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.