Thanks for the Mummeries

Michael Jackson’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” (the Gloria Gaynor version, too) has been wandering inside my head today. I thank each and every person who has had something kind and forever uplifting to say following the New Year’s night announcement that I am retiring from the broadcast booth. It is the right decision, but a hard one.


My colleagues over the years in the booth, broadcasters, print reporters, and Mummers all helped me appreciate the tradition. PHl17 marched alongside all the way. Individual Mummers have shown their kindness in so many ways. (Meatballs with gravy remains my favorite.) Clubs have welcomed my family into their family. Leaders and members of Divisions and Clubs have bestowed honors and extended friendship beyond description. City elected leaders, commission and community officials have engaged me with respect.
We’ve had some great times; we’ve had some tough ones. This past year had some very difficult months. Leaving the broadcast booth is the right thing for me for a number of reasons, mostly personal. In leaving, I am not leaving the good people of the Mummers who care for each other, their families and the best of the unique Philadelphia tradition.
Mummery will be fine, even thrive, if as individuals, clubs and divisions Mummers take ownership of what is not right, patiently listen to critics and be open to a simple question: How can we preserve and continue to celebrate the best of what it means to be a Philadelphia Mummer, and confidently, with open arms, relevant to today and tomorrow?
This city and the world would be better if everyone could experience the best of the Philadelphia Mummers.
From the bottom of my heart, Thanks for the Mummeries. See you on the blog and on the Street.
Steve Highsmith

Goodbye Friend

202 fancy & wb banquets 019We mourn the loss of a giant, Robert Shannon, Jr.  Bob Shannon meant and means that much to us.  He is a giant.  Bob was a real person who did what he did out of love and caring, not for money or fame or power.  I had the honor of knowing his humble and kind father, Robert Shannon, Sr., and I always saw his dad in Bob.  I saw the love of his children and Susan in him.

There are many things about Bob that we all know.  He was tall.  He was really tall.  He was a leader, Captain of the great Quaker City String Band for nearly 40 years.  He remains the most popular and best known of all Mummers of the Modern era.  Bob loved Mummery and he loved being Captain.  When I saw Bob, I usually said, “Mr. Ambassador!” He was a natural at connecting with those in awe of this tall (did I mention he was tall?), costumed man who looked like a giant among giants with his hat and huge back piece.  His movements were graceful for a big man.  He covered a lot of ground in a few steps, and flashed that broad smile and pointed that trademark forefinger right at you.  It may the only time you ever wanted a finger pointed at you.

All kinds of memories are colliding with each other right now, probably in you, too, if you knew Bob.  It’s been like this since Susan called today to say that Bob had passed.  Among the many thoughts, what can we do to console and be there for Susan, the family, and the band.

There are random memories of Bob, including that he liked to have fun, and that he loved Ireland and Galveston, Texas.  He was a Mummer historian, he was a friend, and he was also a great goodwill Ambassador for the city throughout this nation and across the seas.  He worked behind the scenes with TV and city administrations to promote and protect the Philadelphia tradition and help the city achieve its goals. I will never again get to greet him with, “Mr. Ambassador.”  I like to think it was our thing.

But, Bob was much more. He knew what friendship meant.  He understood that he could help a child grieve, an elderly person enjoy a difficult life and he would go anywhere to help his band, a Mummer family, his friends, strangers in need and his city.

Bob really enjoyed being a Mummer, and particularly when it came to his Captain’s suit, which especially in Bob’s era was special and often hidden from the public until parade day.  I’ll always remember the first time he said to me, “Hey, want to go upstairs and see the suit?”  Two grown men scrambling upstairs like it was Christmas morning and the only ones who got to see Santa.

Many of us will have thoughts, flashing little bits of memories, that we are pained to think we will never be able to experience again.  One of mine is Bob saying, “How you doing, pal?”  You see, he meant it.  He wanted to know.

To the Shannon family, thank you for sharing this goodhearted man with the City of Philadelphia, our region, with the countless hours in parades, in rehearsals, in visiting the sick and in bringing wide smiles to children.  Our respect for him is deep.  Our condolences to you are as tall as the giant who has decided he need not walk among us for a while.

