This New Year’s Day, groups of extravagantly costumed men and women (parasols, sequins, and feathers abound!) will parade down Broad Street in Philadelphia to ring in 2011 with comedy, song, and dance. It’s the Mummers Parade! And it’s a New Year’s celebration like no other. For many local families, it’s a tradition that spans generations and involves serious amounts of creativity, imagination, and hard work. After all, the majority of folks you see en route are not professional actors, dancers, or singers – they are our neighbors, the people we ride next to on the train and say hello to at the grocery store. Dozens of participating clubs, comprising thousands of members, practice all year for the parade. Members often help make their own costumes and plan their music and dance routines.
Though for years prior citizens took to the streets in costume to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, Philadelphia’s first official Mummers Parade took place in 1901. Eventually, the parade morphed into the event we see today, which includes colorful string bands and comic brigades. Some clubs participate in the fancy division, which include floats and music. The most elaborate group, the fancy brigades, once marched with the rest of the divisions. However, as they began to create more complex and large-scale theatrical productions, their performances were moved indoors.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has its fair share of images of past participants and parades. Many of the photographs in this post are from our Philadelphia Record photograph morgue (Collection V7), which contains a plethora of photographs of parades from the 1930s and 1940s. A few other images are from our Society photograph collection (Collection V89).
Today you can see the parade in person, catch it on television, visit the Mummers Museum in Philadelphia, or take a gander at one of the many online resources about the history of the Mummers. The Mummers make up a remarkable Philadelphia institution; they will surely entertain crowds of young and old for generations to come.
We look forward to bringing you more from the HSP archives in 2011. From all of us at Fondly, PA, Happy New Year!