Mummers will strut despite the deep freeze

Because of the cold, the Fralinger String Band rehearses indoors at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church in South Philadelphia December 28, 2017.

Icy, golden slippers will march on come New Year’s Day.

City officials said Saturday afternoon that Philadelphia’s annual New Year’s Day tradition, the Mummers Parade, will go on as planned Monday despite frigid temperatures and bone-chilling winds in the forecast.

“We’re pumped. We’re excited. We’re glad it’s going on,” said Tom Dudzic, a fiddle player with Quaker City String Band. “Double up on the Under Armour and have plenty of hot chocolate.”

The majority of the Mummers’ five divisions – string bands, fancy brigades, wench brigades, comic division, and fancy division – voted to move forward, said city spokeswoman Ajeenah Amir.

“To help safeguard against the weather conditions, the city is providing five warming tents in the parade staging area where the Mummers can warm up while they wait to perform,” Amir said. “As extra protection, the Mummers will be allowed to keep their buses with them in the staging areas and on the parade route.”

Amir said the SugarHouse Casino and PHL17 are providing three warming trolleys along Market Street for the marchers, and SugarHouse is providing 5,000 hand warmers to the Mummers to help protect against the cold. Still, performers weren’t taking chances on the city’s supply of hand warmers.

“I’m heading to Walmart now to see if I can get hand warmers,” Jim Yurick of the Pennsport String Band said after the announcement. “It is definitely going to be cold.”

Last week, division leaders expressed concerns about forecasts of wind chill as low as minus-2 – both for their own safety and the spectators’. Since 1901, the Mummers Parade has been canceled only twice, and postponed 22 times. The most recent postponements were in 2007 and 2003, because of rain – disastrous to all those feathers.

“We want our fan base out there cheering us on,” John Pignotti, president of the String Band Association, said Thursday. “I don’t know how many people will be out there with that kind of weather.”

Amir said spectators can find warmth at the Dilworth Park cafe near City Hall, as well as the nearby SEPTA concourse. Along the Broad Street parade route, the Kimmel Center and the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts will be open for anyone looking to escape the cold.

Kimmel Center spokeswoman Leslie Tyler said the concert hall will be a welcoming place for spectators to get warm and have free hot chocolate. There also will be kid-friendly performances.

“Our doors are open to the public. We do this every year,” she said. “The people come in, and some of them end up staying. We’ve never had a problem with the Mummers Parade.”

Farther south, at 901 S. Broad, a similar open-arms reaction came from Joanne Beaver, principal at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts. This will be the fourth year that the school will open its doors to the Mummers audience, she said.

“It’s a community building, and it should be open,” Beaver said. “The building is warm and cozy and kind of cool to look around.”

She said there has never been a problem with previous Mummers crowds, because “everyone is in a happy mood.”

Beaver said last New Year’s Day was warm (the high temperature reached 52 around noon), so very few people asked to come into the building. Most simply watched the parade from the school’s front lawn.

“This year, it’s going to be freezing. I think it’s a real service,” she said.

SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said his agency will have sufficient staff working to ensure security in the concourse if large numbers of Mummers spectators go there to warm up.

“The concourse is large enough that if folks need a break from the elements, it would certainly handle it,” Busch said.

In the past, he said, there have been occasional problems with roving bands of teenagers punching people. He does not expect trouble Monday.

“Issues with teens, those have generally been in the after-school hours,” Busch said. “Based on that, we wouldn’t expect that to be an issue on Monday.”

Sue Groman, who plays alto sax with the Hegeman String Band, said her biggest concern will be keeping her instrument from freezing during the parade.

“Basically, you have to blow into it constantly,” she said. “We also have an RV and we’ll be putting them in there to defrost and thaw out.”

Quaker City’s Dudzic said he can’t wear gloves while playing fiddle, but he shrugged off the idea of painful, joints-stiffening cold.

“We’ll deal with it,” he said. “It’s going to be a great day.”

 

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