Three Centuries of Racial Impersonation in Philadelphia
Traces the deep roots of Philadelphia’s annual Mummers Parade and the city’s history of blackface masking and other forms of racial impersonation
Haunted City explores the history of racial impersonation in Philadelphia from the late eighteenth century through the present day. The book focuses on select historical moments, such as the advent of the minstrel show and the ban on blackface makeup in the Philadelphia Mummers Parade, when local performances of racial impersonation inflected regional, national, transnational, and global formations of race.
Mummers have long worn blackface makeup during winter holiday celebrations in Europe and North America; in Philadelphia, mummers’ blackface persisted from the colonial period well into the twentieth century. The first annual Mummers Parade, a publicly sanctioned procession from the working-class neighborhoods of South Philadelphia to the city center, occurred in 1901. Despite a ban on blackface in the Mummers Parade after civil rights protests in 1963–64, other forms of racial and ethnic impersonation in the parade have continued to flourish unchecked. Haunted City combines detailed historical research with the author’s own experiences performing in the Mummers Parade to create a lively and richly illustrated narrative. Through its interdisciplinary approach, Haunted City addresses not only theater history and performance studies but also folklore, American studies, critical race theory, and art history. It also offers a fresh take on the historiography of the antebellum minstrel show.
“A persuasive blend of theory and archival research, combined with the author’s own ethnographic investigations . . . Haunted City illuminates the history of the community's engagement with racial performance in a way that no other works have done on this same comprehensive scale.”
—Heather Nathans, Tufts University
“DuComb draws not only on scholarly and primary materials, but also on his own experiences as a member of a Mummers club . . . Haunted City is a fresh and well-executed look at the American tradition of racial impersonation, grounded in thorough, original discovery research.”
—Susan G. Davis, University of Illinois
Praise / Awards
"The ambit and style of Haunted City offer performance historians compelling and provocative new historiographical models."
"A constellational history that deftly weaves together three centuries of racial impersonation through an examination of Philadelphia's annual New Year's Day Mummers Parade ... This book is not precisely a history of the Mummers Parade so much as it is a deep investigation of Philadelphia's complicated history of race and class that has played out over the last three centuries."
"Combining his personal experiences in the parade (as a member of the Vaudevillian’s Brigade) with an extensively culled archive of city history, including newspaper articles, illustrations, paintings, and first-person accounts of fancy party dress, Haunted City forwards “haunting” as a productive vector through which to think of community revelry as a nexus in transnational geographies and trans-Atlantic histories."
Honorable Mention, Errol Hill Award from the American Society for Theatre Research
News, Reviews, Interviews
Read/Listen: Christian DuComb interviewed on HowlRound Link
Read: Christian DuComb interviewed in the Philadelphia Inquirer Link
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