Mr. Clown is Back in Town

FStermel110460778_10203110514056209_4193242498290580755_nFrank 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.”  FStermel210486376_10203110514616223_3378558278823362925_nIn 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.FStermel310494834_10203110515056234_6305980373638233081_n

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. Fstermel510430391_10203110515976257_5867684103164022851_n 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.


IMG_20140717_200046_687The 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.IMG_20140717_193144_713  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 Stermel810487997_10203110514256214_5980221484615185363_nFrank 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.”

The Strut

Thousands and thousands of Philadelphians will be strutting in the New Year this weekend.    The beauty of The Strut is that anyone can do it.  I think even Elaine of Seinfeld might have had a shot.  It’s a simple dance full of pleasure.  It moves you around your friends and moves you playfully along the road you’re on. It can be done easily and smoothly, or with a frenetic energy and passion. One hand should hold an umbrella and pump it with the music.  If you don’t have an umbrella, you can pump two fingers in the air for 2 Street, Philadelphia’s Mummers Row. The other arm and hand can either hold open a jacket or slightly lift a skirt. Ideally, The Strut involves moving both of your legs and feet in a back and forth and criss-cross fashion.  You may shift from side to side.  You can shuffle easily or kick up a heel.  A Broad Street sized smile is required all the while.  The Strut is felt best when “Oh  Dem Golden Slippers” or “Alabama Jubilee” is playing loudly around you.  It’s proof that a good thing will last. Strutting takes a little longer than marching or walking.  But, life doesn’t move in a straight line.  Maybe that’s why there’s The Strut.

Caution: Strut in Progress

I’m ready for spring.   The whole long-cold, water-logged region is starting to utter a big sigh.  It must be what that first moment after getting out of prison feels like.  Well, anyway, as enjoyable as winter can be, we’ve served the sentence and we’re set for a Phanatic good time.  And, there is also much strutting in progress, too.  I look forward to the New Years Shooters and Mummers Association awards banquet this weekend at the Museum.  The following weekend the Wench Brigade Division has its banquet and the next day, Sunday, the String Band Association breaks bread and hands out trophies.   Meanwhile, the String Bands are making summer plans and putting meat on the bones of their themes.  Below are themes approved for most of the bands.  I’ll update the others listed as TBA as they inform me their theme has been approved, but it gives Mummers fans an idea what the bands are working on and what New Year’s Day, 2011, will look and sound like.   Here they are in scheduled 2011 Order of March.

 1.   Pennsport——————“Marching With the Mummers”

2.   Fralinger——————-“Stagefright”

3.   Woodland——————“A Bayou Blast”

4.   Broomall——————“Tin Can Alley” 

5.   South Philadelphia——“Showboat Jubilee” 

6.   Durning——————–TBA 

7.   Irish American———–TBA 

8.   Greater Kensington——TBA 

9.   Aqua———————–“Aqua Has A-Peel” 

10. Polish American——–“The Pirates of Port Richmond” 

11. Trilby———————-“Court of the Demon King” 

12. Uptown——————–“Table For Two” 

13. Hegeman——————TBA 

14. Duffy———————–“Trains” 

15. Quaker City—————“Clownin’ Around” 

16. Avalon———————“Southern Religious Revival” 

17. Greater Overbrook——-“Overbrook 3011”

18. Ferko————————“Out West-Prospecting for Gold!”

Go Phillies!