Philly's Mummers test limits of zaniness, taste in 2015 on shortened parade route

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PHILADELPHIA — One marcher, dressed as President Obama, held an "Illegal Aliens Allowed" sign.

Another — wearing an American flag knit cap and red, white and blue costume — offered up his version of the slogan from recent police-shooting protests: "Wench Lives Matter."

Marching Thursday along a route abbreviated by declining membership and soaring costs, Philadelphia's colorfully attired Mummers again rang in the new year by pushing the limits of zaniness and taste.

Twitter, Vine and other social media platforms filled up with pictures and videos of the wildest marchers and comments denouncing the celebrated parade for playing up stereotypes while lacking diversity.

The parade's director, deputy city parks commissioner Leo Dignam, said the city does not condone distasteful costumes or themes but can't automatically remove those marchers because of freedom of speech concerns.

"They certainly like to push the envelope, for sure," he said.

Bands of costumed performers — musicians, wenches, fancies and even a construction worker clown shooting a toilet paper gun — marched south on Broad Street on a mile-long route that reversed usual course and skipped the South Philadelphia neighborhoods considered the birthplace of the 113-year-old parade.

Residents in that part of the city went to the intersection where the parade used to start to protest the changes.

This year's route was only a third of the length of previous years. Organizers said it was designed to consolidate a procession long criticized for straggling and help cut down on police overtime.

The parade's oldest troupe, the Original Trilby String Band, sat out due to a lack of money and members. It's a trend that's rippling through the Philadelphia tradition.

Participation in the parade has declined from 12,000 performers in 2001 to about 8,000 this year in part, organizers said, because the younger generation isn't embracing Mummery the way their older relatives did.

Performers' outfits feature expensive feathers and sequins and many routines include huge props rolled down the street for periodic performances.

Some troupes have become nonprofits and are pursuing grant money to replace the cash prizes the city used to offer.

They've also tried expanding their reach.

About 10 string bands will march for Mardi Gras down Main Street in the city's vibrant Manayunk neighborhood Feb. 22.

Organizers say the free event will give spectators an up close look at the colorfully costumed bands while keeping the Mummers tradition alive.

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