The first Mum­mers strut on Broad Street

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - OPINION - Jim Smart Of All Things

Jan. 1 of 1901 started out a bit foggy but was a nice day by 10 a.m., when some Mum­mers left Reed Street and started strut­ting up Broad Street.

For the first time in their nearly three cen­tury his­tory, Mum­mers were hav­ing one big pa­rade.

The city fa­thers had in­vited them to unite in a march to City Hall, where judges would pick the best in two di­vi­sions, Fancy and Comic, with a top prize of $300 cash for each.

There were 21 New Year’s clubs, who nor­mally pranced around their own neigh­bor­hoods. Many al­ready had, early that morn­ing.

There were all sorts of cos­tumes: com­i­cal, fan­tas­ti­cal, beau­ti­ful or just clothes turned in­side out. A few clubs had some 250 marchers. The small­est, the White Caps As­so­ci­a­tion, had only 40.

Tra­di­tion­ally, there were no women. There were some men dressed as women. A few women pre­tended to be men dressed as women.

Many clubs had brass bands with them, pump­ing out such hit songs of the day as “When You Were Sweet Six­teen,” “My Wild Ir­ish Rose” and “A Bird in a Gilded Cage.”

Some groups were named for their founders or lead­ers. The Ge­orge A. Fur­ni­val As­so­ci­a­tion, the Daniel Duane As­so­ci­a­tion and the Elk­ton As­so­ci­a­tion were among the big ones.

Other asso­ciations had fan­ci­ful or comic names, such as the Sil­ver Crown As­so­ci­a­tion, the Ivy Leaf, the Corinthian, the Doodle­bach, the White Turnip, the Mixed Pick­les, the Early Ris­ers, the Red Onion and the En­er­getic Hoboes.

There was the Katzen­jam­mer Band, a brass band named for a Ger­man slang word for a hang­over and for a pop­u­lar comic strip, the Katzen­jam­mer Kids.

There was the 100-mem­ber Hardly Able As­so­ci­a­tion, a name still in use re­cently.

The asso­ciations ar­gued over which was old­est. Ja­cob Stringer, cap­tain of the Dark Lantern As­so­ci­a­tion, tried to set­tle the mat­ter by telling an Evening Bul­letin re­porter that his group was founded in 1492, when one of Colum­bus’s ar­riv­ing sailors on the Pinta saw a light on the shore.

Sev­eral South Philadel­phia clubs wanted to go up only to South Street. City Coun­cil­man Isaac D. Het­zell from Fish­town, chair­man of coun­cil’s joint com­mit­tee for the event, warned that par­tic­i­pants had to pass the city-ap­pointed judges at City Hall to be el­i­gi­ble for a prize.

Elk­ton was ul­ti­mately named best in the Fan­cies, White Cap in the Comics. The pa­rade took about two hours.

Mer­chants on Gi­rard Av­enue of­fered $1,600 in prizes for Mum­mers who con­tin­ued up there. Oth­ers mer­chants, many on Sec­ond Street, also of­fered prizes. Some hardy Mum­mers went home to “The Neck” in South Philly via those streets.

One in­vited club that de­clined to take part was a mu­si­cal one, the Trilby String Band, de­scribed by the Evening Bul­letin as “fa­mous as the only band of its kind in the city.”

The leader, Wil­liam H. Siebrecht, ex­plained to a Bul­letin re­porter that “Eigh­teen ban­jos, man­dolins and gui­tars couldn’t be heard be­tween two brass bands.”

The string band had no fancy cos­tumes; mem­bers all wore top hats. The name came from “Trilby,” a wildly pop­u­lar stage play. Trilby was the beau­ti­ful hero­ine be­ing con­trolled by an evil hyp­no­tist named Sven­gali.

On New Years Day 1902, the Trilby band re­lented and joined the sec­ond pa­rade. The judges gave it a $25 spe­cial prize be­cause a string band didn’t fit in ei­ther divi­sion. The rest is golden-slip­pered his­tory.

Visit colum­nist Jim Smart’s web­site at jamess­mart­sphiladel­phia.com.

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