Sequins, traditions strut on this year

Palma Lucas (left) sews a costume for the Golden Sunrise New Year’s Association. Lucas is the board member and chief costumer of the group. John Lucas (right) is the treasurer of the Golden Sunrise and has been a member since 1971. Brianna Spause | TTN
Palma Lucas (left) sews a costume for the Golden Sunrise New Year’s Association. Lucas is the board member and chief costumer of the group. John Lucas (right) is the treasurer of the Golden Sunrise and has been a member since 1971. Brianna Spause | TTN

Golden Sunrise New Year’s Association is the last remaining member of the Fancy Division in the Philadelphia Mummers Association.

The volunteer organization that has operated out of South Philadelphia since 1960 will continue to proudly perform the Broad Street Strut in the 2015 New Years Day parade, despite the need to turn the competition inward.

From inside, the Golden Sunrise New Year’s Association clubhouse on Greenwich Street was bursting at the seams with fabric and feathers. Members of Golden Sunrise set to work on a Saturday morning – 2015 is rapidly approaching, and for the last remaining member of the Fancy Division in the Philadelphia Mummers Association, the list of things left to sew seemed to never end.

“We’re the only ones left,” John Lucas, treasurer and member of Golden Sunrise since 1971, said. “There is no Fancy Division anymore. We’re competing amongst ourselves.”

“That happens anyway,” second year member, Amanda Eisenberg added, looking up from the Rock Lobster suit she was hot gluing.

With the switch of age-old competitor Hog Island from the Fancy to Comic division last year has secured a permanent place for the Mummers Cup in Golden Sunrise’s collection.

“The captain has already won first prize and he hasn’t even built the suit yet,” John Lucas said.

The city of Philadelphia began hosting its own brand of Mardi Gras since 1901. The Mummers Parade has served as a competition amongst neighborhood organizations. Every year crowds of more than 10,000 flood to the city to spectate.

Golden Sunrise’s role as a fancy club is to serve as the aesthetic highlight as it struts large floats and ornate frame suits down Broad Street, and then over to “Two Street” for the unofficial after-party parade. It isn’t merely going through the motions, Lucas said, “it’s what you make of it,” and Golden Sunrise plans to keep the tradition alive despite slimming numbers.

“We’re not the only division that has changed,” President Jack Cohen said. “We’re the last Mohicans standing so to speak in the division, but string band division was at one point 27 string bands and now it’s 17. All of the divisions have lost clubs because of the economics.”

It’s a labor of love, Palma Lucas, board member and chief costumer, said. To offset the cost of putting the production out on the street – it traditionally exceeds $10,000 – Golden Sunrise attempts to cut costs by recycling materials and costumes each year.

Golden Sunrise has the lowest membership dues around, Palma Lucas said. But recently, the cost was hiked to $135 in efforts to keep the troupe afloat.

In order to secure the funds for the 2016 parade and to make desperately needed improvements on the plumbing system of the clubhouse, Golden Sunrise turned to the crowd-funding site Indiegogo to raise $28,000. Through fundraising efforts, the organization hopes to avoid a grim future.

“It’s scary,” Palma Lucas said. “If we can’t keep raising the money and keeping people interested to come and do the work then we’ll disappear.”

“We never really had to do anything, financially we were always in good shape,” John Lucas said.

When he and Palma Lucas joined Golden Sunrise, the married couple embarked on an adventure that was soaked in community and citywide support.

In 2008, Mayor Nutter announced that the city would only supply $300,000 for the annual parade. This price cut eliminated the prize money for all mummers divisions and left the whole organization $40,000 short of what it costs to put on the show.

“That was the year I was petrified that there wasn’t going to be any more Mummers Parades,” Palma Lucas said. “Not with that kind of money coming out. My first great-granddaughter was born that year and I stuck her in the captain’s suit. I had already made her a suit and I wanted her to have the chance to be a part of something beautiful.”

The second radical change this year is the reduction of the parade route and the cutting of costs by more than half. All divisions will be judged before they march in the parade, meaning the commotion will begin at 15th Street and JFK Boulevard and then march south of Broad Street to Washington Avenue.

 “The reason for change is they’re hoping if they concentrate just on the Center City area, they’ll get more people in a more confined area,” Cohen said. “It’s a shorter parade so we save on costs in terms of police and sanitation costs.”

For Golden Sunrise, it has been a year of immense change. The distinction as the last club keeping the Fancy Division tradition alive has not hindered the club, but rather instilled a sense of renewed ownership in the parade as a source of joy for it’s audience.

“Last year we won first place, so we have the trophy – and now it’s ours,” Cohen said. “Instead of a competition, we’re looking at it as a parade to have fun. To see those smiles on the people’s faces.”

“We let the members take a vote,” Palma Lucas said. “It was overwhelming – they wanted to go. Competition or no competition, it didn’t mean anything before, and it didn’t mean nothing now. They want to put suits on and play with the people.”

Brianna Spause can be reached at brianna.spause@temple.edu

*Editor’s note: Changes to this article were made on Dec. 2. Former Fancy Division member, Hog Island, is not extinct, it has just switched from a Fancy Division group to a Comic Division group. 

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