We have lost a good man.  We will still see glimpses of him in the Class, Pride and Commitment of Quaker City String Band, in the good faith of his brother and sister Mummers in all divisions, in the strength of his family, and when we think of Philadelphia Mummery’s Mt. Rushmore.  You know, Bob Shannon, Jr. is there.


Mourning in South Philadelphia

#011SouthPhiladelphiaSBClubhouseWith the start of a new year, many people look for a new beginning in some part of their lives.  This is a good thing.  Most of us do so, not with foolish optimism, but because we are good people.  We have celebrations not because we are selfish or hedonistic, but because we want to improve, to enjoy each other, enjoy the gift of life and we want to encourage that joy in others.

New Year’s Day 2019 started that way for many, many people.  The men, women and children of the Philadelphia Mummers awoke in the early morning hours to rekindle the Philadelphia folk tradition of calling on family and friends and playing together in the streets.  They shared their brilliant suits, unique sounds, silliness and satire, struts and choreography with the world.  We hail Golden Sunrise, Murray Comic Club, Quaker City String Band, South Philly Vikings, the Pirates and all the winners.  It is about competition to some degree, but it’s also about sharing the joy of life and making others smile.  In that competition on New Year’s Day, South Philadelphia String Band finished a very close second.  It was a great day.

It then feels soul-wrenching when word comes that in the hours after that joyful expression, that three young people we knew suddenly died and that another vibrant person lies critically injured.  Young people who have helped you enjoy life are in an instant gone or fighting to live.  It’s just wrong.  Why do bad things happen to good people?

Thousands of people associated with the folk tradition of Mummery are shaking their heads and asking that question.  Some are angry; others are deeply saddened and emotionally spent.  None of the answers seems good enough as we mourn the sudden passing of three good young people and pray for the recovery of another, all victims of a crime.

The emptiness, the feeling of one’s heart jumping from your chest, is incalculably magnified, more painful and intense, for the South Philadelphia String Band family and especially for the immediate family members of Joe, Kelly, Denny and Nicole.

Mummers have been making sure that the Ferry and Palandro families and their extended families have not been alone.  They will continue to stand together, to mourn together, and hopefully to aid in Nicole’s recovery.  All will struggle to try to find the answers that elude us.  If we find a functional way forward, it may begin with faith and with always remembering the passion and joy of these beautiful young people.  For now, we just are feeling lost, and it may be that way for awhile.South Philadelphia String Band with Black Ribbon 2

Happy Mu…Mu..Mummers Day!

20171231_145939Happy New Year and on this January 1st enjoy the great folk tradition and expression of people artistry and freedom, of family and friend togetherness, and respects to those who have left us.  All that and more is the 2018 SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade.

It will be very cold.  It hasn’t been this cold for many years and precautions are urged.  But, most Mummers will handle it, dressing in layers, covering what can be covered, protecting instruments and carrying on a tradition dating back generations for many, or a relatively new experience that is both fun and personal.

received_1893955057285254(1)Mummery is fun, but it is personal.  Clubs will wear buttons or badges for those who have left us, or march with signs or props bearing their images, names or initials.  20171231_145957Some are well known to all Mummery like John Lucas or Bill Speziale.  Others are known well to the clubs.  In Mummery, each is equally important.

We also this day celebrate the ritual of noticing when someone or some club has been marching for 50, 60, 75, or 72 years(Bill Doyle).  We will also end the outdoor parade with an emotional moment involving Duffy String Band who lost Captain Ted Kudrick in October. 20171026_000642Now, 11 year old Jake and all the band will perform for Ted, and because it’s what Mummers do.  And, it’s a day fans of the Mummers, on the street or watching at home, reconnect.

FB_IMG_1514780587556(1)It’s a day we notice when Mummers raise money for cancer, or autism awareness, or our Armed Forces, or individuals like Gabby, a Mummer through and through. It’s about the children like Keegan, of Riverfront Mummers.  Does that little guy got it or what?received_10214874444484083

Thank you to our Police, Firefighters and Medical personnel, Streets crews, and City Officials that help make this possible in this day and age.

