Tag Archives: Mummers

Duffy String Band opens 2018 with bittersweet Mummers tear-jerker

On New Year’s Day, we welcomed in 2018 with the usual pomp and celebration here in the United States and around the world.

In my hometown of Philadelphia, PA welcoming in the New Year means one thing above all others. That would be the annual Mummers Parade.

For the uninitiated, the Mummers Parade is one of the greatest spectacles of color, music, dancing, and merriment that you could ever enjoy. The vast majority of it, and the most fun, takes place right out on the streets of Philadelphia.

Mumming, a form of colorful costumed performance, is a tradition that dates at least back to England in the 13th century. In both England and Ireland in the mid-1700’s, costumed Mummer’s plays were put on, and this custom spread to America when we were still just a colony.

The following is from an article for the old Riverfront Mummers written by John Francis Marion back in 2007:

“Local tradition has it that as early as the 1620s the Swedes and Finns in Tinicum – now a southwestern section of the city – celebrated the New Year by shooting off guns (they were often called “the shooters”), banging pots and pans, and making a clamor as they visited neighbors after Christmas.”

By the 18th century, Mummery had come to Philadelphia in the form of street parties and parading around Christmas time. These would merge with other working class celebrations over the next century or so, becoming a celebration of the arrival of the new year.

By the 19th century, city leaders were looking to organize the rowdy New Year’s Day street celebrations. The city pushed for the marchers to organize into groups, each with leaders who would be held responsible for the actions of their individual group.

The first official Mummer’s Parade was held on January 1, 1901. Over the next few decades the costuming and musical presentations became much more elaborate and sophisticated. For the longest time it was racially and sexually segregated, but those traditions (prejudices?) were dropped decades ago.

The parade has grown into an annual signature New Year’s Day celebration on the streets of downtown and South Philly. Part of the celebration, the Fancy Brigades, have even been moved indoors. This allows more intricate and artistic presentations, and also guarantees a show for tourists on January 1, just in case poor weather postpones the rest of the day-long parading.

Many who marched in the Mummer’s Parade passed down the marching tradition to their children. Those traditions have many times resulted in generations of a particular family not only taking part in the parade, but also remaining as staples within a particular organization.

Into this backdrop stepped Jake Kudrick on New Year’s Day. In many ways, Jake is a typical 6th grader. Family, friends, school, video games, TV, music – you know the lifestyle.

His family story is also one that is familiar to many Philly Mummer families. Jake’s dad, Teddy Kudrick, was Captain of the Duffy String Band for the last 32 years. Before that, it was Teddy’s dad, Henry Kunzig, who had captained Duffy for 26 years. Jake has been marching alongside his dad since his first parade, when he was just 11 months old.

On October 19, tragedy struck Duffy and the Kudrick clan when Teddy died suddenly of a massive heart attack at home in Nether Providence Township, Delaware County. He was just 52 years old. You can imagine the emotional devastation that this brought to young Jake and his family.

There was a funeral, and the many arrangements that requires. And then perhaps the hardest thing of all, an attempt to return to life. To get back into school and activities and friends, all while dealing with the sudden hole in your family and your life.

As a practical matter, Duffy had a sudden problem as well. Their leader was gone, and the Mummer’s Parade was right around the corner. As with every Mummer’s club, there is an officer hierarchy. A decision had to be made as to whether they would march at all. And if so, who, if anyone, would captain the club in Teddy’s place?

Teddy was always going to have Jake be the successor, I guess you can say, to the throne,” club president Charlie Kochensky told Rick Kauffman of the Delaware County Daily Times. “But we expected two or three more years when Jakey was a little taller.

Duffy made the decision to march. Not only that, but the club also decided to continue the tradition and pass the captaincy down to Jake, who was serving an apprenticeship as co-captain. He would step into his Dad’s role, and thus become the youngest string band Captain in Mummer’s Parade history.

“I know he would rather still be co-captain, and still have his dad with him, but I think he’s going to surprise some people with how he’s able to pull this off,” Jake’s mother, Colleen Kudrick, told Kauffman.

Not only did Jake pull it off, he wowed the crowd at City Hall, as well as everyone watching Duffy’s performance on television. He truly led the club during their “Wiz Wit” presentation, exhibiting the showmanship and leadership required of every good captain. 

As the performance ended, Jake threw his hands into the air in celebration, a wide smile bursting across his face. The crowd roared in appreciation, and the band marched proudly off, knowing they had done Teddy’s memory well.

But Jake wasn’t finished. He took a bouquet of flowers over to a box painted onto the street, and laid it down in a final touching memorial to his father. 

The realization of what just happened began to wash over him, and as Jake turned to walk off the staging area he began to break down in tears, overwhelmed by the moment. Anyone who was watching and who knew the circumstances was sharing in those tears. It was genuinely incredible and emotional. 

