Break with tradition brings new Fancy Brigade

Avalon's "Circus Big Top on Broad" performance during the Mummers Parade of 2013.
Avalon's "Circus Big Top on Broad" performance during the Mummers Parade of 2013. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 30, 2013

Terk Gindville is a Mummer out of step with tradition. And for him, that's just fine.

Born on Second Street in the heart of Mummers territory 40 years ago, Gindville was automatically a member of the Bryson Comic Brigade, run by his grandfather Joe Bryson.

But when Gindville was around 20, he approached Bryson and uttered the unthinkable. "I want to be a Fancy," he said.

Wow, everyone thought. That's a Bloods or Crips, Eagles or Cowboys, Apple or Microsoft kind of dichotomy, isn't it? Who does he think he is?

"It's kind of a big thing to go against the family," said Gindville, who now lives in Cape May. "But now, they're proud of me."

Proud because, after years of being in other people's Fancy Brigades, Gindville will be debuting the Spartans this week, a Fancy Brigade that he helps lead in the 2014 Mummers Parade. It's the first new Fancy Brigade since 1997, according to Jim Julia, president of the Philadelphia Mummers Fancy Brigade Division.

Of Bryson's 48 - yes, four dozen - grandchildren, Gindville will be the only one not marching with the comics, noted Ed "Gootch" Bryson, Gindville's uncle.

"I guess he waited a long time to be in charge," Bryson said.

The thing is, Gindville said, it wasn't ego that inspired him to help create the Spartans. It was family.

"A few guys were disgruntled with the clubs they were in," Gindville said the other day in South Philadelphia as he and other fancy brigade types were building sets for the New Year's show. "We wanted to make a club that was more family-based. We wanted to blaze our own trail.

"A lot of guys have daughters they want to carry on the tradition."

While many Mummers organizations are becoming more family-oriented, a few remain mostly men's clubs, Mummers cognoscenti say.

And at least one club garnered a reputation for being less than wholesome. In 2011, the Downtowners Fancy Brigade's clubhouse was raided after members allegedly partied with prostitutes.

"The wildness did concern me, and I was leery about letting my children be involved," said Heather Little, 32, part of the Spartans' Women's Auxiliary.

"But this new club is nothing but family: my husband's brother, my best friend and her family. It makes me feel safe and not hesitant to welcome my three children into the club."

It's great to hang out with blood relatives, said Kristin Buddle, 27, a Spartans member who is a worker compensation attorney in Media. She has family members in the club.

"A lot of the club comes from traditional clubs where you couldn't have daughters or nieces involved," she said. "Family is how the Spartans are geared."

The Spartans, with 85 members (20 of them women), will feature an additional 27 toddlers and 10 tweens (ages 10 to 14) as part of its New Year's performance.

They will join 10 other Fancy Brigades in the 114th Mummers Parade, the Mardi Gras-like folk festival in which about 10,000 mostly blue-collar men dance, play music, cavort among elaborate sets, and wear outlandish costumes, including women's clothes. The groups, which include string bands, comics, and comic wenches, offer gags, spoofs, and political humor. The theme for the Spartans is "One Nation: Valley of the Drums."

It's about small groups of American Indians coming together to join one tribe. There are real-life parallels.

"We're a bunch of different guys coming together as one ourselves," said Gindville, a maintenance supervisor at the Inn of Cape May.

The gathering wasn't easy. There's a reason no new Fancy Brigade has arisen in nearly 20 years: "It's expensive to have a group," said Leo Dignam, deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation and the city's Mummers Parade director.

Just how expensive? Within the last year, the Spartans bought a $150,000 building in South Philadelphia with a $38,000 down payment. It costs an additional $30,000 a year to maintain the place. On top of that, the New Year's show, including the parade and a performance at the Convention Center, has a price tag of around $45,000.

And these community-minded Spartans also spent a few thousand dollars on college scholarships, and donating toys to a Glassboro homeless shelter.

"It's not a small venture," said Bob Ribikauskas, 39, the Spartans' treasurer.

But, members say, it isn't that they're spending nearly a quarter-million dollars to dance in feathers on a single, cold winter morning.

The club is a 365-day-a-year enterprise, with social events throughout the calendar, Gindville said.

Fund-raising helps pay for the club, as do hefty $2,000 to $2,300 annual dues for most members, Gindville said.

Ask why members spend the money and time to be in a club and you'll get puzzled looks.

A variation on the phrase Why wouldn't we do it? is the invariable answer.

"Some say it's a hobby, but it's really a way of life," Little said. "You're born into it and you make it your life. We're a part of history."


Mummers for Dummies

Schedule: The various divisions begin their struts up Broad Street at different times and from different locations:

The Comics get the show started at 9:30 a.m. from Broad and Washington.

The Comic Wenches step off at 10:30 a.m. from Broad and Dickinson.

The String Bands start at 10:30 a.m. from Broad and Shunk.

The Fancy Divisions begin at 10:45 a.m. from Broad and Passyunk.

The Fancy Brigades get going at 1 p.m. from Broad and Oregon.

Viewing areas: Free along Broad Street, with some of the best views in the judging area on JFK Boulevard between 15th and 16th. Bleacher seats will be available there for $19.50. Tickets can be purchased at the Independence Visitor Center, Sixth and Market; Welcome Center, 16th and JFK Boulevard; or by calling the Visitor Center at 215-965-7676.

Performance areas: There are four along Broad: at Shunk, Washington, Pine, and Sansom.

Fancy Brigade Finale: It's Mardi Gras meets Broadway at the Convention Center as 11 Fancy Brigade clubs and more than 3,500 performers present two shows: a family affair at noon and an evening performance at 5 p.m. Tickets, from $13 to $20, can be purchased at www.comcasttix.com or at 1-800-298-4200.

TV coverage: On PHL17, beginning with pre-parade coverage at 9 a.m.

Rain date: Jan. 4, or if that day is bad, Jan. 5.

For more information:www.phillymummers.com


The Spartans, along with the other Fancy Brigades, are scheduled to begin their New Year's Day strut up Broad Street at 1 p.m. from Oregon Avenue.

alubrano@phillynews.com

215-854-4969

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