String Band, Badey says that the first "whammy" was the city's withdrawal of $336,000 in prize money in 2009 and 2010. Since the city organized the first parade in 1901, it always offered prize money (with the exception of 1933-34, Great Depression years).
A historical note: Prior to 1901, for well over 200 years, Mummery was freelance, citywide and chaotic. To reduce disorder, the city "invited" Mummers to flock to Broad Street to celebrate the new year and used cash prizes as an inducement.
In all the other Great Depression years, Badey notes, the city came up with cash for the nonprofit clubs, which always run in the red. Like fighters who bring everything they've got into the ring, the Mummers bring all their worldly goods to Broad Street, along with their blood, sweat, tears (and beer - the Comics).
When the city last year decided to hand the Mummers a bill for more than $300,000 for city services, such as police, medical services and sanitation, that was the second whammy, Badey says.
Other parades and special events, when asked to pay for city services, "are getting hit with a whammy, not a double whammy," he says.
Badey makes a couple of other arguments for special treatment for the Mummers.
First, he says that the city sponsors the Mummers Parade, an argument he made last year. The city says that it "organizes" the parade, but does not "sponsor" it.
OK, so for 108 years the city turned over Broad Street to the Mummers, provided city services, provided some rules through the Department of Recreation, put up prize money (except for 1933-34 and 2009), and is not a sponsor? To me, the city is a de facto sponsor and ought to be proud of that.
Second, without bad-mouthing other events, Badey says that the Mummers Parade is unique to Philadelphia, unlike St. Patrick's and Columbus Day parades that can be found almost everywhere.
If the Mummers can't get financial relief?
"If the city imposes a financial burden . . . so onerous that it could result in substantial liability for clubs that participate," it will be up to them, Badey says, "to see if they will risk their financial existence to be in the parade."
I've previously written that sponsors of special events and ethnic parades ought to be responsible for their bills.
The Mummers are a special case. I admit my bias, as a former Mummer marcher and a dedicated parade lover.
Most importantly, the Mummers are unique, only in Philadelphia. They are part of our cultural heritage, as much as the Liberty Bell, whether you like them or not.
The Mummers, like the now-departed Dad Vail Regatta, bring in more money than they cost the city.
How much? An estimated $9 million, according to an economic impact report from the Center for Forensic Economic Studies.
You can argue the precise amount, but you can't argue that hotel bookings zoom during an otherwise dead time of year; you can't argue the money spent by Mummers clubs on feathers and fabrics, on carpenters and choreographers, on decor and deli.
Last year, when the financial storm broke, the Mummers appealed to their fans for help and the Mummers now have about $200,000 on hand, Badey says. He wants to use that as prize money, traditionally used to defray prop, costuming and production costs.
As part of the ongoing fundraising efforts, there's a Bacon Brothers benefit concert tomorrow night at the Electric Factory. (For tickets, go to
In the past few years, once-stubborn Mummers - smelling the coffee - have turned cooperative. Last year the line of march was jiggered and shortened. The parade lasted six hours and 42 minutes, as opposed to the 10 hours or more of earlier years. About a dozen years ago Mummers broke with tradition and sent the Brigades to perform at the Convention Center.
This year, String Bands voted to allow re-using costumes - something that had been banned - to help cut costs.
So, "to be fair, and to prevent the extinction of the Mummers tradition," Badey will ask the city to apply the $336,000 in withdrawn prize money "to the city-services tab so that the Mummers are on equal footing with every other parade and event."
This special case begs for a special solution.
After the Dad Vail fiasco, the city doesn't need another black eye.
And I don't think that anyone wants to turn the clock back to pre-1901 and have Mummery return to spontaneous mass chaos.
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