Tribute to a King

Luke McDermott

Many folks are looking forward to the annual Philadelphia Mummers String Band Show of Shows in Atlantic City this weekend.  The Show of Shows has always been a time that the String Bands, and, in particular, their Captains are even more up close and personal.  In one sense it is easy to honor the Captains who served for many years, but there are many fine people who served as Captains for a year or two or three.  The Show of Shows is a time to appreciate the contributions of these leaders in a tradition. There have been many over the years. Some are long retired.  Some have left us.  One of those Captains, Mr. Luke McDermott, recently passed away.  Luke will forever be one of Philadelphia’s heroes. He was a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department for 30 years. He had served in the U.S. Army and worked at Abbotts Dairy before joining the department.  Mr. McDermott was a husband and brother, a father, a grandfather and a great grandfather, and a friend to many, including Jim Driadon.  Luke was a Mummer, with friends and relatives throughout Mummery, like Buzzy Wood, of Quaker City.  But, it was Greater Overbrook String Band that loyal Luke chose as his Mummer home.  Luke marched with Greater O for 3 decades. 3 of those years he served as Captain.  To this day, he still is remembered for the unique Christmas Tree suit he wore in Greater O’s “Seasons Greetings” performance in 1979. The suit was a snowy white, glistening Christmas tree.  Luke was inside it, staying still or slowly turning until the tree opened up to reveal Luke strutting.  The year before there was the tribute to Elvis Presley, who had recently died.  That tall, wide back piece with a crown over Luke’s head was fitting.  Luke McDermott  was the tradition of Mummery.  Even before there was an official parade, firefighters were a cornerstone of Mummers groups.  Luke was devoted to the Fire Department, to his family, to Mummery and to music. Karen Specht, one of Luke’s kids, tells me, “I am very proud of my Dad. He was a quiet family man. He not only saved lives as a firefighter, but brought the joy of music to many people.” I thank Karen for sharing these photos.  She also reveals two of her father’s favorite songs:  “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum and “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang.  The man was spiritual and also knew how to party.  Yes, it is time to enjoy the Show of Shows.  But, we should pause over those 3 hours and take a good look at the ones who are in front of us and remember those who came before them.  And among those in our thoughts, we’re thinking of you, Luke McDermott.

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