RIDLEY TOWNSHIP — When it comes to Mummers Mania, it’s all in the family for the Moran Family.
Joe Moran of Ridley Township is set to perform with the South Philadelphia String Band on New Year’s Day in the 120th Mummers Day Parade, along with his father, Joe Mora, Sr., his brother Michael Moran, his cousin Jimmy Moran, and other cousins. Joe’s son, Aidan Moran, 17, a junior at Ridley High School, who has been marching almost as long as he’s been able to walk, is also gearing up for his strut down Broad Street. The family’s long-standing tradition in the South Philadelphia String Band, established in 1946, was started by Joe Moran’s grandfather, the late James “Shoes” Moran and his great uncle, the late James Moran. Although many family members have relocated to the suburbs, all were born and raised in South Philadelphia, the traditional home of many of the Mummers.
As if that’s not enough Mummery in one family, Joe’s wife, Kelly Anderson Moran is also from a family of Mummers. Her family members are affiliated with the Woodland String Band. Kelly’s dad, David Anderson of Springfield, a former captain of Woodland from 1994-2005, will march and play alto saxophone in the 2020 parade. Anderson has marched in 65 parades. His father, the late David Anderson Sr., was also a former captain of Woodland String Band, as was his grandfather David "Pop" Anderson. His grandfather’s cousin Frank Allison was also in Woodland String Band, but is now a retired member of the band. The Anderson family, also now dispersed in city and suburbs, were all born and bred in Southwest Philadelphia, where the original Woodland String Band clubhouse was located on Woodland Avenue. Their club house has since moved to 2nd Street in South Philadelphia.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would not only marry a Mummer but have a son who adores it as much as my dad and husband do,” Kelly smiled. “It’s definitely in the blood!”
This will be the 36th year that Joe Moran will march and play baritone saxophone in the Mummers Parade and 59 years for his father, Joe, who has played drums for 29 of those years. Aidan Moran’s first parade was in 2005 at age 3. He marched in costume with Woodland String Band as their mascot. It was a tribute to his grandfather Captain Dave Anderson’s 50th parade. It was his only year marching with Woodland. Aidan has been marching with South Philadelphia String Band for nine years, with his first six years as a marshal and the past three years in costume as a playing member on alto saxophone. He has been a dancer for the past two years and will be a featured dancer at the front of the band in the 2020 parade.
The South Philadelphia String Band will have a twisted carnival theme this year, with costumes that will include a peanut suit, a balloon clown, ticket taker, Zolar, carousel horse, a strong man and other carnival-themed outfits. The theme will be enhanced with dancing bears and other music that will include Disney songs and carnival music. Moran said it costs about $150,000 with costumes and props to put the band on the street New Year's Day. The South Philadelphia String Band has about 85 crew members and 65 playing members.
“We’re judged in three areas: music, drill and costume. The costumes speak for themselves, but the choreography and drill really take a lot to perfect,” Joe explained. “The music comes first and foremost. It’s like taking an entire orchestra and moving it three-and-a-half miles up the street.”
The South Philadelphia String Band is on the schedule to perform at 1:30 p.m. and will have the spotlight for only 4 minutes and 30 seconds to impress the judges.
"I always get butterflies,” Joe confessed, “but I do get a little more comfortable with every passing year."
"I always get a little nervous,” Aidan admitted, “But that's what makes it fun!"
The South Philadelphia String Band, currently under the leadership of Captain Denny Palandro Sr., must know how to impress. The string band has earned the championship five times. Last year, South Philadelphia String Band placed second in the String Band division, and Palandro placed second in the Captain division.
When asked what has changed through the years, either for better or worse, Joe was quick to answer.
"Wheels allowed on props was a game changer, and each year brings bigger shows and more impressive routines,” he said.
The Mummers Parade participants come from more than 40 organized clubs, split into five categories – Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies, String Bands and the Fancy Brigades. After they’ve displayed their floats, costumes, dances and music, the Comics, Fancies and String Bands, who are based in South Philadelphia, head down to Second Street – known as “Two Street” – south of Washington Avenue to spend the rest of New Year’s Day and night in hearty revelry with the crowds that follow them there.
The crowd has grown larger, year after year, with estimates sometimes gauged to be over a million spectators. The parade route begins at City Hall and heads south on Broad Street, ending at Washington Avenue. Throngs of people of all ages will be lined up, watching, strutting and cheering every step of the way. While the performers put on a show throughout the entire route, three special performance areas are designated along South Broad Street, also known as the Avenue of the Arts. Judging takes place at 15th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard. But it’s the crowds of people who motivate the Mummers to perform at their optimal best.
