Something new for the Mummers Parade

While most of us are busy buying gifts for loved ones in the holiday season, several thousand of our neighbors are preparing a gift for Greater Philadelphia — the 120th Mummers Parade.

There are about 10,000 people in the parade: Musicians, dancers, merry-makers, marshalls, directors, you name it. Organizing it is a gargantuan task, one that falls to long-time parade director Leo Dignam, Mr. Unflappable. 

Parade Director Leo Dignam

When the decision was made a few years ago to reverse the flow of the parade from South Philly to City Hall, and make it go from City Hall south to Washington Avenue, that was like designing D-Day. The logistics of organizing the people, props, floats and buses was an enormous undertaking.

Wednesday night representatives of all the Mummers divisions — Comics, Wenches, Fancies, Fancy Brigades and String Bands — met in the basement of the Mummers Museum for what is called the Roundup. 

That’s where Dignam, like a coach, lays out the game plan for New Year’s Day and hands out maps showing where and when all groups must assemble, and then perform.

The 2020 game plan is largely the same as Jan. 1, 2019, which was a pleasantly warm day.

One thing that will be different will be the absence of the Peter A. Broomall String Band, organized in 1930, which marched for the last time in 2019. After three generations of operation by the Broomall family, it disbanded.

From left: Jersey String Band members Robert Erikson, Connie Erikson, Captain Pat Walton. (Photo: Stu Bykofsky)

But — “We were ‘t ready to retire,” says Pat Walton, who has led many former Broomall musicians into the Jersey String Band, which will march for the first time on New Year’s Day, some 40 strong. Following tradition, it will lead the parade, getting the #1 spot as the brand new band. (The first slot may sound good, but it is a curse, as #1 never finishes first on the judges’ scorecards.)

Walton is president of the club and its captain, a role he filled twice for Broomall. The club is now based in West Deptford, renting space in the Green-Fields Volunteer fire house. He attended the Roundup with Jersey members Connie and Robert Erikson.

As to first position, Walton says only, “Our goal is to entertain.”

Which might be the motto for all the clubs. 

11 thoughts on “Something new for the Mummers Parade”

  1. Nice story again Stu,

    I wish the Jersey String Band the best! That’s right–have fun! I know my son will be helping and taking pictures and video of his cousins in Polish American and one other band I can’t recall. Then he’ll show to us.

    Hope the weather cooperates!

  2. Btw, almost 20 yrs ago now when I had my 5 mins in the limelight. A Fl. School Dist. competition. I was asked to accompany on stage a teacher with a great voice to a song by Jewel, ” A Life Uncommon.” Right after 9/11. Like The Jersey String Band we had to go first, because this teacher had won the contest the prior year. I play a little guitar. I was shaking in my boots but had a great time, what an experience it was!! I have it on a cassette tape.
    She knocked them dead again, but didn’t win. Afterwards I told her you know you were the best there tonight.
    She smiled, I’m happy for everybody. She was, because she was a better person than a gifted singer.

    A million years ago (early 1960s), I marched with Harrowgate String Band. When they folded, quite a few of us went over to Duffy. Then Uncle Sam had me fitted for a brand new uniform.
    What an adventure for a kid growing up in the ’60s.
    Have fun Jersey.

  4. As a 25 year mummer with my daughter,son in law and grandson I thank you for your support for Mummers through the years.It seems anything old school is toxic in a region that really does not support us the way they should.Even so I see so many smiling faces of children and adults on Broad St and 2nd street that keeps us going.It feels so good to make the special needs children happy and smiling even for a minute.Over the years there must be hundreds of photos of me in a suit taken by people from all over the country and world.Makes me fel kind of special.It’s also a rush to perform in front of 5000 people.This story probably applies to 9,500 other mummers but certain parts of the press seem to still think the negative.They say we are racist.Well Stu one year our brigade had Irish,Italian,Jewish,Polish,African Americans and followers of Islam and I am sure a few others.How’s that for diversity.Again,Thank You very much is is appreciated.

  5. What Rich said above ref smiling faces.
    My wife will be pointing at the tv saying “that’s Michael! ( her cousin), on banjo and there’s his sister dancing in a diff band and her husband playing banjo also and their son on stilts, etc.
    She loves it! Two of her uncles also, one now deceased and the other 95 or 96 retired. I married into it!
    Lots of great stories with our Philly tradition. And them 2 streeters!

    1. And the memories:
      A mid-summer string band coming down the street where we live now that’s up close!
      A boardwalk string band!
      Indoor salute at Polish-American Hdq. for 90th birthday party fo wife’s Uncle
      Many more. Can’t wait till Jan 1
      Thanks Stu

  6. Using the word ‘Mummers’ and ‘parade’ in the same sentence is a joke. What sort of ‘parade’ stops so that performers can set up and, uh, perform for 10 or 15 minutes? A PARADE should begin, keep moving, and end.
    And a philosophical question: if drummers drum and hummers hum, do mummers mum?

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