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Mummers parade returns to South Philadelphia route

Friday, January 02, 2004

By Bill Bergstrom, The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Comics dressed like Philadelphia Flyers hockey players and a shackled "Saddam Hussein" pranced and danced up Broad Street as the Mummers Parade returned to a South Philadelphia route, and springlike weather helped draw big crowds to the nearly eight-hour spectacle.

Rusty Kennedy, Associated Press
Costumed characters march around city hall in Philadelphia yesterday during the annual Mummers Parade.
Click photo for larger image.

Martha Stewart, and the FBI bug found in Mayor John Street's office during his re-election campaign also came in for spoofs from the parasol-pumping comics that lead the annual New Year's Day spectacle.

The parade was back on Broad Street after moving to an east-west route on Market Street for the last four years to try to boost attendance and the television audience. The Mummers complained that the Market Street route tended to stretch out the parade and thin the crowds. Then last year, a downpour washed out the New Year's Day parade and it was postponed until Jan. 4.

This time, a sunny, 50-degree day helped swell the crowd to four and five people deep in places along the nearly 3-mile parade route.

It was enough to sell some people on attending the event instead of watching it on television.

John Hanagan, of Cape May, N.J., attended for the first time. He and his wife, Sherrie, came with friends, John and Cindy Malinowski, at the urging of Cindy Malinowski, who grew up in South Philadelphia.

"I was probably about 3 the first time I came, back when it was always on Broad Street," Cindy Malinowski said.

"It's great down here," said Edward Zorn, 26, of Vineland, N.J. "I've watched it on TV and I've never seen it as good. I'll buy a hotel room next year."

The Mummers liked the change. "The route is finally back where it should be," said Timmy McShea, a Philadelphia firefighter and member of the Murray Comic Club, which performed a firefighter skit called "Backdraft."

The Broad Street route originates in South Philadelphia where many of the bands have clubhouses and find their strongest support, and, McShea said, where they look forward to partying into the night after the New Year's Day parade and competition end. "That's Mardi Gras. That's Carnivale, where it all happens," he said.

"It seems like it's a grand slam for us. We have a great parade, we have great crowds, we have great weather," said Mayor Street, who approved the latest route change last summer at the Mummers' request. "We have people here from all up and down the East Coast."

After a 9 a.m. start, the nearly 12,000 members of the Comic, Fancy and String Band divisions, with elaborate sequined and feathered costumes the clubs spend much of the year making, made eight performance stops along the parade route, north along Broad Street to City Hall, finishing after 5 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Mummers Fancy Brigades, with even more elaborate props and performances, put on two shows inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center nearby.

The whole celebration grew out of the custom brought by 17th century Swedish immigrants of visiting friends on the day after Christmas, which was later extended to include New Year's Day. Groups would go from house to house singing and dancing for food and drink, and by the 1870s, the neighborhood celebrations had evolved into an organized parade.

The Mummers appeared in high spirits as they finished Thursday's three-mile whirl. "The crowd was very welcoming to us and it felt great," said Peter Broomall, head of the Broomall String Band.

"It's so much better," said Amanda Wozniak, 27, of the Hog Island Fancy Club, prancing in her 10th Mummers Parade, this year in a costume consisting of a 40-year-old, more than 10-foot long, fabric and wire canoe her grandfather built 40 years ago. "It seemed to me that a lot more people came out."

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