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.