So today, try to be warm whether on the street or in front of your tv, and from Golden Sunrise, from Oregon to Froggy Carr, Goodtimers, Landi and Murray, 16 String Bands from Greater Overbrook to Duffy, and all the great Fancy Brigades in the Convention Center, please enjoy New Year’s Day and the best of the Philadelphia Mummers tradition.  It is about fun, but it’s also about a whole lot more.

We may now strut around the room.


Sats Celebrate Half a Century

20171111_201610Saturnalian New Years Association celebrated 50 years in Mummery this weekend in a fun and beautiful gathering at SugarHouse Casino.  It was extraordinary going through the decades with images of the past performances and remarks by former captains like John Griffith, Dave Moscinski and John Zakrewski, and current captain, Jack Hatty, Jr. One fun fact among many with Saturnalian: It took first prize in its very first parade in the late 1960’s.  The Sats honored the living and departed members of the club and also celebrated the contributions of women members to the Fancy Brigade.20171111_214651 Josephine Thompson, a 12 year member of the Sats, led that recognition.  I am also grateful to the club for its welcoming of me to the event.  20171112_210822Saturnalian has a successful history and is again a brigade on the rise.  Here’s to the Richie Ski and all the gang going from last year’s “Gangs of New York” performance at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to a fun circus theme in the works this coming New Year’s Day.  It will be a great night for the club from 1811 S. 2nd Street.

Until We Meet Again,Ted

We said goodbye to the Old Man.  Teddy Kudrick was laid to rest, but not until countless friends, loved ones and fans gathered in Media, Delaware County Tuesday night and Wednesday to pay their last respects to this father, husband, friend, showman, leader and hard-working American.20171025_092213

Ted Kudrick worked as an engineer on a tug boat and was Captain of Duffy String Band. A top hat he wore on New Years Day and at parades around the region graced a room where mourners gathered in Media, Delaware County to say farewell.  We kidded Teddy in recent years about being the “Old Man.”  His dad, Henry Kunzig was the original Old Man of the Duffy String Band family, but Teddy had gone on to earn the nickname.   He paraded for half a century, was inducted in 2005 into the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association Hall of Fame, and was Captain for 32 years at the time of his passing.  He deserved the respect that was meant by “Old Man”, but Teddy was not old.  He was just 52 when he died last week.

Duffy has always been a favorite band of many Mummers.  It’s been a leader in opening up the parade to women and remains one of the most accessible and pleasing bands of Mummery.  They haven’t always placed high in the competition, but they always have heart.  They love the tradition of a people parade, and care more about making people smile.

20171025_092150 Teddy had a smile, one that never left him from the time he was a baby.

Throughout Fishtown, Wallingford, Port Richmond, South Philadelphia, and throughout the region, hearts go out to his wife, Colleen, and to their children, Jake and Kathryn, and to sisters, Cheryl and Peg, and brother, Michael, and all Ted’s family.  His son, Jake, had paraded with his Dad for ten years.  When you saw them at rehearsal on a parking lot on a cold day, or in full costume in front of tv cameras and fan-filled grandstands, you got a glimpse of the Mummery that many never see. The down to earth bonds of a father and son, joyfully spending time together.  We will always remember Ted, the “Old Man,” forever young with his son.20171026_000642.jpg


A Legend Always to Remember

MUMMERS_JOHN_LUCASWe have said until we meet again to John A. Lucas.  John passed away last Monday at the age of 84.  Mourners came this weekend from across Mummery to Murphy-Ruffenach Brian W. Donnelly Funeral Home at 3rd and Wolf and to St. Gabriel Roman Catholic Church at 29th and Dickinson to pay their respects to one of the legends of Philadelphia Mummery…20170512_204520

…and to support Joann, Lora, Heather, Jimmy and Jessica, Dan and Ralph and all the Lucas, Romanofski, Rullo, Wolfinger and Tursi families.  Expressions of sorrow extended as well to the even larger Golden Sunrise Fancy Club family, especially Debbie and Matt Glovacz, and Jack Cohen, and Rusty and Sheryl Martz, and to the Clevemore Fancy Brigade family led by the Tursi’s.  John over his career was a staple in both clubs.  He led Golden Sunrise as Captain from 1972 to 1990 and again from ’94 to ’97.  He made a cameo farewell in 2010.

