Frigid conditions and arctic winds kept many revelers away from the Mummers Parade yesterday, with crowds along Broad Street unusually thin for most of New Year's Day.
The temperature lingered in the 20s through the early afternoon and never rose above 30 degrees, with a wind chill in the teens.
Many sidewalks in South Philadelphia were close to deserted, and even some stretches of Broad Street near City Hall were nearly empty at times. Spectators could walk up to a few metal barricades instead of craning their necks for a glimpse of the strutters - unheard of during most parades.
"It is anemic compared to the last few years," Philadelphia Police Sgt. Austin Fraser said.
But the locations where the Mummers stopped to entertain crowds were packed as always, and many of those who did brave the cold said they would never let the weather keep them from the annual tradition.
"It's no big deal," said Jeff Weid, 32, who travels from Washington Township each year to watch the parade. "It's been worse than this."
Each year, Weid, his sister, and a few friends park a cooler full of beer at the corner of Washington Avenue and Broad Street. This year, the only difference was a few more layers of clothes.
"The colder it is, the drunker we get!" joked Bill Minchin, Weid's friend and neighbor.
It was the chilliest day the Mummers have had in recent years. Crowds at the 2008 parade enjoyed a high of 50 degrees, and in 2005, the temperature reached an all-time high of 64.
Past crowd estimates have fluctuated from 50,000 to 100,000, according to Mummers officials. Police said they would not have an estimate on the 2009 crowd before today.
Parade director Leo Dignam agreed that the weather might have played a part in the sparse crowds. "It has got to be the cold," he said.
Vendors, too, saw a sharp drop in business. By 1:30 p.m., vendor Mark Henderson of South Philadelphia headed home.
"It's not half as packed as it was last year," Henderson, 29, said. "Sales are slow, very sluggish.
New Year's "2009" sunglasses were selling originally for $5, then two for $5 at Philly Book Man at 15th and Market Streets. By the end of the afternoon, the price had dropped to $1 with some vendors.
Hats, scarves and gloves were selling like hotcakes, however, according to vendor Craig Brooks. Handwarmer wrappers littered the sidewalks, and some spectators clutched steaming cups of coffee or hot chocolate as well as plastic cups of beer.
The parade was halted briefly in the morning when one Mummer suffered a heart attack during his performance.
The man was taken to a hospital but apparently was recovering, event officials said.
Otherwise, the parade ran fairly smoothly, as its seemingly never-ending cast of glittery, sequined, face-painted characters marched determinedly, firing confetti into the air, striking up the band, and smiling into the cold.
The costumes and floats were typically outrageous and wildly varied, encompassing anything from cowboys in chaps to a Chinese dragon to a man in a wig, makeup and a padded full-body costume made to look like a woman's bikini-clad physique.
There were spangly, swashbuckling pirates, Egyptian pharaohs marching alongside scenes of pyramids, white-faced Jokers from last summer's Batman movie, wind-up toy soldiers, and a parade of 1950s-style ladies in poodle skirts led by a sequined Elvis.
For Patricia Kaplan, from York, Pa., the parade was the realization of a lifelong fantasy - a chance to strut her stuff alongside the Mummers. Thanks to a birthday present from her daughter Jennifer Hill, 39, of Palmyra, N.J., Kaplan got to join the comic group Froggy Carr.
"Since I don't play a banjo, this is the only alternative," said Kaplan, who turned 65 on New Year's Eve. Her other presents were hand and foot warmers.
Others found even better ways to stay warm, like 74-year-old Johanna Trotter of Germantown. She had a warm, bird's-eye view out the second-floor windows of the Kimmel Center, which offered music and food to anyone looking to get out of the cold.
"I'm a parade fanatic," Trotter said. "I try to get to as many as I can."
Mayor Nutter's name was cursed a few times by disgruntled paradegoers angry with the city's decision to slash the parade's funding this year. The Froggy Carr group displayed a sign reading "Frog U Mayor Nutter," and another group reportedly passed out buttons reading "A Nutter Fine Mess."
Facing a $1 billion budget shortfall, the city contributed only $300,000 to the parade, not enough for the estimated $350,000 cost of putting it on. No prize money was given, because the city declined to contribute $355,000 usually given to the winners in the Comic, String Band and Fancy Brigade Divisions. Nutter has said the Mummers will be on the hook for the entire cost of the parade in coming years.
Local businesses have come forward with large contributions, and the Mummers have said they will begin aggressive fund-raising efforts.
Some residual bitterness about the city's handling of the beloved 108-year-old tradition remained.
"Why would this be the thing you'd cut?" asked Ryan Beck, 29, who lives in South Philadelphia.
Beck doesn't call himself a Mummers fanatic. He and his friends spent as much time joking about the routines and bemoaning how long the parade was taking as they spent cheering.
But Beck's uncle was a Mummer, and Beck said the parade was an important part of the city's identity.
"It's just a chance to be out here with your friends, having fun and laughing, and it's a day when people are friendly and nice to each other," Beck said. "We complain, but if it wasn't fun, we wouldn't be out here."