"The fire wall saved the day" - Mummers props wet but intact

The Fralinger String Band practicing. Other Mummers clubs offered help if props and scenery were charred.
The Fralinger String Band practicing. Other Mummers clubs offered help if props and scenery were charred. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 13, 2012

Call it a Mummers miracle - three weeks early.

The props and scenery that the Fralinger String Band believed had been burned to ashes in a warehouse fire were discovered wet but intact Tuesday, apparently protected by an interior wall.

"It's fantastic. Fantastic!" said Fralinger captain Tom D'Amore minutes after he and others were allowed inside the building at Second and Wharton Streets.

String band members who had grimly waited on the sidewalk erupted into handshakes and high-fives.

"Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful," one man said.

In a moment's time, the work of months, thought lost, was restored.

From a garage-size door of the warehouse emerged props that the celebrated band planned to use as backdrops during its New Year's Day performance: big, stretched canvases bearing scenes of castles, a giant skeleton head, a faux stained-glass window - all discovered whole shortly after 1 p.m.

"It looks like smoke damage, some water damage, but at this stage, everything looks great," said club finance secretary Dan Marakowski, a 25-year member who plays the accordion. "Foam and wood will dry out. ... It looks like the fire wall saved the day for us."

The group had pledged to strut on New Year's Day no matter what, even without the backdrops that help set mood and scene. All Mummers clubs have members whose main skill is building platforms and wheeled floats, work that begins long before Jan. 1. While builders don't get the acclaim of dancers and musicians, no club goes up Broad Street without them.

The Fralinger band's costumes and instruments were kept elsewhere and were never in danger.

Fire Department officials said faulty wiring caused the four-alarm fire in the two-story warehouse, which also housed an auto-repair shop.

The blaze was reported at 2:14 p.m. Monday and drew more than 120 firefighters from 33 companies. Billows of thick black smoke poured into the sky, and two adjacent rowhouses were damaged.

Philadelphia officials said Tuesday that they had cited the warehouse owner, Joseph Sigismondi, three times last year for operating the auto-repair business without a license. The license cost $50, but when Sigismondi did not get one, the city took him to court, where he was fined $4,000 in June, officials said.

Sigismondi owed the city $53,000 in taxes on the property.

Efforts to contact Sigismondi were unsuccessful.

Fralinger is an old and successful club, founded in 1914 by John Fralinger, a Philadelphia physician and pharmacist who was team doctor for baseball's Athletics. The club claimed eight consecutive first prizes from 2003 to 2010, and has placed first, second, or third in 18 of the last 25 parades. It finished fifth in 2012.

Fralinger sought donations to offset fire losses thorough its website, www.fralinger.org, and club leaders said they wanted to share the funds with homeowners who suffered damage.

All morning, band members hung around outside the warehouse, the acrid stench of smoke in the air and their props believed to be gone. Yellow police tape blocked streets, and water from fire trucks ran down the gutter.

"Absolutely, we're going to march," said member John Clemency.

"If we have to go nude, it ain't going to stop us," said prop builder Pete Cammarota, a member since 1966.

D'Amore said his cellphone had filled with text messages and e-mails from other clubs offering to help with materials, props, and storage space.

"They're all here for us now, and it's touching," he said. "For reasons like that, we'll be sure we're ready to go."


Contact Jeff Gammage

at 215-854-2415 or jgammage@phillynews.com, or

follow on Twitter @Jeff Gammage.

Inquirer staff writer Miriam Hill contributed to this article.

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