Call it the case of the tarnished Golden Crown. Or a metastasizing Mummer mess. Golden Slippergate, even, if you're political.
Whatever you call it, a long shadow has fallen over Two Street. Weeks after the Mummers strutted down Broad Street in Philadelphia's annual New Year's Day parade, sinister allegations now threaten to take down the first-place victor in the organization's Fancy Brigade Division.
Those in the know about the dark claims aren't talking, while those who don't have a clue are flapping their lips. From clubhouses to social media, word spread this weekend that Golden Crown, which won for its "Out of the Web" performance, was being stripped of its award due to some sort of misconduct.
Reached for comment, Golden Crown's leaders admitted it is facing allegations. But what those allegations are, exactly, they won't say.
"We were surprised by the allegations and are currently taking steps to remedy the situation," said Golden Crown captain Bob Runowski, who also was awarded first-place captain this year. "We deny any and all allegations."
Asked to explain what Golden Crown had been accused of, Runowski said: "You'll have to ask the Mummers Fancy Brigade Association." He also declined to comment on whether Golden Crown was facing sanctions: "You'll have to consult with the officers."
It seems clear, at least, that this isn't typical clubhouse scuttlebutt. After the allegations began bubbling, Golden Crown enlisted George Bochetto, a boldface-name defense attorney, for help.
"Something is going on," said Leo Dignam, the assistant city managing director who oversees the Mummers Parade. He added that "it's radio silence out there." Dare we call this code of silence the Mummers omertà?
On Friday, Golden Crown's Facebook page flooded with rumors: One person speculated that the group "cannot march till 2020." Another joked that Golden Crown was the New England Patriots of Mummers, using "deflated props" and "binoculars to spy on the other brigades." Or maybe it was the A-Rod of Mummers, bulked up on feather-enhancing drugs.
Dignam said he heard from "second- and third-hand sources" that some Mummers judges had allegedly been seen on Facebook with a member of Golden Crown. Since he started supervising the parade in 1996, Dignam said that no Mummers winner had ever been stripped of its title, though some groups had been disqualified on New Year's Day for breaking rules.
Tom Beebe, the city's judging coordinator, said the rumor he got wind of was that a former judge was "somehow" involved with Golden Crown. But Beebe said that judges only have a "one-day contract" to critique the Mummers and "can do what they please" after the parade is over. He would not disclose the names of past judges.
The fancy brigades, which became an official association in 1960, perform dramatic shows at the Convention Center filled with elaborate props and color-saturated costumes. Golden Crown's "Out of the Web" skit depicted a spider's trip to a secret garden, and was the group's second performance since 2016 that received a first-place prize.
Billy Yocum Sr. is a moderator for Mum Nation, a private Facebook group for Mummers. He posted on that page Saturday that "from what I hear, yes there are sanctions against" Golden Crown. "I'm not 100% sure as to what. Lots of rumors." He added that "you gotta remember" this affects "a lot of good people," "lots of families," and "people who were not involved."
But what is affecting the good Mummers of this city? Is the Golden Crown truly tainted? What in the holy name of sequins is going on?
The Fancy Brigade Association was as hush-hush as Golden Crown. The association's vice president, Fred Keller, hung up when asked about the allegations. Twice. The president, Pete D'Amato, said in a statement that "any and all decisions" made by the Fancy Brigade Association involving "rules and regulations" are "considered internal in nature."
Mummers insiders were no more forthcoming. A remark from one man tagged in a Facebook conversation about the hullabaloo summed up the attitude of many people asked to comment: "Listen I'm from South Philly. Where I come from, we don't talk. And people that do get hurt. Sorry I can't help you."
Bochetto, meanwhile, suggested Golden Crown may be the real victim — of a tainted justice system for Mummers.
He said he had been "consulted by" Golden Crown and will "be meeting with them at some length this coming week." He added that he did not know whether the group had to give back its first-place prize.
"I have to conduct my own investigation," he said. "From what I've heard … there has not been any kind of open vetting of the facts nor any kind of fair opportunity to have a review of those facts. … One would certainly think that before a title is stripped from anybody, there's a fact-reviewing process."