One and a half million people live in Philadelphia. Approximately 10,000 of us, according to Visit Philly, are Mummers. Of those 10,000 Mummers, fewer than 150 walk down Broad Street in the Fancy Division, and all 150 are members of the last remaining such Fancy Club, Golden Sunrise. Founded in 1960, Pennsport-based Golden Sunrise is determined to survive — by opening their clubhouse doors to anyone who’d like to join.
The endangered Fancy Mummer
Fancy Clubs have been part of the Mummers Parade since 1901, when most folks say the event officially kicked off. These clubs are known for — and judged by — their exceedingly elaborate, exceedingly heavy costumes (sorry: suits), which they show off, peacocks-set-to-music-style outside City Hall, before pulling or full-on carrying them from Market to Washington (and often from there to Two Street) as the parade’s first performers on New Year’s Day.
Marching the parade route is what makes Golden Sunrise a Fancy Division, not a Fancy Brigade. Please don’t confuse the two.
Fancy Brigades perform indoors on New Year’s Day at the PA Convention Center. Brigades — Shooting Stars, Satin Slipper, Saturnalian, Jokers — are more Broadway (community dance theater?) than walkers. They also charge for their performances. Unlike the other Mummers divisions, Fancy Brigades avoid the parade route altogether, eliminating an essential rite of passage for every other Mummer, from serious string bandmate to drunken wench. That rite of passage is Broad Street.
Maybe the long walk with a 250-pound getup in tow is what has caused the erosion of the Fancies. Maybe it’s the months of work that goes into each suit. Every Sunday, you’ll find members of Golden Sunrise hammering, measuring, hot gluing — lots of hot gluing — plywood, metal bits, iridescent fabrics and sequins in an old, slightly leaky former slaughterhouse in South Philly. (Cue the Rocky scene, if you must).
The last club to leave the Fancies was Hog Island. They joined the Comics Division. Before them, Oregon converted to Wenches. (Maybe it wasn’t the pre-parade work that made these clubs switch. Maybe it was the fact that you can’t be drinking a 12-pack of Miller Lite while carrying a giant harlequin head over two miles of city streets.)
“Kaos Mas Carnival said they talk about the Mummers when they tell people what they do.” — Mike Carvile, Golden Sunrise
For whatever reason, Golden Sunrise is the only one left doing it. And one relative newcomer to the squad is determined to keep the club afloat — by welcoming other newcomers.
A Fancy Club for everyone
Mike Carwile has belonged to Golden Sunrise for a mere 10 years. He joined after a friend invited him. Now his dad and brother take part.
“It’s a family club, but that doesn’t mean you have to have grown up in the club to be part of it,” he says.
“The more the merrier,” adds Laura Cooney, a Maryland resident who followed her late father into Mummery — and brought her granddaughter along for a Sunday open clubhouse.
A few decades ago, Golden Sunrise had 500 members and 60 entries in the parade. This year, with less than a third the membership, they’ll put up 33 entries, plus one new addition.
Carwile says they’re always on the lookout for new marchers and opportunities. Years ago, members of a nearby Buddhist temple joined Golden Sunrise in the parade. More recently, Carvile collaborated with artist Isaiah Zagar on a 75-pound mosaic costume that The Inquirer called “the most Philly thing ever.”
“I randomly email a lot of people,” says Carwile (who, indeed, randomly emailed The Citizen for this coverage). But his latest collaborator might be his biggest coup — and best fit — yet.
The club has teamed up with Kaos (pronounced “chaos”) Mas Carnival, the band behind the city’s annual Caribbean festival, an all-day gathering of folks from Barbados, Trinidad, St. Vincent and beyond on Father’s Day weekend in Fairmount Park. Kaos Mas also performs throughout the year, when hired or invited.
“These guys got back to me right away,” says Carwile. “They were excited. They said they talk about the Mummers when they tell people what they do.” Oh, Philly.
This spring, Kaos Mas invited Golden Sunrise to join them at the Reading Terminal Market’s Caribbean Heritage Festival. The Mummers showed up in full regalia. The two groups found they had a lot of similarities, starting with fashion sense.
At the end of the clubhouse bar, a table holds a half-dozen brightly feathered and sequined and shiny gold costumes — literally made with the same materials and the same … aesthetic as those belonging to their Mummers brethren and sistren. Of course, the carnival look is more suited to 90-degree days than New Year’s Day.
“They’re a little bit anxious about the cold,” says Carwile.
“We’ll get some warm stuff on, and we’ll take a chance,” says Tony Payne, a Kaos Mas member and Germantown resident by way of Barbados. “We’ll probably come as flowers in a garden.”
Carwile is hoping for sun, little to no wind, and not-too-frigid temperatures. He feels this could be a lasting partnership and maybe the start of more.
“There are so many people out there that would have a great time being part of this that don’t even know that it’s available to them,” he says.
Corrections: A previous version of this post misidentified Golden Sunrise’s inaugural year.
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