Mummers Parade 'Hagerstown's little Mardi Gras'

October 31, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

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    HAGERSTOWN -- An estimated crowd of 80,000 swelled the sidewalks of Potomac Street in Hagerstown on Saturday night for the 85th Alsatia Mummers Parade.

    Rain dampened the turnout for the annual celebration, which typically draws about 100,000, Hagerstown Police Department Capt. Mark Holtzman said.

    There were 202 floats, bands and other units, including a dozen mummers, that paraded down the 1.9-mile route over more than three hours, said James McCleaf II, chairman of the parade.

    The number of mummers, people parading individually in costume or wearing masks, increased from last year, McCleaf said.

    Ashley Ferguson, Smithsburg High School's homecoming queen, was chosen as the Alsatia Queen at a ceremony Saturday afternoon at the club's West Washington Street headquarters, McCleaf said.

    Concerned about vandalism around Halloween, members of the Alsatia Club in Hagerstown first organized the parade in 1921 to better occupy the pranksters. It worked and the parade has matured and grown to become what now is billed as the largest nighttime celebration of its kind on the East Coast.


Along the parade route, Lori Oxendine, 32, of Halfway, said she was feeling guilty about not dressing up and parading as a mummer, a costumed or masked character, which traces its beginnings to old England.

"I remember when I was little, there were a lot more mummers," said Oxendine, who sheltered herself from intermittent rain drops by standing beneath the entrance of a downtown building.

What keeps her from being a mummer in the parade?

"It's just more fun to watch," Oxendine said.

Joined by companion Kevin Johnson, Oxendine said this year's parade was her first in a while because she's always had to work.

"It's just tradition," Oxendine said. "It's like Hagerstown's little Mardi Gras."

After the last parade unit passed the judging station about 9:30 p.m. Johnson and Oxendine planned to go home to watch scary movies and eat popcorn.

Dressed as "a nice witch" in a orange star-dotted black dress, Susan Gustafson smiled when she said she doubted she could walk the entire parade route with other mummers.

"I should probably do that sometime ... I don't know," said Gustafson, a parade regular since moving back from California.

Aaron Stotelmyer and Dana Stout, both 17, said they have been regular parade watchers since they were young children.

"It's the only big thing in Hagerstown that everybody comes to," Stotelmyer said. "It's the same thing every year, (but) it's kind of like a ritual -- you have to come."

This year actually was a bit different, at least for Stotelmyer, who brought chairs to sit in at the downtown square.

"I usually walk (the parade route), but I got lazy," said Stotelmyer while the young couple munched on pink and purple cotton candy.

Stout said the parade offered a rare opportunity, declaring there is "never anything to do in Hagerstown."

Stotelmyer and Stout were among many people interviewed Saturday who didn't know what a mummer was.

Oxendine said she learned from reading the newspaper that the tradition stemmed from England.

Dressed as a fairy in a modified wedding dress with wings attached, Vicki Martin of Fairplay dusted passers-by with good wishes.

"It brings out the kid in me," Martin said.

This year's parade dignitaries included state Sen. Donald F. Munson, the parade's grand marshal; Jaime Mason, Washington County Teacher of the Year, and Blaine Young, a radio personality in Frederick, Md., the honorary grand marshals; and an appearance by Miss Maryland Brooke Poklemba.

Holtzman said about 80 officers with the department, along with 10 from the Washington County Sheriff's Department and fire police personnel were deployed for the parade.

"We could not do it without the fire police," said Holtzman, who was in command for his first mummers parade. "We clean the whole house for this one."

"The parade went about as flawless as you can make a Mummers Parade," McCleaf said. "Everybody made it through safely."

Jenna Warren, 58

Winchester, Va.

Jenna Warren said she remembers when she was a student at North Hagerstown High School and marched in the Alsatia Mummers Parade with various clubs.

"I love to come and see the different bands, and to see how the parade has changed over the years," she said.

Warren said she drove to Hagerstown with her daughter, Rondelle Jackson, 38, and a family friend, Eddie Bell. The three visited family while in town.

"I'm originally from here, but I came from Winchester, Va., for the parade," she said. "It's a tradition. I try to come every year."

Brehon Sweeny, 35


The painted pumpkin heads of Brehon Sweeny and his friend, Lucas Johnson, stood out in the crowd at the parade. But even more striking were the materials they chose for their guises. In lieu of traditional costume makeup or face paint, the friends chose acrylics.

"It comes off," Sweeny said. "You just need to scrub really hard."

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