Philadelphia may have its Mummer's and Pasadena its Tournament of Roses but on New Year's Day in 1912, the town of Tamaqua took a back seat to no one when it came to hosting a holiday parade.
That day, the Tamaqua Courier estimated 20,000 people flocked to town for the big event, thanks to some excellent promotional work by the parade committee. The parade was so well promoted that one club, The William Penn Treaty Association, bypassed the more established parade in its home city of Philadelphia to participate in Tamaqua's event.
The Courier began publicizing the "monster, fantastic parade" in early November, immediately after an organizing committee headed by "three progressive young citizens" Dr. George A. Wilford, Postmaster Fred Freudenberger and Capt. E.M.B. Shepp released their plans.
Winning parade entries would receive cash prizes and there would also be a public ticket drawing at the end of the parade. The cash awards were a good tease, luring many outside groups and clubs, who were also driven by a spirit of competition.
"There is a strong spirit of rivalry existing between the various marching clubs which promises well for the success of the parade," one writer noted.
Out-of-town clubs and fire companies had been urged to send in their entries promptly and no later than Dec. 23.
"Tamaqua's great Mummer's Parade, which will be held on the afternoon of New Year's Day, is the talk of the whole county and also of surrounding counties," the Courier boasted in mid-December. "Every mail brings letters to the committee from other towns, saying delegations will be sent to try and land the prizes. The Mummer's are coming from far and near."
The only entry requirement to march in the parade was to wear a costume.
"Every man, woman and child wearing a costume will be welcome," the Courier reported.
"Official costumers" for the event, Van Horn and Son of Philadelphia, set up a display of costumes at the United States Hotel three days before the parade so people could buy or rent the items.
The Courier assured there would be no price gouging.
"Reasonable prices would be the rule," a Courier writer assured.
The organizing committee also urged residents to decorate their homes and businesses "and put forth every effort to make this the biggest day in the history of the town."
Children were especially eager to take part in the march after learning that every child participant would be given a "half-pound box of fine chocolate candy."
"The order is about to be placed for 2,000 boxes of candy so everyone will be sure to get a gift," the Courier reported on Nov. 9.
One of the more notable parade entrants was "a real air ship," courtesy of a plane enthusiast named Horace Heckman. Given the fact that the Wright Brothers' first sustained flight occurred just eight years earlier made this parade entry quite a prize for Tamaqua.
"The committee is elated over its success in securing a real up-to-date attraction for the parade, the like of which was never before seen in this county," the Tamaqua Courier boasted in its Dec. 20 edition. "People from all over the county will flock here just to see the airship, even if they are not particularly interested in the Mummer's parade."
In the evening, a public ox roast was planned at the Vulcan Iron Works building.
"Two oxen will be there to feed every one who takes part in the parade and preparations will be made to feed at least 2,000," the Courier reported.
The writer noted that the town had not had a public ox roast since 1884 when Democrats in town celebrated Grover Cleveland's first election as president in back of the American House on Centre Street.
To fund the event, organizers depended on business "subscriptions" and private donations. The Courier said that "one dollar contributions will be thankfully received."
John Iffert, proprietor of the Stone Tavern, got the ball rolling by contributing $5 toward the New Year's Day coffers and pledging to have 25 mounted grangers from Rush Township in the parade.
The donations also funded the public ticket drawing. Winning ticket numbers were announced from the porch of the U.S. Hotel immediately after the parade.
The town's outside promotional campaign would have satisfied any modern day public relation firm. A railcar, decorated with colored electric lights and posters and carrying the Tamaqua band, became a rolling advertisement for the event.
With the band playing "lively music," the car left town on Wednesday evening (Dec. 27) for Lansford and Mauch Chunk. Later in the week, the car rolled into Pottsville before visiting a number of other Schuylkill County towns.
The committee also secured 5,000 buttons with a picture of a clown and carrying the nifty slogan "Have a Smile With Me at Tamaqua, January 1st, 1912, Big Mummer's Day."
Two advertising trolley cars were also used for promotional work. One car distributed advertising material including the splashy "Smile With Me" buttons throughout Carbon County while another traveled the Schuylkill County circuit.
The Tamaqua Courier devoted a great deal of advertising space in promoting the event.
"The Courier does not hesitate in assuring its readers that the celebration will be the greatest affair of its kind ever held in town," the newspaper stated on Dec. 14.
Surrounding newspapers followed the Courier's lead with free advertising.
"Tamaqua is looking forward to the biggest celebration in its history," the Mauch Chunk Times stated. "Extensive preparations are being made and the list of parade entrants grows larger every day."
The Hazleton Standard was impressed by the amount raised among local businesses for prize money for the winning entries in the parade.
"This is certainly some progressiveness and demonstrates that Tamaqua merchants are alive to their own interests," a Hazleton writer said. "The advertising that the town will receive from this source cannot be valued by dollars and cents."
The town of Girardville, which was having its own parade, moved its starting time to the morning in order not to conflict or compete with Tamaqua's afternoon event.
"This will afford those who participate in the parade (in Girardville) an opportunity to enjoy dinner at home and still have sufficient time to catch the train for Tamaqua," a writer noted. "There is a movement on foot in that town to have the whole parade transferred to Tamaqua for the afternoon and thereby demonstrate what Girardville can do when that town gets down to business."
Temperatures were very cold as New Year's Day dawned but that did not hamper the flow of outside visitors into town.
"True, the weather was a little too cold for a parade and many of the Mummers were blue and numb by the time it was over, but that was only a little thing and it didn't have very much affect on the success of the day," the Courier reported.
The crowd size as well as the number of marchers exceeded all expectations. Official counters John McGinty and Gottlieb Freudenberger of Philadelphia later estimated there were 987 marchers included in the five divisions at the start of the parade. More joined in as it passed by their street, pushing the total to well over 1,000 participants.
The parade formed on East Broad Street, proceeded up Mauch Chunk to Pine, then up Broad to Lehigh. Marchers disbanded after passing the U.S. Hotel for a second time.
The judges included A. H. Tiley, editor of the Ashland Telegram, Mayor Charles Brach of Hazleton and Henry Estwich of Philadelphia.
"In various divisions were scattered hundreds of fantastically arrayed men and women, so many that no attempt can be made to enumerate them," the Courier reported.
In his analysis, Tiley praised the way Tamaquans came together in support of the event.
"It was a credit not only to Tamaqua but to the county to have such a parade," he reported to his Ashland readers. "And the Tamaqua hospitality big hearted, generous, righteous and elegant was found around every corner."
He said there were "no bouquets lying around loose in Tamaqua last night."
"Everybody was gathering them up and handing them to the committee," he joked, "and the committee deserved every one of them."
As one of the prime sponsors, the Courier backed Tiley's glowing commentary.
"It was without a doubt the greatest celebration Tamaqua every enjoyed," the Courier stated, "and too much praise cannot be given to the members of the committee who our townspeople hope will continue to give Tamaqua numerous celebrations in future years."