"When I first hear the crowd cheering before the performance, I get a rush of adrenaline,” Aidan stated. “There is nothing better than an energetic crowd that almost becomes a part of the band."
"It doesn't matter where we march,” Joe said, when asked his opinion about this year’s route. “It's all about the brotherhood. The people will be there to watch and enjoy the parade regardless of where we march."
Aidan couldn’t agree more about the brotherhood that comes from being a devoted member of the String Band.
"The String Band has become a second family to me,” Aidan stated. “I come back every year to celebrate the New Year with my ‘brothers’.”
The Morans get to the South Philadelphia String Band Clubhouse at 5 a.m. New Year’s Day. They rarely go out on New Year’s Eve because they have to be at their peak for the big day’s activities and performance. With her son, husband, dad and numerous other friends and relatives in the annual parade, Kelly is always there, cheering them on, along with her two daughters, Hailey Moran and Ashley Anderson.
“Being the daughter and granddaughter of Mummers, I do not think I ever went out on New Year’s Eve with my family while growing up,” laughed Kelly. “Most years, we were in bed by 10 p.m., although I did watch the ball drop a few years. In my early 20s, I became a little rebellious and enjoyed New Year’s Eve out with friends but still wanted to get up bright and early to see my family off on Broad St on New Year’s morning. I could not imagine not being there to wish my Dad good luck.
"We still turn in pretty early on New Year’s Eve but the past few years we have started getting together with our kids and some friends and their families at a friend’s house to enjoy some fun time before the big day!”
What does the Moran family do the other 364 days of the year, when it’s not New Year’s Day? Joe Moran is a supply chain manager at Asplundh Tree Expert Company. Kelly Moran runs the successful www.delcodealdiva.com website and other Delco Deal Diva social media, which offer product reviews, coupons and deals, event listings and more.
Aidan keeps busy at school, where he’s vice president of his junior class, a member of the Ridley High School Swim Team, a lifeguard at the Ridley YMCA and, in the summer, a lifeguard at the Ridley Township Swim Club.
The senior Joe Moran is retired from DuPont Marshall Lab where he worked as a maintenance planner scheduler. David Anderson is a retired truck driver for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
But it’s Mummers, Mummers and more Mummers that overshadow and infiltrate almost every aspect of their lives. The Moran men practice weekly on Tuesday evenings all year long. Starting around September or October, practices become two to three times per week until the moment comes to shine on New Year’s Day.
“In the days leading up to January 1st, the club is staffed night and day with band members working on costumes, props and other behind-the-scenes details,” explained Kelly.
Band members are required to attend parades and band jobs throughout the year, she said. String Band members also sell various chances and host events that help raise funds for the band’s costumes and props.
Additionally, the String Band raises funds by performing at weddings, parades, outdoor concerts and private events all year long.
Although the Mummers are part of the Morans’ and Andersons’ DNA, Kelly is quick to point out that she and Joe did not meet through their affiliation with the String Bands or Mummers.
“It wasn’t long after we met, that we soon found out just how much we had in common by both being raised in String Band families,” Kelly explained. “It's no wonder our son fell in love with the tradition when he was just a toddler. It really is hard to understand if you were not born into Mummery. It's not your typical hobby. It is more like a job. The bands work year round, January to January, to put their productions on the street. It takes a lot of time and sacrifices to make the magic happen. Most people do not realize all of the time and commitment that goes into this tradition. Wives and children who are not members themselves must be patient, supportive and extremely understanding. Families make a lot of sacrifices, especially close to the holidays so that our Mummers can prepare for their big day. But there are so many good things about being a part of the Mummers. I truly adore how the String Band is a place where my husband and son get to spend together.”
This year’s parade will have more than 10,000 people participating, braving the cold temperatures and volunteering their time and talents so others can enjoy a Philadelphia tradition that countless people have come to know and love. Why do they do it, year after year?
“It’s about family, friends, tradition and camaraderie, and we’re going to keep on going,” Joe said proudly.
“The String Band is a brotherhood,” Kelly stated. “These members and their wives and children are one big family. They support each other in good times and bad. They are there for one another no matter what. And despite the competitive nature of New Year's Day performances from band to band, division to division, all of the Mummers have a very special bond. Any mummer would agree - this makes them all one big family, not just on New Year’s Day, but all throughout the year. It's the same bond our grandfathers shared with their dads and the same bond Joe shared with his dad and my dad shared with his dad. I know none of them would change it for the world.”