24. The Early Mummers
Many of Philadelphia’s young and drunk Christmas celebrants donned masks – a forerunner of Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade. That led contemporaries to label them “fantasticals”. They were also referred to as “callithumpians” – partly from their habit of thumping things (and people). The celebrants would gather in groups, and mocking real music by banging on pots, cowbells, improvised horns, and singing off key, make their way from tavern to tavern. There, they would demand free drinks, and beat up anybody who objected.
Forming themselves into gangs, the drunken celebrants, many of them unemployed, would often parade – or stagger – into rich neighborhoods, to indulge in crimes petty and grand. The sloshed and often belligerent celebrants would beat drums, sing loudly, ring doorbells, express social discontents, smash windows, fire their guns, and otherwise make themselves disagreeable and “make the night hideous“. Such nuisance crimes were just the tip of the iceberg. Stabbings, shootings, arson, and other acts of mayhem and murder were also common. It was a reminder to the day’s one percent that class conflict and violence seethed beneath America’s surface.