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Mummers' Parade to march on

June 10, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

HAGERSTOWN

laurae@herald-mail.com

Organizers of the annual Alsatia Mummers' Parade in Hagerstown recently talked about disbanding because of dwindling finances and advancing age.

Instead, Alsatia Club members said, they chose to rally and preserve the 80-year-old Hagerstown event.

"We think it's important for the community and it's a tradition we just don't want to give up," said Will Seilhamer, vice president of the club that puts on the parade.

However, the Oct. 30 parade will be scaled back from previous years unless more people are willing to give time and money to keep the event going strong, club members said.

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The biggest and most controversial change being made is the elimination of $8,500 in cash prizes normally awarded, parade Chairman James McCleaf said.

An independent, professional panel will still judge the parade, with winners receiving trophies instead of money, he said.

Cash prizes will be restored in future years if organizers can find corporate sponsors to pick up the cost, or if the change keeps too many bands away.

The change shouldn't deter participation of marching bands in Washington County, who were not eligible for prizes.

The Alsatia Club, which was founded in Hagerstown in 1911, started holding the parade as a way to keep kids out of trouble during the Halloween season.

It grew into what organizers say is the largest nighttime parade on the East Coast.

In recent years, the club has seen a drop in membership from the heydeys of the 1940s and 1950s, said Marvin House, club secretary and unofficial historian.

There are about 220 members, about 50 of whom are active, he said.

The average age has crept up to about 58, which is making the physical work of the parade - setting up bleachers and chairs - more burdensome, he said.

It takes a lot of people to pull off an event that involves about 10,000 parade participants and 50,000 spectators. There are more than 30 subcommittees in charge of everything from concessions to portable toilets, members said.

Money has also become a big issue as revenues from ticket sales have declined, members said.

Two years ago the parade lost money. This year, the parade started with about $2,000 in the bank, which is just a fraction of the $34,000 operating budget, McCleaf said.

The club has been trying to get the Internal Revenue Service to declare them a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, which would allow people to give tax-deductible donations, he said.

It's also planning to seek more corporate sponsorships. Sale of the naming rights to the parade isn't out of the question, club members said.

In a shift to the parade's roots, organizers are trying to recruit more mummers - people in special dress - for the parade that in recent years has been centered around floats and bands, members said.

The club is facing its own financial woes and can't afford to subsidize the parade, members said.

The club just took out a home-equity loan to make $30,000 in needed repairs to the roof and other portions of its headquarters at 141 W. Washington St., Seilhamer said.

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