Mum’s the Word

On our only Saturday in Philly, I woke up early. B had gone to sleep late, so I showered and left without stirring him. Whether because of the hour (past nine, mind you) or the area I strolled through, almost no one was out to admire the city streets with me. I walked in the sunshine from the Kimmel Center to the Mummers Museum, which is in the southeastern corner of the city.

I had decided to visit the museum because it’s a tradition that’s uniquely Philadelphian, and I had somehow missed it during my four years living there. Turns out that I had a whopper of a misconception about the Mummers. I was right that they’re a group of people who have one giant parade and hootenanny on January 1st of every year. But, somehow, I thought that they were a small religious group, like the Amish or the Quakers. In fact, there is nothing religious about the Mummers. They’re actually more like the Elks or the American Legion: a largely-male club that meets regularly. During these gatherings, they come up with themes, brainstorm costumes, build elaborate floats, and practice walking in formation – all to get ready for the one-day extravaganza that is New Year’s Day.  The museum showcases all of this prep for the meticulously-orchestrated parade. The displays provide about an hour of entertainment, and you don’t have to have seen one of the Parades to appreciate it.Mummers Museum

When I first arrived, a woman greeted me at the entrance to the museum, asking if I was there for the wedding. I was wearing jeans and a shirt on the nicer side of casual, so I shook my head no with confusion. She apologized, saying that her museum greeter had called in sick last minute, and she explained the best path through the museum. Then, off she went to help the vendors setting up for a wedding in the room they must rent out for events. I made my way through the museum, watching the videos, admiring the elaborate displays, pushing buttons, and trying on a hat or two. 

When I was done, I returned to the lobby and saw the woman again. She stopped me to tell me a funny story. A couple had came in to the museum – clearly from out of town – asking if this was, in fact, the Mummer Museum. Yes, she replied, it’s the Mummer Museum. “You’re sure?”, the visitor asked. “Mummer?” Increasingly confused, the manager lady said, “Yes, that’s right.” After a few more Abbott-and-Costello-lines back and forth, it turned out that this couple was looking for the Mutter Museum. The manager lady cracked up as she recounted this anecdote, taking for granted that I would get the joke, because she assumed that I was a local. And I did get it, laughing along with her at the confusion of the tourists. You see, the Mutter is a Philadelphia museum about medical oddities, and it’s clear on the other side of the city!

It wasn’t that funny of a joke, I know, but it was nice to feel like I was home – if only for a few minutes.

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