"I guess it's the competition...you know, they shake hands and all that, then they kill each other? Well, this is something like it."

Wallace.jpeg

Rich Wallace practices his moves for Bill McIntyre's Shooting Stars' 1999 Mummers Parade production.

Photo by Mark Garvin


RICH WALLACE
Position:

Service mechanic, Residential Maintenance
Length of service:
28 years
Other stuff:
Known as "Wally" to his co-workers, he refereed basketball games for 30 years before quitting at age 50.



For a Mummer, New Year's Day is a year-long event. That's because with the demands of preparing for the annual parade - including raising the money to pull it off - there's hardly a day when the members of the string bands, comic clubs, fancy (costume) clubs and fancy brigades aren't involved in some work related to Mummery.

What keeps these people going? As Rich Wallace sees it, it's a combination of camraderie and rivalry - the ties between friends, neighbors and generations that the various Mummers clubs foster, mixed with the thrill of competing against rival clubs for the (admittedly modest) prizes awarded by the Recreation Department each year to the top performers.

And while Mummers now come from all over the region, the tradition is still most closely identified with South Philadelphia, Wallace's home, so it is perhaps no surprise that he eventually got caught up in all the activity.

Q. Which club do you belong to?
A.
I've been a member of Bill McIntyre's Shooting Stars [fancy brigade] since 1983.

Q. How did you find out about it?
A.
Well, a friend of mine's in it. He's a very good friend, we're real good buddies for like 40 years now. And he was in this brigade, and he asked me and another fellow, "Come on down, see what you want."

So the first year, you don't get a costume - you've got to push a float. And that's what we did, and then after that, I said, "I want a costume - this float-pushing's tough." So since then, I've been in the outfits.

Q. The fancy brigades differ from the string bands in that you don't actually have a band playing your music for you, right?
A.
No, we have a tape now. At one time, we used to have a band up at City Hall. And now, with the Convention Center and all that, they discontinued that.

Q. Is it better performing with the tape?
A.
Yes, because you know what the tape's going to do. In fact, the rule is if the tape breaks or malfunctions, nothing counts, they'll pull it out and put the other one in. While the band, if they loused up and you started lousing up, that's your problem.

Q. How many performances a year do you give?
A.
They have what they call the Summer Mummers - it just started, I'd say, around maybe the second term of Rendell. The other thing is, they started this about three or four years ago, a parade down in Wildwood. And it's - it has to be like 30-some guys or more [participating from the brigade]. And some guys can't make it because of other things, but if we have 30 or more, they go down.

Q. Do you have any intention on becoming captain someday?
A.
Nononononono. It's a headache.

Q. Are you one of the people who does the dances?
A.
Last year I was on a float that was 18 feet in the air, like a drum, and I had to dance on it.

Q. Ever had any scary moments performing?
A.
Yeah, but not in front of the judges, though. It's going up Broad Street - I fell two times one year. The outfit was a tough outfit - we were the Night of the Ghouls, I was Beetlejuice ... and every time I went back, [my partner] was tilting back, and he would take me with him. But when we got up in front of the judges' stand, it was something different.

Q. What's the thing you enjoy most about performing in a fancy brigade?
A.
I guess it's the competition. Even though they might be friends of yours, it's just heightened - you know, they shake hands and all that, then they kill each other? Well, this is something like it. You want to beat [your rival] so bad so he don't come back and let you have it. But once a gang wins, you have a tribute to them the following Saturday, like a serenade, you perform in front of them and congratulate them and all that stuff.

Q. What did you think about performing in the Convention Center on New Year's Day?
A.
We tried for the first time this year, and it's fantastic.

Q. The wave of the future.
A.
Yeah, right. I hate to say it, and it ain't even though there are some friends of mine - the older guys [who don't like it]. The younger guys, they like that, because they even said the string bands looked bad compared to us. A lot of [string band members] said, "Well, they outdid us, unbelievable. They were fantastic." I think you perform more in front of a crowd that's into it without freezing. Right now it's only us, but I think in a couple of years, you're going to see string bands in there too.

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Originally published on December 3, 1998