Local organizations gear up for storied Mummers Parade
Each year, thousands of spectators line Potomac Street in Hagerstown to watch bands, dancers, floats, costumed mummers and other entertaining features at the Alsatia Mummers Parade.
Beginning in 1925, the parade is known as one of the oldest night-time parades in the nation and among the largest night-time Halloween parade on the East Coast.
The 94th Alsatia Mummers Parade will take place Saturday, Oct. 26, at 6 p.m. Viewing is available most places along the Potomac Street route, and tickets are available for purchase for arranged seating through The Maryland Theatre box office.
While many acts in the parade march or dance along the route, dignitaries and pageant queens ride along waving from convertibles. Still, others craft floats — some simple, others elaborate — for display and judging as they pass along the festive thoroughfare.
Those who craft floats do so for publicity, awareness, community involvement, and sometimes just for fun.
City Ballet School in Hagerstown has participated in the parade for a few years, earning honors including the 2017 first prize for Organized Body and third prize for Amateur Float. Parent volunteer Jen Waters said having a float in the parade is “a great way to spread the word about the school and all the great things they do.”
“It’s also something fun for all the dancers to be a part of,” she said.
The group has become more organized in its float-making efforts with each year of participation. The first year, organizers borrowed a flatbed truck from someone they knew. The last couple of years, D.M. Bowman provided one.
Once they secured a base for the float, she said, “it was just everybody coming together kind of brainstorming the best ways to do it.”
The group met to decorate the float in the parking lot at Long Meadow Shopping Center. Some parents brought carpet remnants to put down, others had tulle and strings of white Christmas lights. Another had a generator.
“Honestly, that first year, everybody was standing around going, ‘OK. Let’s try this.’ We were able to piece everything together. As the years have gone on, we know what we need to do,” she said.
More than 40 dancers typically take part. Themes have included “The Nutcracker,” which City Ballet School presents each December at The Maryland Theatre, and “Peter Pan,” which it staged for a 2017 spring performance.
“The Nutcracker” floats featured some of the ballet’s characters, including Clara, party boys and girls, soldiers, mice and baby mice.
“One year, we had mice and soldiers walking alongside the float, then Clara and the dewdrops on the float. We also pick out scenes from the ballet, like the battle scene, and try to make sure we have parts for our littlest dancers,” Waters said.
Props such as a sleigh, a cannon, a Christmas tree, and presents are readily available to organizers, as City Ballet has them on hand for performances.
“We are fortunate that all we have to do is pull them out,” she said.
On the other hand, costumes and props must be in top condition for use in shows, so the outdoor setting of the parade can present an obstacle. Last year, the group opted not to participate as there were heavy rains.
This year, dancers plan to be out promoting “The Spell,” the world premiere full-length story ballet collaboration of City Ballet School and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra scheduled at The Maryland Theatre in May.
“Hopefully the weather will hold out and we can give a little sneak peek,” Waters said.
Michael Bair, drama teacher at Boonsboro High School, also encountered the challenge presented by rain as his crew of first-time Mummers participants crafted a float last year. The group was in the process of raising funds for a two-week trip to Scotland to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe during July and August 2018.
“We needed to have a little more visibility in the community because we were the only school in Maryland going. We wanted to put that out there as a representation of what we were getting ready to do,” Bair said.
D.M. Bowman also donated a truck for use by the Boonsboro group.
“We spent probably six hours preparing on site, not including the time back at the school building, painting, designing it. It was a long day,” Bair said.
The group had lights, a fog machine and other electronics. Though the original design did not include a roof, because of the heavy downpours, the group ran across the street to Lowe’s for materials to craft one.
“We had wooden set pieces. We used a series of wooden steps at the bottom of our stage back to back, we staggered characters by height, and built a frame around all that,” he said. “We stretched a tarp and stapled that all in.”
Once the shelter was in place, the lighting effects reflecting off of the tarp within the enclosure added an unexpected flair to the Macbeth-themed float, Bair said. Along with dancers who walked the route, the float featured three scenes – one with witches, another of MacBeth fighting, and another with Lady Macbeth trying to wring blood from her hands. Then the crew ran into another snafu.
“We ran out of gas in the generator (powering our sound and lighting systems),” Bair said laughing. “My wife had to meet us halfway along the parade route with a 5-gallon gas can so we could start the generator again. You think you have taken care of everything then you run out of gas. But you know, ultimately, it was fun.”
The float, which Bair said was constructed by students, won first prize for School Floats and second prize for Dance.
“It’s funny. We weren’t trying to win. It kind of shocked us, because that was never our goal,” he said. “It was a great thing for the kids. They were more than slightly proud.”
John Feeley, Cub Master for Cub Scout Pack 23 in Funkstown, said his group typically participates in the parade each year.
“I’ve been involved in the unit since about 2008 and we’ve participated in the parade ever since then at least,” he said. “We don’t always get first-place, but we usually get a second- or third-place trophy or something of that nature. Sometimes we win for Organized Body.”
Feeley, who has two sons who were in Cub Scouts and moved on to another Funkstown troop, said the Cub Scouts used a flatbed for a couple of years then evolved to a tractor-trailer.
“One year we decorated it like one of the spacecraft from ‘Star Wars,’ some sort of spaceship from the movie,” he said. “We’ve done a haunted-type theme, a hayride theme.”
Last year, the group went with a traditional American backyard idea, he said, building a house with a fence and benches.
“It was just like your backyard would be decorated up for the Fourth of July or Memorial Day, just to salute your country,” he said.
This year, the pack plans to use many of the same materials as last year in making a spooky scene with gravestones, a black fence, fog and eerie music. As pack members are ages 5 to 11, the float will be “spooky but not scary to the point that the Scouts don’t want to be involved,” Feeley said.
“(The Mummers Parade) seems to be kind of a staple in our community and we are happy to be involved in it.”
Top photo: The 92nd Alsatia Mummers Parade on Potomac Street in Hagerstown in 2017. (Herald-Mail file photo)