Back at the Duffy clubhouse, word was received that they had finished in 9th place. This marked the first Top 10 finish for the club in anyone’s memory. And young Jake? He tied for 4th place Captain in a category populated with veterans having decades of parading experience.

If you want to see someone his age with the moxie he has, you’re going to have to go a long way to find another one like him,” said Kochensky per Kauffman. 

And even though we’re just a couple of days in, the year 2018 is going to have to go a long ways to find a bittersweet tear-jerker to match the moment provided by Jake Kudrick and the Duffy String Band on New Year’s Day.

The Good Old Days

Do you know that weird sensation of connection to your roots that you often feel when you see an old family member, friend, lover, teammate, or co-worker for the first time in years, maybe even decades?

Depending on the circumstances of your meet, it sometimes doesn’t hit you until later. But almost always we go through that exercise in mental nostalgia which carries us back to those younger days and the experiences that we shared with this individual.

The innocent memories of childhood. The fun times of high school or college. The struggles and amusement involved in our early work years. The thrills of victory and the agonies of defeat on sporting fields.

The life, death, and love of family. Sometimes that person is linked to another person, or a group of others, and our memories will branch off towards those folks.

Well these types of memories and feelings have been happening to me more and more lately thanks to the social networking website called Facebook. I have stumbled across more family members and old friends on the internet thanks to this popular behemoth than I could ever have imagined.

People who I worked with years ago. Those who I hung out with on the corners of South Philly as a youth. Some who I played ball with as an adult. And being a police officer for the past 19 years there are cops, both old and new acquaintances. Lots of cops. The site allows you to mentally catch-up with these people.

We share small biographies of what we’ve been up to, photos of our family members and friends, videos of some of our life experiences, music and other media that we enjoy, and conversations with one another and each other.

These meetings of late have also driven home another point to me as well. My own memories of what is classically referred to as ‘the good old days’ are truly long gone.

For me those days would take me back to my childhood and teenage years growing up in the 2nd Street neighborhood of South Philly during the 1960’s and particularly the 1970’s.

‘Two Street’, as some know it, is a stretch of south 2nd Street beginning around Washington Avenue and continuing south to Oregon Avenue. This is approximately a twenty block stretch bordered on the east by the homes on and around Front Street and on the west arguably by somewhere around 4th or 5th Street, depending on how far south you are.

The area is a Mummers kingdom, the home to these merry men and women who star in Philly’s iconic New Year’s Day parade. Many of the clubs have their headquarters on 2nd Street or just off it, and you can’t walk a half block without tripping over any number of residents who participate in the parade in some way.

The times when I grew up there were the days of Vietnam, Woodstock, Watergate, Apollo, SNL, Nixon, Ford, Carter, disco, gasoline rationing, and the ever-looming threat of a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia that was known as ‘The Cold War’.

But when your age is still in the single digits, and even into your pre-teen and early teen years, most of these big stories are simply not affecting your life as you know it. Your life at those ages is filled with things like family and school, sports teams and friends, movies and music. Eventually as we emerge into puberty we become preoccupied with the opposite sex.

In my life, family was big, and there was a simple reason for it: geography. My grandparents were all raised in South Philly, and in those days you pretty much settled and raised your families in the same neighborhood where you started. Thus my parents and their siblings, my aunts and uncles, were all raised there as well.

Most of that living and raising took place in a small stretch of no more than a half mile. Within those five blocks or so lived my own little family of myself, my younger brother Mike, my mom Marie, and my dad Matthew.

We lived on the tiny 2300 block of south American Street, which would serve decades later as the backdrop for a scene in the film ‘Invincible’ about former Philadelphia Eagle Vince Papale.

Those scenes where Papale plays a rough version of schoolyard lot football? They were real. I can’t tell you how many dozens if not hundreds of such football games that I participated in over the years on the school yards, playgrounds and rec centers around Two Street. From ‘touch’ football to ‘rough touch’ and even tackle football on grass or when it snowed heavily.

My dad had two sisters, and my mom had one brother, and they and their families also lived in South Philly. The LoBiondo family of my Aunt Bobbie lived just two blocks away. The Piernock family of my Aunt Pat lived about five blocks away.

The Gilmore family of my Uncle Ray lived a bit further away but still in South Philly. My Uncle Ray Gilmore, my mom’s brother, was a DJ with the old AM radio king WIBG which was known in those days as simply ‘Wibbage’.

His career opportunities in radio eventually saw him become one of the first to leave the old neighborhood, first for the New York area, and then eventually on to Boston. But my mom stilled had many other family members, aunts, uncles and cousins, living all along 2nd Street.

One of the regular joys in those days was on New Years Day, when most of the parade groups returned to their clubhouses along Two Street and would parade down the length, serenading their fans and family members.

The tradition remains today as a mini version of the full-scale parade that took place along Broad Street, and has a ‘Mardi Gras’ feel with costumed revelers jamming the streets.

