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A vivid history of the nation's oldest folk parade

The Philadelphia Mummers

Building Community Through Play

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Patricia Anne Masters

"The Mummers at last have their definitive study. Through deep research and patient ethnography, Patricia Anne Masters demonstrates the Mummers Parade's tangled roots in working-class Philadelphia, past and present."
—Eric Lott, author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

Every New Year's Day since 1901, the Philadelphia Mummers have presented a spectacular show of shows that raucously snakes and shimmies its way through city streets. The Mummers Parade features music, dance, comedy, and mime, along with dazzling costumes and floats. Although the lavish event is now televised to a wide audience, it is still rooted in the same neighborhoods where it began.

This book explores the community created and annually reaffirmed by the Philadelphia Mummers. The author spent more than five years with the Mummers, observing their lives and rituals as she took part in their preparations and parades. Writing with the fascination of a sociologist and the excitement of a participant, Masters examines the Mummers from their beginnings. Through the prism of their century-long history, we can see how communities retain their identities and how they are affected by larger cultural trends.

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Reviews

"Performing is a total, joyous release. You're having fun. Now, you're just going to let all the tension you've had in your job, in your family, from getting ready-you just let it go. There's a big smile ten miles wide on your face and you're out there to have a good time. That's what it's all about."
—Anonymous Philadelphia Mummer

"It's important to parade once a year, but it's also important to be able to be in your community, have a place that you know that you can go to, and socialize and be with friends and feel comfortable and enjoy yourself. You have a camaraderie there that just builds and builds. It's just like, you're a family, this is your group."
—Anonymous Philadelphia Mummer

The Philadelphia Mummers presents overwhelming evidence about the significance and value to the City of Philadelphia of this unique tradition….This carefully written book is a good read for everyone involved with Mummery and a must read for anyone who wants to learn more about it.
The Philadelphia Public Record

"The Philadelphia Mummers provides an insider’s look into its longstanding ceremonies, tied to larger culture, and how this annual parade provides community where social integration has otherwise been lost….[W]ell-written, carefully documented, and assiduously researched, The Philadelphia Mummers offers insight into a time-honored tradition, how it has been maintained for over a century, and the crucial role that play serves in forging community ties….[I]t’s accessibility, readability, and fascinating tales make it recommended reading for courses in urban sociology, community, sociology of leisure, social change and qualitative methods. If Masters’s rendering of the Parade is as accurate as we believe, to paraphrase another W.C. Fields quote, ‘we’d rather be in Philadelphia’ come next New Year’s Day."
Contemporary Sociology

"Masters effectively demonstrates that mummers produced an ongoing ‘successful community in a fragmented larger society,’ a community in which the act of play is central….Highly recommended."
Choice

"With her ethnographic detail, Masters offers up a tremendous amount of information useful to students and scholars interested in urban culture and art."
The American Journal of Sociology

"Masters offers an unbiased and circumspective perspective on the anthropological issues that shape the mumming tradition and a persuasive argument for understanding the phenomenon as a play community."
—Western Folklore

"Master's participant-observer notes bring her sociological study alive: how glittering costumes look when lowered into rented trucks from the Golden Crown Club second-story wind; how a Brigade member described their 4.5 minutes of fame as stepping into "the zone" everything blotted out but the synchronized performance…. Good writing, great pictures, fine old newspaper quotes."
—Multicultural Review

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Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps iii
Acknowledgments iv
Introduction 1

Chapter 1. From Play to Play Community: The Early Years of the Mummers Parade 22
Chapter 2. Expanding the Play Community: The Contemporary Parade 60
Chapter 3. Blacks, Women, and the ANewA Immigrants: The Mummers and Diversity 96
Chapter 4. AGoing Up the Street@: The Experience of the Parade 138
Chapter 5. Rituals and the Play Community 166
Chapter 6. Family, Club, and Neighborhood 190
Chapter 7. The Experience of Play 245
Chapter 8. Play and Community: The Mummers Past and Future 283
Appendix 1. Research Methods and Materials: The Ethnographic Challenge 289
Notes 298
A Note on Sources and References 319
Index

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About the Author(s)

Patricia Anne Masters is Term Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of the Undergraduate Program in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, George Mason University.

Subject Categories

Sociology
Philadelphia Region
Urban Studies

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