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New route, same Mummers attitude

Shortly after 10:30 a.m., with the pretzel-eating spectators jammed four deep in front of the Union League, there was an only-in-Philly moment.

An unidentified member of a Comic Wenches group carried a sign that drew some ire on social media, Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015. (DAVID GAMBACORTA/STAFF)
An unidentified member of a Comic Wenches group carried a sign that drew some ire on social media, Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015. (DAVID GAMBACORTA/STAFF)Read more

Shortly after 10:30 a.m., with the pretzel-eating spectators jammed four deep in front of the Union League, there was an only-in-Philly moment.

The Oregon wench brigade was marching up Broad Street from South Philadelphia - a squadron of burly fellows who, despite the pastel frocks, were not really going for the feminine look.

Headed the other direction was the LGBT Liaison Committee, which included a half-dozen glittery drag queens - or, as some prefer to be called, female impersonators. By any name, these folks know how to wear a dress.

The groups sized each other up. There were waves and smiles of acknowledgment, a few high-fives.

And on they marched, all proud participants Thursday in the Mummers Parade, 2015 edition.

"We were joining each other, laughing and taking pictures," said Anayah Cruz, a member of the LGBT group.

There was some grumbling among marchers Thursday about the new southward parade route, so much that the wench brigades insisted on strutting a portion of the traditional northward route early in the day. (Thus the wenches and the LGBT group moving in opposite directions.)

But amid sunny skies and above-freezing temperatures, there were few scowls on the faces of participants and watchers at the parade, first held in 1901.

"This is the greatest experience ever," said Laura Aguilar, 29, of Norristown, a first-time attendee who grew up in Blue Bell and teaches in the Philadelphia School District.

"I just love the atmosphere," she said. "The city's coming together for something."

Performers were judged at City Hall before marching south, unlike in most past years, when they marched up from South Philadelphia, going before the judges at the end of their route.

The idea, in part, was to allow entrants to get the judging out of the way so they could focus on pleasing the fans. The route also was shortened to just over a mile, ending at Washington Avenue, to allow a greater concentration of performances and spectators. About 8,000 marchers were expected, down from 12,000 in 2001.

John Carroll, an alto saxophone player in the Uptown String Band, thought the switch seemed promising.

"I think it'll be better for the people," said Carroll, 48, of Langhorne, as he and his fellow musicians awaited judging. And after that, he added, "you can relax and enjoy the rest of the day."

In South Philadelphia, opposite the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, crowds were standing eight to 10 deep on the sidewalk in the early afternoon. As usual, some took advantage of the Police Department's annual willingness to overlook public consumption of alcohol.

"Hot pretzels here! Guaranteed hot heeeere," vendor John Johanssen cried, his offerings warmed by a tray of smoldering coals. Johanssen, a Camden resident, was among those who did not like the new route.

"I think it stinks. A lot less people," he said, though he lacked hard sales data to back up that statement.

"I don't count them. I just sell them," Johanssen said.

As usual, the various performing groups drew heavily from popular culture and current events in devising their themes - some with more taste than others.

A member of one of the nine wench brigades held a sign reading, "Wench Lives Matter," an apparent reference to the "Black Lives Matter" motto that has arisen in response to recent deaths of African Americans at the hands of police.

Another marcher, dressed as President Obama, bore a sign that read, "Illegal Aliens Allowed."

A few people found a new way to watch the parade - on skates. Rudy Miller Simmons was among those who tried out the new Rothman Institute Ice Rink at Dilworth Park, from which one could just get a glimpse of the sequins and feathers passing on 15th Street.

Simmons, who said he conducts outreach on HIV prevention in schools, said he had not been on skates in a decade. Why now?

"It's New Year's," the North Philadelphia resident said. "It's fun."

Among other changes this year, Golden Sunrise was the lone remaining participant in the Fancy division, with Hog Island switching from the Fancies to the Comics.

Golden Sunrise captain Matt Glovacz was undeterred, explaining that the several dozen entries from within his club could compete with each other.

He was clad as Geppetto the toymaker, leading an assortment of Raggedy Anns, toy soldiers, and lions dancing to a recording of Pharrell Williams' "Happy."

"We're still parading," said Glovacz, 50, of Port Richmond. "This is what we love to do."

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