John Lucas

John will be remembered as a pillar of the Mummers tradition.  In the Fancy Brigades and the Fancies, he was a creative genius in back piece design and construction.

john lucas and jacky bambam

He was a large cog in the machinery of traditional Mummery; a big man who made a big difference.  His creations could weigh more than 200 pounds.

MUMMERS_JOHN_LUCAS_3His back pieces, suits and presentations,whether as a Captain, or whether making a fantastic vision come alive in a Handsome Costume for someone else, were wonders to see.  He painstakingly cared for each one.  He was particular about everything, down to the age and quality of a plume.IMG_1787

This attention to detail extended to another hobby.  I can remember being in his basement, where walls were lined with trains.  So many trains were carefully on display in one room that you could barely walk.  Though he had recently sold much of his collection, he still worked to repair those others collected.  It’s been said that if you like trains, you not only appreciate the design, the power, even the romance of locomotives and the cars they pull, but that you’ve got a healthy dose of kid still inside you.  That’s probably true of Mummery, too.Fancy Div Banquet 2011 002

John and his wife, Palma, were married for 59 years and they were one of the royal couples of Mummery.  Palma is very appreciative of the well wishes, the food and everything so many people have done to help her and the family in this time.20170512_205454

John Lucas will always strut higher than most in the history of Mummery.   Mummery has lost a legend and many have lost a friend.  But, a family has also lost in one man: a husband, an uncle, a cousin, a dad, a grandfather and a great-grandfather.20170512_204859

John Lucas was special.  One of the most moving things Palma Lucas said to me Friday night remains strongly with me.  She said, “Not a day went by that Johnny didn’t make me laugh.”

Soup with a Book Signing Chaser

soup-day-dec-18-2016What delicious soups graced the Mummers Museum today at the annual Golden Ladle Soup contest!  (Thanks to emcee Joe from Mum Radio -left; Michael from Spartans-right).

The winner: Spartans NYB with its Minestrone with kale and pinto beans.  Satin Slipper’s Ham and Bean finished 2nd. Golden Crown’s cheese steak soup finished 3rd (It really tasted like a cheese steak.)  Every soup of of the 12 entries was amazing.

Thank you, too, for all the folks who stuck around or arrived later to purchase the first copies of my book, Philadelphia Mummers.  The Museum has some copies and I will be at Mummersfest on Dec. 30th between 5 and 8 pm.wp-image-879153467jpg.jpg



Goodbye for now, Big Mac

big-mac-mccWe say goodbye today to John Macintyre, Jr.  Big Mac passed away over the weekend at the age of 82.  A constant, heavy stream of family, friends and fellow Mummers passed by his open casket last night in Runnemede, New Jersey.  His large, gracious family greeted and talked to every single one. Mr. Macintyre died on Saturday, on Constitution Day.  John loved America.  He was a veteran.  He was a Mummer.20160921_201601

He started parading at 3 years old with his father.  John, Jr. would go on to march in 79 parades and was looking forward to his 80th.  He loved his bean soup after a day on Broad Street. He was best known as the leader of Mac’s Mongoose Mummers and paraded most recently with the Murray Comic Club.  (The Mongoose came from a mountain lake home he had for many years, called Mongoose Meadows. His family and friends still talk about the weekends with Big Mac, with Pop or Pop Pop.) His family plans to be on the street, parading this New Year’s Day. That’s the way John would want it.  Among the items in his casket: golden slippers and a gold umbrella.

With 7 children, 14 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren, Mac’s Mongoose Mummers was truly a family experience on New Year’s Day. But, come to think of it, almost every day. Big Mac was like that all the time. His large, comfortable, made for fun den in their Bellmawr home was a gathering point. It was a celebration of smiling with life. That was John Macintyre, Jr., as big as they come.20160921_201539

Donations may be made in John’s name to the World Wildlife Fund, 1250 Twenty-Fourth Street N.W., P.O. Box 97180, Washington, DC 20090-7180.

Mummers Against Cancer Underway!


The 11th annual Mummers Against Cancer is well underway at the Woodland SB Clubhouse. Thousands of dollars are being raised to help families battling cancer. Thanks to everyone who donated the food, the music, the Hula dancers and more.  100 percent of the revenue is going to the fight. Mums at Work again.