Tom Otto may seem a little old to be a pioneer, but on New Year's Day, he'll help make history.
He's part of the new Spartan Fancy Brigade, set to become the first fancy brigade to join the parade in more than 20 years.
"It's going to be one of the best years I've had," said Otto, who at 64 has been a Mummer for more than a half-century.
He and a handful of Spartan members met at the Independence Visitor Center on Friday to help city officials announce details for 2014 of the Mummers Parade, which annually draws thousands of people to the curbs and sidewalks along Broad Street.
About 10,000 Mummers will take part in fancy units, string bands, and wench brigades, traveling north on Broad to LOVE Park in the 114th year of the Philadelphia institution. Performance zones are set at Shunk Street, Washington Avenue, Pine Street, and Sansom Street, with bleacher seating and restrooms at each stop.
"It means so much when you're out there on the streets and able to make people smile," said City Councilman Mark Squilla, a member of the Shooting Stars brigade. "The Mummers are a big part of Philadelphia tradition."
The roots of what organizers call the oldest folk parade in America lay in Europe, and with the Swedes who settled in Tinicum and welcomed the new year with masquerades and parades during the 1700s.
At a time when many people carried guns, revelers shot muskets and pistols as noisemakers. Social clubs called "shooters" organized in the 1800s, staging a parade with fancy and comic clubs.
In 1879, Philadelphia native James Bland wrote "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers," which later became the parade's theme song. In the 1880s, the shooters became known as new year's associations and began seeking donations to create elaborate costumes.
City Council Chairman Jacob Seeds came up with the idea of a city-sponsored parade in 1900, and the next year, troupes marched on Broad Street.
The parade was canceled in 1919 because of World War I, and in 1934, because of the Great Depression, though Mummers groups paraded through some neighborhoods.
Change has not come often or easily for the Mummers.
Last Jan. 1, the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender Miss Fancy Brigade, comprised of female impersonators, marched up Broad, and will be back for this parade. This time, the drag queens will be joined by drag kings - women dressed up as men.
Making its first appearance will be the Philadelphia Freedom Band, a LGBT group that attracts participants from across the country.
The parade also will feature its first marching band - from Arapahoe High School near Denver, where this month a student shot and critically wounded a classmate before killing himself.
At the news conference, Mayor Nutter promised a great event, noting that the Mummers Parade is "unlike anything you're going to find anywhere. You're going to only get this in Philadelphia."
The most notable addition is the Spartan brigade, based in the Pennsport area of South Philadelphia and formed because its members wanted a group in which their wives and daughters could be included more readily.
Its theme will be American Indians, said Terk Gindville, brigade captain. About two-thirds of the 80 members are new to mummery, but they're eager to strut on New Year's Day.
"It's more exciting than [being] nervous," Gindville said. "We're making history."
Schedule: The various divisions begin their New Year's Day struts up Broad Street at different times and from different locations:
Viewing areas: Free along Broad Street, with some of the best views in the judging area on JFK Boulevard between 15th and 16th Streets. Bleacher seats will be available there for $19.50. For tickets, call 215-965-7676.
Performance areas: There are four along Broad: at Shunk, Washington, Pine, and Sansom.
Fancy Brigade Finale: It's Mardi Gras meets Broadway at the Convention Center, with two shows: a family affair at noon, and a performance at 5 p.m.
TV coverage: On PHL17, beginning with pre-parade coverage at 9 a.m.
For more information: www.phillymummers.com