Judging Elbow Lane’s Got Talent in Warrington w/ #Miss Philadelphia & Miss Phila Teen
It appears it is time to go “down the street.” It’s an historic change. The parade route, the direction of the parade, what blocks are traveled, and where clubs will pre-position themselves, are likely to undergo a huge change, larger than the Market Street years or the no longer “up to Girard Avenue” years. As often happens with change, it does not come easily for all. However, any student of the history of the Mummers will recognize that change is a part of Mummery. The question each will ask is, how much of changing the route is changing the heart of what it means to be a Mummer? Or, is the old route, while an important part of Mummer history, not really a core principle of Mummery?
I can tell you that the latest effort to change the SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade route picked up momentum last year. This is not a new thing. Most folks involved talked quietly about it last year and the first half of this year because there’s so much emotion tied up in tracing the steps their families took, and in the loyal fans who line Broad Street south of Mifflin. In true Mum fashion, there are members of each division who think the idea stinks. But, contrary to some social media and other reporting, this is not the idea of just one division. My read is that most leaders and many members of the String Band and Fancy Brigade divisions are the largest backers of the change, but I have found support, too, among members of the other divisions, including leadership.
SugarHouse Casino and PHL17 did not suggest the change and are not encouraging or discouraging it. This is a Mummers idea. To be sure, pressure over the years from the City of Philadelphia to shorten the parade and make it faster, has had an effect, but the idea for this change started with the Mummers.
Sources say the City of Philadelphia likes the proposal, though no final route has been published. But, here is what it looks like now. The leaders of the 5 Mummers Divisions and the City of Philadelphia are planning to reverse the route and shorten it. The Mummers will still go “‘Round the Hall,” just south. The 115th annual SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade would start near City Hall, near 16th or 15th Street and JFK. The clubs would be judged at 15th and JFK. They then would proceed south around City Hall, down Broad Street, ending at Washington Avenue. There was a proposal to march down South Street. That was nixed a few months ago.
Mummers who support the new route down Broad say it would allow for a more free-flowing, nonstop parade, and they say it removes some blocks where parade watchers just don’t live or go to any more. The evolution to a more prop-driven parade in the String Bands also helped create gaps along the older, longer parade route. The String Bands will likely pre-position themselves along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
After they are judged, they will leave their props and continue the rest of the route without the props, allowing for more of a continuous musical parade. Judging for all divisions would be done first in the parade, not at the end. Other divisions will arrive near 16th and JFK from other points. There is one less Fancy Club this coming parade. Hog Island is now in the Comic Division. Golden Sunrise carries the Fancy banner. We’re told this new route would also make it easier for the Fancy Brigades who perform indoors at the PA Convention Center to march outside, though they’ll not perform their show outdoors.
The start time of the parade could shift 30 minutes to an hour earlier, or remain the same. While the new parade route would end at Broad and Washington, community groups along Washington Avenue and in Pennsport will be examining how the new route might effect them, if at all. These and other details above have not been finalized.
For Mummers, the biggest concerns about shortening and reversing the route are the change of a long-standing tradition of going “Up The Street” and the effect it might have on South Philadelphia, especially on businesses and on older residents who might not travel to Center City to see their beloved Mummers. Yes, there have been some good parties along that stretch. South Philadelphia is still home to most of the clubhouses of the Mummers, so New Year’s Day and that evening will still have Mum presence.
This historic change looks like it has all the momentum needed to happen. I have spoken to some of the leaders who endorse this movement and their motivations are clear. They say times have changed and that by changing this route they can make a better parade for parade watchers, tourists, the city and the Mummers who are strutting, a better parade for the 21st Century. But for a city that not long ago said no one could build higher than William Penn, change does not come without a little initial discomfort. Changes in a 115-year-old tradition probably should not come easily. On the bright side, I can see some good Comic satire already in the works.
Frank Stermel was a clown and that remains a wonderful thing. Frank Mummed on 2 Street and on Broad Street pretty much all of his life. He was so dedicated to Mummery and was so good at being a Mummer that he became known as “Mr. Clown.” In 1969, Frank was inducted into the Mummers and Shooters Hall of Fame. Inside the Mummers Museum, it is Frank Stermel whose image still teaches us how to strut.
Frank started strutting on Broad in the mid-1920’s. It was the age of Charles Lindbergh and of the first trans-Atlantic phone call. Calvin Coolidge was President. A silk dress could be had for $15. The first chisel was taken to Mt. Rushmore, and String Bands were still the “new” Mummers.
Frank went up Broad Street the first time as a page boy for the Wheeler Fancy Club. For being a page, holding the long Captain’s Cape, Frank got a hot dog and a soda. He would grow through the depression and increasingly take to strutting for his family and friends and his South Philadelphia neighborhood, and of course, up Broad on New Year’s Day.
Stermel became very good at it. He rose to Captain of the Purul Comic Club. Among his awards was a 1st Prize in the Comic Division in 1942. He had a limitless love for the tradition and for making people smile. He would parade with the Comics, then go down Broad Street, pick up with Aqua String Band and go back up the Street, then return yet another time down Broad to join the Avenuers Fancy Brigade for their Strut around the Hall.
He was a railroad man, working with the Pennsylvania Railroad until he retired in 1976, the year of the nation’s bicentennial, and the birth of the Mummers Museum. Frank was an early member of the Museum’s Board of Directors. He was Sergeant at Arms for the New Year’s Mummers and Shooters for 20 years.
Even after being given 6 months to live after a cancer diagnosis, he strutted for another 7 years, walking from 2nd and Reed to the Museum to entertain as Mr. Clown at parties and events. Frank would pass away at the age of 71 in 1987. By that time, he had strutted formally as a Mummer in 61 parades.
The nearly 40-year-old film exhibit in which he shows us all how to strut has now been restored and is running, and plans are in the works for a larger overhaul of the exhibit. Much thanks go to his son, Michael, and his family, and to Tony Sprague, Donato Marino, Mike Roseman, Kevin Crooks and Mark Montanaro. As the quality sounds of the Woodland String Band played outside the Museum, I was on hand for the re-dedication inside of the restored film display. I also am a humbled recipient of the Mr. Clown award begun in Frank Stermel’s honor, given to people who are meaningful to the Mummer tradition in the heartfelt manner of Mr. Stermel.
Frank Stermel was the working American, the family man, the neighborhood man at the heart of Philadelphia Mummery. When you go to the Museum and see him strut, you are seeing hundreds of thousands of family members, of Philadelphians, connected not only through blood, but also through tradition, displayed in the simple joy of a street dance. Now, at the Mummers Museum at least, Mr. Clown, is back in town, ready to show the strut to new generations.
It is wonderful that Mr. Clown lives on, for it is at once community and personal. Says Mike Stermel of his dad, “He was One of a Kind…I can go to the museum, push a button and “HE DANCES FOR ME.”
I talk tomorrow morning on In Focus on PHL17 with Amy Ruhf and Rev. Ryan Balsan about Amy’s upcoming App. Trail walk to help 2 little boys, Nathan and Bennett, and others living with progeria. I also talk to econ expert David Fiorenza about school and infrastructure funding and changing the tax system. 6:30 am Sat. on PHL17.
Stephen Sheridan stepped down today and into retirement after 40 years as CEO of United Cerebral Palsy of Philadelphia & Vicinity. A farewell gathering took place at Scoogi’s in Flourtown. Stephen brought heart and leadership to UCP and countless people living with disabilities have better lives because of Steve.