In my own good old days we had two family spots along the parade route that gave us a front row seat to these festivities. My mom’s Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen lived right on 3rd Street at Cantrell, where the parade came right past their front door, and my dad’s sister Bobbie lived just off 3rd & Jackson.

Both families always had open house parties on those days, and we got to enjoy the parade, family reunions, and good food and drink. These gatherings were like familial glue in my youth, allowing my dad’s family at Jackson Street and my mom’s family at Cantrell Street to be together in a fun setting year after year.

My brother Mike and I would jockey back and forth between the two houses, saying the requisite hello’s to our aunts and uncles and then hanging out with our cousins. This was the essence of Two Street: sitting on the front porches and stoops, hanging on the corners, family, friends, Mummers, and all of it made possible, or at least far easier, by the simple geography of proximity.

A third story on American Street?

I grew up in a traditional, small South Philly rowhouse in the 2300 block of south American Street. Our block was one of the few in our working-class rowhouse neighborhood that had houses on only one side of the street.

Our houses were situated on the east side of the block, between Wolf and Ritner Streets. On the west side was Our Lady of Mount Carmel church and school.

The neighborhood eventually became known to some as ‘Whitman’ and it led into the next neighborhood north known as ‘Pennsport‘, but nobody from down there used those names. To us, and to those in the other South Philly neighborhoods, we were ‘Second Streeters‘ (some call us “Two Street”) the name owing to 2nd Street which ran through the neighborhood and was home to many of the Mummer’s Parade clubs who maintained their headquarters facilities along the street.

For those neanderthals not familiar, the Mummers are the thousands who parade each year on New Year’s Day through the streets of Philadelphia in what is a cultural phenomenon of our town. But that topic for another day.

Down on 2nd Street, the families were mostly white. Many were of Irish ancestry, with some Germans and Polish mixed in as well. South Philly is largely known for it’s Italian community, but they were further west from us. There weren’t too many Italians down on 2nd Street.

So back to the topic of this blog post: A third story on American Street. Our block was, and still is for the most part, a long block of two-story homes with peaked roofs in front. It is a kind of signature to the block and a couple of others around that area.

But some one has committed a travesty, and they have done it right in my old house! They put a third story on American Street (see picture), and man does it look out of place.

Now those houses are small, so I absolutely understand the idea of wanting more space. Growing up in that house, we had a first floor living room of moderate size that led into a smallish kitchen, big enough to keep a kitchen table for the family to eat around, some cabinets, and your appliances, sink, etc. A door in the back of the kitchen led directly out into a small concrete yard.

Upstairs on the second floor, there were three smallish bedrooms. The main bedroom was in the front of the house, looking out on American Street. That was, of course, the parents room. It was my parents bedroom for years, it became my own room during my first marriage, and was my Mom’s room in the 1990’s.

There was a small middle bedroom without windows, but with a skylight, and then a small back bedroom that on our block looked out over the rear schoolyard of the public Sharswood School. In between these was a smallish bathroom. Enough space for a tub, toilet, sink, and a small closet.

If you haven’t caught on to the key word here to describe the house, it is ‘small’. But it was just the right size for a young family starting out, which is what it was meant to be in the first place. My parents bought the house in 1960, and the house remained in our hands for the better part of the next four decades. It stayed in our hands through divorce, illness, child-rearing, and death.

My dad started to fix it up back in the early 1970’s, and was doing a pretty good job, when my mom’s illness and their ultimate divorce put a halt to that effort. The next real effort at fixing it up came after my mom’s death in 1998, when my brother did some work there to prepare it for sale.

We used to order pizza on many a Friday night when we still lived there as a family back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s from a place called Celebre’s (still serving South Philly to this day), and my dad, brother and I all did it one more time for old time’s sake before the place finally sold around 2000 or 2001.

My understanding is that this is the second owner since we sold it, and as far as I am concerned they may have gained more space, but they have taken a huge bite out of the character of American Street. With one little third story addition, they have shown me that truly you often can’t go home again even if you wanted to.

Our block of American Street was used for filming scenes of the movie Invincible, the Mark Wahlberg underdog story of Philadelphia Eagles receiver Vince Papale. In the film, Papale’s father’s home is just two doors from my boyhood one, and you can see our old porch and the look down-the-block that I grew up viewing on an everyday basis. It’s nice to have that preserved in a major motion picture.

If you ever decide to stop down to 2nd Street, and ride over to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel at 3rd & Wolf Streets, you will find American Street just to the east of the church. A tiny street that is tough to turn down and drive on if you’re not used to it.

You won’t be able to miss the monstrosity of which I speak, the now 3-story home in the middle of the block. What was my childhood home, and the childhood home to my kids, is gone, and so is the character of my little, lovely block. It now just lives on forever in my memories.