For those unfamiliar with the Mummers, Mummers Row is where most of the Mummers Clubs reside. This stretch of Second Street South from Washington Avenue and on to Third Street South to Wolf is the heart and soul of Mummery. It can be the friendliest corridor in the city. Mummers know that at different times throughout the year, String Bands and clubs in other divisions will march or serenade along the Row. Most of the time, this is a fun, informal experience. But, on New Year’s night after the parade, the post-parade gathering has gotten out of hand and in my observation it is mostly not the fault of the Mummers.
On the good side, thousands and thousands of people are there in the closing hours of celebrating the New Year. String Bands, Fancy Brigades, Fancy Clubs, Wenches and Comics are coming back to their clubhouses. Some clubs who have clubhouses in other neighborhoods but want to be a part of the experience, may pass through, too. It’s also where many spouses, kids and significant others see the performing Mummers for the first time that day since the parade. It’s often where a String Band, like Woodland, and a Brigade would learn that they won. It is a special time and place as the annual tradition draws to a close. To Mummers, even though it was on a public street, it was a private, or family affair. But, on the bad side, in reality for many years it’s been a magnet for others. Recently, a full beer can was thrown was thrown at my head. I know, what a waste of a good beer.
For more than a decade, the character of the night has been rapidly changing. It is wrong to say that the post-parade was always free of problems, or that over indulgence was never a problem among a few people. But, it is true to say that it it used to be a lot better. For more than a decade, the problems have been worsening. Even with the problems, it is still relatively safe when compared to some other neighborhoods in those same hours. But, unchecked, that could change and safety is not the only concern. The intimidating and frustrating problems of property damage, public urination, and loud cursing seem to be growing. Why is this happening and what can be done about it? Is this just the price of success? Would New Orleans complain? Can we not endure a little rowdiness? Or, do we need to do something now?
I have been on 2 Street New Year’s night most of the past 20 years and have spoken with a good many Mummers about what it is and what is should be. The residents of Mummers Row believe the big problem is that people from outside the neighborhood, with no sense of responsibility for the neighborhood, come in to do what they will. Many of these people are teenagers, underage drinkers. These teens and young adults, often with backpacks full of beer and booze, treat Mummers Row as if it is their playground and their restroom. Some are from the area but they are coming from throughout the region. During this New Year’s Day Parade broadcast the evening was not mentioned at all. Being quiet about this, not mentioning it, is not going to stop it. They know.
The first step in solving any problem is to face it honestly. To start cleaning up our mess we have to control our part of the mess. Among 10 thousand parading Mummers, it’s not unreasonable to think a few dozen might misbehave, but we need to address it. Some of the troublemakers have been people who are Mummers or who look like Mummers. More on that later. The main problem is irresponsible behavior, influenced by alcohol abuse and often, perhaps mostly, by people who do not live in the neighborhood. Most of the bad behavior I have witnessed has been by people who are not members of Mummers Clubs.
The news media need to be part of the discussion. Yes, over the years, parade broadcasts and, more often, the nightly news broadcasts, talked about the 2 Street event. But that event has become a word of mouth happening, and a Texting, Facebook and Twitter event. Asking news stations to pretend that an event involving thousands of people using public streets and taxpayers money does not exist is not the answer. Even if the event were shut down, future serenades on different days might encounter similar problems given how the troublemakers communicate today. What is fair is to demand that the media not inflame or incite the attendees and not misreport what incidents do happen. For example, a small fight in a large crowd should not be called a “massive Mummers brawl.” The Mummers should not be held to a different standard, higher or lower, than any other gathering of citizens, including fans at sporting events. The Mummers also should not be blamed for actions by non Mummers, any more than we would blame one of our sports teams for the rowdiness of “fans” at a championship parade. And finally on this point, Philadelphia needs to recognize it is because of Mummers families and clubs that some neighborhoods are as safe as they are.
Look at this child’s face. This is what most of Mummery is about. Happiness, family, freedom. I know that Councilman Mark Squilla wants to solve the New Year’s night problem. I believe Councilman Jim Kenney does, too. Many Mummers and non-Mummer residents of 2 Street want a solution and some of them have expressed a willingness to get the neighborhood together and begin addressing the problems.
Every idea should be treated seriously. For example: Will police have to make mass arrests of underage drinkers? Will there be a need for a special court as there was at football games? Will there have to be tighter alcohol restrictions? Can the area be considered a block party and outsiders be kept out? If so, how would that happen, who would or even could it be enforced, and, who would pay for that? If it’s open to the public, how should police behave? Do residents want police never to look the other way? Can a people’s security force, a one night town watch, be formed, to observe and set the tone, but not engage. More to spot trouble and call the police in. Should the evening be canceled altogether? How can the media report on an event without influencing the event? To what degree are Mummers involved and if substantially, is it because some are the “Mum for a Day” variety who abuse the opportunity? Every question should be on the table and every answer listened to.
The vast majority of Mummers, even the ones who like to take a sip or two, are not the problem, but they are likely to be a big part of the solution. It will take a concerted effort involving residents, Mummers, the police, elected officials, the business community, the media, and parents to get this under control. It begins with a sincere desire to listen, to compromise and to act. This can lead to answers that will prevent serious problems, include a city that wants to be happy, and restore the warm coming home that people of the Mummers tradition remember and desire.