The public perception of the Mummers could take another hit this week.
In recent years, the parade has drawn criticism in the press and from city leaders over its occasional use of blackface and offensive skits.
Now, thousands of people have indicated they will be attending an unofficial Mummers “protest” in South Philadelphia, an event that is expected to flout public health regulations.
Officials, with the support of the String Band Association, canceled the parade for the first time in 86 years in July when the city announced that all large group gatherings on public property would be prohibited through February.
“You always have to be worried that something’s going to hurt your image, especially when you feel that the people putting these protests together aren’t Mummers, per se,” Sam Regalbuto, the association’s president, said. “A lot of them are people trying to make a political statement using the Mummers.”
Anonymous accounts set up a pair of Facebook events inviting people to the demonstrations, which are not backed by any organized Mummer groups.
The introduction of the most popular page, operated by “Smelt Dank Memes” and “Kenney Was a Mummer Once,” begins with a quote from the Constitution and says they are protesting Mayor Jim Kenney’s “erroneous taxes and restrictions on our freedoms and liberties.”
Organizers banned comments due to profanity and infighting.
About 2,800 people have signed up to go, and 8,500 have expressed interest, though it remains to be seen how many will show up to the demonstrations, which will be held on S. 2nd Street in Pennsport.
On another page that has generated significant interaction, organizers are saying they plan to wear old Mummers costumes and march from Broad Street and Oregon Avenue to 2nd Street and Washington Avenue.
An anonymous administrator of the page declined to comment.
Michael McGrail is planning to head to 2nd Street on New Year’s Day and hand out “corona kits” with hand sanitizer and satirical buttons.
It’s not the first time he’s distributed Mummers-related merchandise. Last year, he mocked up buttons to give to strutters with a number to call if the person was “lost and/or drunk.”
Stateside Vodka, a Philly-based company, is giving him 25 gallons of sanitizer, which it began producing in the wake of the pandemic, as well as several bottles of drinking alcohol, to keep him and his buddies well-lubricated.
“I felt like if we could help out and have them be able to pull it off in a safe manner, we’d love to support them and contribute and see them carry out their tradition that they’ve been doing for years,” said Sam Rosenberg, director of sales at Stateside.
McGrail, a participant in the parade for more than three decades, said, for Mummers, the tradition “is embedded into their bones,” and they’re going to find a way to celebrate it one way or another. He said he just wants to help people stay safe.
“There’s been numerous events since (the start of the pandemic) that people have said, ‘Screw this, I’ve got something that I have to get off my chest, and I’m going out,’” McGrail, 54, of Doylestown, said.
“And we’ve seen that happen through the riots and demonstrations that have occurred over the last months,” he added.
He believes the odds are “very slim” that he will die as a result of any infection he catches at the impromptu 2nd Street celebration.
“I think, if I got it, I might shake it off,” added McGrail, who usually struts with Froggy Carr, a wench brigade.
He does plan to wear a mask and swipe a few shopping carts so he can create a buffer between himself and other revelers.
Kenney, a long-time Mummer himself, said the parade’s cancellation was disappointing, but he urged people not to attend the unofficial events.
“Certainly, people have a right to protest, and we’ll try to keep them safe,” he told reporters last week. “Just, if they would wear a mask, that would be helpful and not kind of breathe all over each other.”
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley also urged people to stay away Tuesday, as did Regalbuto.
Authorities have indicated they won’t break up the gatherings in South Philadelphia unless they become violent or otherwise threaten public safety.
PHL17 on Monday said it would be broadcasting 13 hours of Mummers-related programming Friday featuring highlights from the last decade of parades.