Many Mummer themes in 1976 centered around the U.S. bicentennial

We can’t do this without you

Billy Penn believes local journalism should be free for all, which is why you’ll never see a paywall where an article should be. If you feel the same, will you join us as a member today?

In the year of the U.S. bicentennial, more than 16,000 Mummers strutted down Broad Street as Philly’s famous New Year’s parade celebrated its 75th anniversary.

The event was held three days late, after weather forced its postponement twice in a row for the first time in history (it’s happened a few times since then, per a String Band database).


? Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


Jan. 4 was still chilly, reportedly just under freezing with 25-mph winds. But that didn’t stop the spectacle from drawing a large crowd, estimated by The Philadelphia Inquirer as 800,000 people strong.

The gusty breeze did make it tough for marchers wearing the larger and more elaborate costumes, but they struggled through. Then-Mayor Frank Rizzo stuck it out as the parade marshal despite a broken hip, “riding in front of the string bands on a flatbed truck,” according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

As befits the nation’s 200th anniversary, the parade that year was replete with American history references. Costumes were not supposed to include blackface, thanks to a 1964 court order — though the racist makeup has surfaced several times since, despite troupe leader efforts to stop it — but did include at least one Confederate flag.

Controversy is as much a part of Mummers lore as colorful attire, but the flag, now recognized as a symbol of white supremacy, didn’t seem to make the news, according to a search of the archives.

As part of the city’s commemoration of the bicentennial, the Mummers Museum would open in South Philadelphia later that same year.

Marchers in the Mummers Parade who appear to be cosplaying Union and Confederate soldiers Credit: John Mussoni / WHYY

The “Stars and Bars” standard appeared to be part of a theme taking inspiration from the U.S. Civil War, according to slide film recently digitized and provided by a Billy Penn reader.

The old images show some of the costumes and revelry from 25 years ago, as well as something else: how far cameras have come in a quarter-century. Back then, as evidenced from these pics, getting a good, in-focus shot was far from easy, unlike today.

Scroll down for more pics from the event.

Uncle Sam was everywhere that year, Mummers Parade no exception Credit: John Mussoni / WHYY
Wind made it difficult for large costumed marchers to make it through the Mummers Parade Credit: John Mussoni / WHYY
Spectators lined the sidewalks despite the cold Credit: John Mussoni / WHYY
Some troupes had better luck with the wind than others Credit: John Mussoni / WHYY
It’s unclear what this skit was about, but it does appear to feature a person in colonial dress with others in Indigenous attire. It might not fly in today’s parade. Credit: John Mussoni / WHYY
Getting the focus and exposure right were not easy with slide film Credit: John Mussoni / WHYY
Is this the saddest Christmas tree? Even Charlie Brown did better. Credit: John Mussoni / WHYY