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A mummery read

Photo courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

When it comes to the Mummers, Stephen M. Highsmith knows his stuff. Being the voice of the Mummers Parade for nearly a quarter century helps. Come Jan. 1, he’ll be back in the PHL17 booth setting the mummery scene for viewers.

So, it should come as no surprise that he has a lot of stories to share about the Mummers — many of which can be found in his just released 96-page book “Philadelphia Mummers” (Arcadia Publishing, $22.99).

“I had been told for years that I should write one, and then Arcadia Publishing called in the spring of 2015 and asked me to do so, and the project began immediately,” Highsmith said.

“Philadelphia Mummers” tells the story of modern-day mummery and the expressions of art, freedom, and celebration of thousands of people who come together in the working-class spirit of America’s oldest annual folk parade. The first official Mummers Parade occurred in 1901, but it is an evolving tradition, reflecting both challenges and opportunities of changing times.

The six-chapter paperback offers readers a colorful perspective on mummery, broken down by divisions — Comics, Wenches, Fancies, String Bands and Fancy Brigades. Highsmith focuses on the last 50 years, from 1965 to the present.

“At its foundation [Mummers], are a unique expression of folk art, original to the freedom of expression,” he said. “They’re doing it together. They are there throughout the year for each other. There’s something gained out of spending time together, as a group and producing something creative.”

The Mummers have been strutting on Broad Street for more than a century, yet, not everybody understands what all the mummery is about.

“I think people who aren’t brought up around mummering and don’t live it, have a different idea about what it is and that idea often doesn’t match reality,” Highsmith said.

“Philadelphia Mummers,” which Highsmith said is receiving very favorable feedback, provides a bright perspective on this popular Philadelphia New Year’s Day tradition and all the work that goes into getting ready for the big performances.

“I think it is seen as a fair, big picture view of what Mummery is, who Mummers are and what opportunities and challenges they have,” Highsmith, who is a member of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame, said. SPR

Stephen Highsmith will be signing copies of his book at MummersFest tomorrow night (6 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St.) Copies of the book are available at the Mummers Museum, from arcadiapublishing.com, as well as other online outlets and some local bookstores.

Review Intern Austin Macfadden contributed to this story.

Contact Editor Bill Gelman at bgelman@southphillyreview,com.

Stephen Highsmith‘s book about one of Philadelphia’s oldest traditions was released earlier this month.

Photo courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

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