On this page we will look back at life in the city during the war years. Here we will provide the visitor with the stories making the news, what was happening in sports and entertainment, city politics, the social scene and the prominent people at the time. So, check back often for new editions. To share your family or neighborhood stories, please email PhillyWWIyears@gmail.com
TODAY IN PHILADELPHIA – WEDNESDAY JANUARY 1, 1919
A cold lingering rain ushered in the New Year in Philadelphia. However, the rain which began last night, did not stop the people of this city from celebrating. And what grand celebrations they were. For this New Year would be one without war. It started in the early hours of last night where merriment and a care-free carnival atmosphere took hold of the city. The joy was palpable. The war was over, the Spanish Flu had gone and people needed to celebrate. Theaters, restaurants, bars and saloons were filled with revelers. Even the one arm lunchrooms stayed open to accommodate overflow crowds.
At 11:00pm last night a huge crowd assembled at the Liberty Statute outside of City Hall on South Penn Square. Accompanied by brass bands the masses engaged in a rousing community sing as the thousands of voices sung out Christmas songs and patriotic tunes while the great clock in city hall tower ticked toward midnight. When the clock struck midnight an enormous cheer went up from the crowd and the bands began playing the “Star Spangled Banner”. While up from Chestnut Street the sound of 142 strikes of the bell in the tower of Independence Hall could be heard. One strike each for every year of American independence. The festivities in center city continued until dawn.
Philadelphians also brought in the New Year with lunches, dinners and parties all over the city. As with last night, restaurants and places of entertainment will be filled. Nearly every social or fraternal organization is organizing a dinner and dance for its members. And every organization is holding an open house today. All will be welcome but special attention will be given to those wearing military uniforms. The Knights of Columbus, the Y.M.C.A., the Salvation Army and several Jewish organizations are all planning entertainments for soldiers, sailors and marines.
And every soldier, sailor and marine will be treated as a friend or family member and those with two gold bands on the sleeve, showing their service in France, are held in even higher esteem. For those men spent a very different Christmas and New Year’s Day just one year ago and every true American is showing their appreciation to these men for their service and sacrifice.
Not surprisingly, even the downpour could not stop the Mummers from bringing in the New Year in their very special way. The rumor that the parade on Broad Street was cancelled because city councils failed to appropriate prize money for the groups is disputed by Councilman John Baizley, chairman of the committee in charge of the mummers’ parade. Supposedly Councilman Baizley secured the funding last night but by then the clubs found it impossible to field the necessary members to make a favorable showing in comparison to last year’s parade.
The fact that there was no official procession on Broad Street did not mean there was no parade. In fact, there were many parades. Almost every neighborhood had some type of exhibition. These neighborhood affairs generally offered prizes given by various businessmen’s associations.
In South Philadelphia the festivities went on regardless of the steady downpour. There was no one big parade but dozens of small parades moving to and fro between every neighborhood in the downtown district. These parades were much like those of bygone years before the extravaganza moved to Broad Street. At first it was difficult for residents to know when and where the revelers would appear. But word of mouth from the clubs helped to let people know who was coming and where they would be marching. Then the streets would become canopied for blocks with umbrellas as the crowd waited for the shooters. And in South Philadelphia, which is known as the home of the Mummers, no prizes were needed to bring out the marchers. For here they marched for the love of the spectacle.
Twelve clubs in South Philadelphia braved the weather. And some made an effort to march on Broad Street for at least a portion of the usual trek. One was the John G. Biggins club. Over 200 members left their clubhouse at 11th Street & Moyamensing Avenue and marched up Broad Street to Chestnut. Then they turned back to South Philadelphia. The Biggins Club was led by Captain David Hogan who wore a huge cape needing 40 page boys to carry it. The club’s small size this year was due to many of their members still being in France. Biggins did not field floats this year but had dozens of clowns, bands and comedic performers lampooning suffragettes, lady war workers and farmerettes.
Some clubs decided to wait till the afternoon to march in the hope of the weather clearing. The Klein Club was one of those. Over 200 of its members gathered in the clubhouse at 22nd & Tasker Streets to watch the skies. Captain John Keen of Klein had 40 pages waiting for the order to begin the march and carry his cape. Another group was the 350 men of Silver Crown. Captain Michael Quigley explained that he chose to wait because the rain would damage the instruments of the two brass bands accompanying the club. He also noted that his captain’s suit costs $950.00 and having it damaged would be a terrible loss. Silver Crown has marched in every parade since 1877.
Every group that marched included clowns, bands and all manner of comedy routines many mocking the ex-Kaiser and crown price. Every costume on parade was extraordinary, colorful, rich and beautiful. Suffragettes, debutants and lady police (some smoking cigars) were lampooned, as were Scotsmen, cowboys and Indians. And also marching despite the rain were the beautifully dressed “ladies” in their finest ball gowns, furs and ballet attire. The youngest of the female impersonators was 14 year old William Murray of 2112 Morris Street who promises to become a future star of the art.
The participating clubs included John G. Biggans, Silver Crown, Charles H. Klein, Harry B. Wall Association who paraded as goose stepping Huns, the Lobsters who appeared as perfectly dressed “dudes” and the Short Beers. Music was provided by the Trilby String Band, the Meadowlarks String Band, the Federal Band, T.B. Rice Band, the Dickey Band, and the Brewerytown Rubes. And all proudly proclaimed the motto of the mummers “Once a Mummer always a Mummer”.
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