Our Midi is "Oh Dem Golden Slippers."
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Brownielocks and The 3 Bears
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What is a mummer?
 According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is:
 (a) performer in a pantomime; mime
(b) : one who goes merrymaking in disguise during festivals. 

 

The Mummers Parade is held in Philadelphia, PA every New Years Day (January 1)  The parade's length is 2.5 miles from S. Philadelphia to City Hall.  And, more often than not, it's one cold day also since it is January.  Brrrr!

 


Although it has a reputation for being loud, disorderly and encouraging drinking and drunkenness, this event didn't originate as a way for a bunch of grown up men to act stupid and get drunk.  The original motive was for superstitious reasons.  It can be traced back to the worship of Momus, the Greek god of mimicry.  The pagans who worshipped him had an annual ritual for the purpose of frightening away evil spirits who might be planning to cause trouble in the new year that was about to begin.  It was a pretty noisy ritual (to scare the spirits) but not a drunken bash.

The Mummers Parade in Philadelphia can be dated back to the pre-Civil War era.  The Scandinavians were the city's first settlers.  And, with them they brought the custom of visiting neighbors on December 26th.  Then they changed their celebration to run for several days up  to December 31st, right before the New Year.  Now, these guys weren't  gracious and polite when they visited.  They were pretty noisy. They sung, had noisemakers and were even shooting off guns.  Those that shot the guns off where later known as the "shooters."  I guess those that kept quiet were called the "mummers."  They went from home to home, yelling and shooting, singing and dancing,  and asking for food and drink (alcohol mostly).  This is what they chanted:

Here we stand before your door,
As we stood the year before;
Give us whiskey; give us gin,
Open the door and let us in.
Or give us something nice and hot
Like a steaming hot bowl of pepper pot!

 Soon, these impromptu folks grew into an organized annual group.  But, they stuck close to home  and didn't really dress up too fancy back then.

 

The earliest known Mummer club was called the Chain Gang in 1840.  They celebrated from New Year's Eve and into New Year's Day.  This club was classified as a "comic club" as we know of today because they were funny.

Later on came a group from Shifler Hose Company paraded around Philadelphia on the same two days as the Chain Gang did.  Only they weren't as flashy.  They didn't put on much makeup and wore simpler costumes.

One of the first Comic Clubs was known as the Cold Water, which began in 1884.  In 1900 it changed its name to Forty Sevens. And, during its participation in the parade, it won a lot of prizes.  They were well-known for  being very funny and making the parade audience laugh.  After the turn of the century the club broke up and members joined other clubs. 

Some of the names of these  comic clubs were also rather humorous.  Examples are: The Hardly Ables,  the Red Onions,  The Energetic Hoboes, and the Dill Pickles.

Besides Comic Clubs, there were the Fancy Clubs. These were those that wore elaborate costumes.  Founded in 1875, the Shooters organized a Fancy Club called "The Golden Crown Club" located on the east side of Broad Street.  Well, within a short time their competition was "The Silver Crown Club" who were located on the west side of Broad Street.  This club lasted longer than any other fancy club and participated in the parades well into the 1930's.

 

The Mummers Parade was not observed during the Civil War. But, as soon as the war was over, the residents of SE Philadelphia annually paraded on New Year's Eve.  When George Washington was president, the capitol of the United States was in Philadelphia (not Washington, D.C.).  So, after his inauguration, President Washington continued the tradition of shouting out on New Years Day, and did so for the 7 years that he was in office.  The Mummers also celebrated with black faces and did comic mocking of President Washington and St. George slaying the dragon, as well as other political topics.

With each passing year, costumes began to get a bit more theatrical too.   The paraders disguised themselves by wearing lard and lampblack on their faces,  wore their clothing inside out or  wore women's clothing. (NOTE: All these Mummers were men only. Women were not allowed in the Mummers parade until 1970!) They also carried stockings filled with flour.  Apparently, they'd take these socks and bonk unsuspecting pedestrians!

In 1808, some social leaders began to get offended by the black faces of the paraders.  So, they made a law declaring that "masquerades, masquerade balls, and masked processions were public nuisances", and stating also that any person who allowed masked balls in their homes, entertained shooters or participated in  these or similar demonstrations, would be subject to a fine and up to 3 months imprisonmen .  Nevertheless, this all got ignored and people continued to celebrate with guns, singing, noise makers, etc. anyway.

However, that lasted up until 1964,  when it was ruled that black-faced marchers would be prohibited.  And, civil rights groups would also be disallowed from picketing the parade as well.

