During a WHYY Bridging Blocks event, Mummers discuss the tradition’s legacy in Philadelphia and learning from past controversies

WHYY and the Free Library of Philadelphia held a Bridging Blocks discussion Thursday on the Mummers, and how they want to shape the tradition for future generations.

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The exterior of the Mummers Museum

The Mummers Museum opened its doors back in 1976, and served as the venue for Thursday evening Bridging Blocks discussion. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

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Mummers enthusiasts and participants discussed how to make the tradition more inclusive and addressed instances of controversial behavior during Thursday’s Bridging Blocks discussion.

Since 1901, the Mummers Parade has been an official event in Philadelphia bringing thousands of the city’s finest wenches, comics and fancies to Broad Street to showcase their routines involving dance, string bands and bright, sequined outfits.

For many folks within Philadelphia, the parade is a New Year’s Day celebration. For the Mummers, it’s a year-round group effort to put on the best performances possible.

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“One of the misconceptions is we’re all a bunch of guys who drink and run down the street with umbrellas for one day, which isn’t the case,” South Philadelphia Vikings member Jeff Travelina said. “We’ve started our show already for 2025.”

Jeff Travelina speaks during a discussion
Jeff Travelina has been a member of the South Philadelphia Vikings since 1988. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

Folks who gathered at the Mummers Museum on Thursday discussed the history surrounding the event, which has origins dating back to the 17th century. Ahead of gathering in the museum’s banquet hall, many who came in support of the Mummers spoke with WHYY News about the familial aspect of their individual groups, including Jesa Stiglich, who’s in the Golden Sunrise Fancy Division.

“We’re at each other’s weddings,” Stiglich said. “We’re at each other’s birthday parties. We are supporting each other just through life. So it’s about bringing in that new year, entertaining, engaging with the community, celebrating and doing it quite literally with our friends and our family.”

The parade has not been without controversy over the years, including an incident where two Mummers wore blackface during the event, which led to former Mayor Jim Kenney threatening to cancel the parade in 2020.

To better shape the future of the Mummers Parade, those present at the Bridging Blocks discussion noted efforts within their individual groups to prevent future incidents, such as lifetime bans for similar acts.

People seated at tables raise their hands
When asked who the room is a Mummer, members of the audience raised their hands. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

Sam Regalbuto, president of the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association, said he thought, at the time, “the damage” from the incident was “irreparable,” but the five Mummer divisions have worked hard to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“Those issues, the blackface, Caitlyn Jenner, still thinking that it’s still funny to do…[the], ‘Oh, I’m not going to offend anybody right? We’re just the Mummers. It’s no big deal,’” Regalbuto said. “Times have changed.”

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Sam Regalbuto speaks at an event
Sam Regalbuto is the President of the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association. He addressed some of the controversial moments in the history of the Mummers Parade during Thursday’s discussion. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

Diversity and outreach is another tool to maintain the Mummers tradition, participants said.

Stiglich said when she joined Golden Sunrise eight years ago, she was welcomed immediately, and that taking part in discussions like the one Thursday is important in order to improve moving forward.

“We’re not here to say that we have it all figured out,” Stiglich said. “We’re here to say we are figuring it out and we are welcoming your voices, we are welcoming your direction and most importantly, we are welcoming you.”

WHYY will host a Bridging Blocks discussion on the same topic on Feb. 27 at the Independence Library at 7th and Market streets, beginning at  5 p.m.

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