Up until now, all of this was just voluntary and unofficial.  But, on January 1, 1901, the city of Philadelphia sponsored the first official Mummers Day parade. 

Did they do it just for fun?  Perhaps in the beginning. But, now,well, there were also prizes to be won!
The prize money was donated by local businesses.  Sometimes food was a prize as well.  So, now the parade is becoming a little more commercialized . There was a time when there was a lot of competition between clubs to win prizes for the best paraders (in their categories). It wasn't for the prize as much as it was for pride and bragging rights.

The first group to win a cash prize was The Thomas Clements Sr. Club in 1888. (Note: I know Wikipedia says 1906, but the book I used says this so I'm going with them.)  As the prizes grew, so did the rivalry.

It was during this time that the custom of having the winners serenade the losers with a funeral march began too.  Sometimes the losers were sore losers and fights broke out.  The Mummers were very competitive.  And there are many records of fights between the clubs ---  especially from the 1920s to the 1930s.

Today, the parade has four divisions:  Comic, Fancy, Fancy Brigade and String Band.  There are also a lot more marchers....like 10,000 plus!  And, the viewers are not only watching along the sidelines, they're also watching on television!

The Comic division mocks political issues, politicians and such.  The Fancy division are the ones with the extreme costumes, and also do dance routines and have props and perhaps floats.  The Fancy Brigade division dresses up pretty extreme also.  But they also play instruments and perform and do drill marching routines.  And, the String Band group is just that....no brass instruments!  The first String Band was back in 1902 and called Trilby.  It still performs today!  Each year the String Bands pick a theme.  The band leader (Captain) can have a very elaborate costume alone.  And, he doesn't march.  He does what is called the "second street strut."  Actually, lots of the paraders strut or dance down the street, rather than march.

The costumes are all extreme today as well.  And, they can be quite expensive.  Whereas, in the old days the wives and mothers made the costumes, today, they can be made by professional designers.  And, a band's costume can run as high as $80,000 (if it's one big band).  And, through the years the parade has gotten more and more elaborate and louder and louder to where its style resembles that of a Broadway musical or a Las Vegas show.

 

The parade's theme song is "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" which was written in 1879 by James Bland, an African-American songwriter, minstrel and lawyer.
This is why we put it on this page.

Here are the lyrics:

Oh, my golden slippers am laid away
'Cause I don't spect to wear 'em til my wedding day.
And my long tailed coat, that I love so well
I will wear up in the chariot in the morn.
And my long white robe that I bought last June
I'm goin' to get changed 'cause it fits too soon.
And the old grey hoss that I used to drive
I will hitch him to the chariot in the morn.

Chorus

Oh, dem golden slippers.
Oh, dem golden slippers.
Golden slippers I'se goin' to wear
Because they look so neat.
Oh, dem golden slippers.
Oh, dem golden slippers
Golden slippers I'se goin' to wear
To walk the golden street.

 

Oh, my old banjo hangs on the wall
'Cause it ain't been tuned since way last fall.
But the darks all say we'll have a good time
When we ride up in the chariot in the morn.
There's ol' brother Ben and his sister, Luce
They will telegraph the news to uncle Bacco Juice.
What a great camp meetin' there will be that day
When we ride up in the chariot in the morn.

 

Chorus

Oh, dem golden slippers.
Oh, dem golden slippers.
Golden slippers I'se goin' to wear
Because they look so neat.
Oh, dem golden slippers.
Oh, dem golden slippers.
Golden slippers I'se goin' to wear
To walk the golden street.

 

So, it's good-bye, children I will have to go
Where the rain don't fall and the wind don't blow.
And yer ulster coats, why, you will not need
When you ride up in the chariot in the morn.
But yer golden slippers must be nice and clean.
And yer age must be just sweet sixteen.
And yer white kid gloves you will have to wear
When you ride up in the chariot in the morn.

Chorus

Oh, dem golden slippers
Oh, dem golden slippers
Golden slippers I'se goin' to wear
Because they look so neat.
Oh, dem golden slippers
Oh, dem golden slippers
Golden slippers I'se goin' to wear
To walk the golden street.

 

Return to January Observances.

Sources:

"America Celebrates" by Hennig Cohen and Tristram Potter Coffin
Visible Ink Press, Detroit, Michigan  © 1991

Wikipedia-Mummers Parade
PhillyMummers.com
MummerArtist.com
Google's Mummer Parade Time Line

 

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