By Carol Jenkins

Francis (Frank) Stermel was born on June 3, 1916 to Anthony Stermel and Helen Szymanski Stermel. He was a lifelong resident of South Philadelphia and a true mummer.

As a young boy, Frank fell in love with the Mummers. He began strutting down Broad Street in the mid-1920s when he was just 10 years old. In his first Philadelphia New Year’s Day Parade, he marched with the Wheeler Fancy Club as a pageboy. This was the beginning of a lifetime of love and devotion to mummery.

Frank loved to strut with the mummers so much that he would parade with the comics early on New Year’s morning, return to Broad Street to march with the Aqua String Band, and return once more to march with the Avenuers Fancy Brigade.

In 1942, as captain of Purul Comic Club, Frank led his club to 1stprize.

His love and devotion to the mummers was taken even on step further in 1976. That year, he became an early board member of the brand-new Mummers Museum located at 2nd and Washington Avenue.

In his everyday life, Frank lived with his wife Margaret and their 2 sons. He worked as a clerk for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company until his retirement in 1976. He was a dedicated family man and a true friend.

Frank loved to make people smile and was happiest strutting in the parade. He was so good at making people laugh and smile that he was dubbed “Mr. Clown.” Many times he made special appearances at parties and other gatherings dressed as a clown.

Every year a “Mr. Clown” award is given to a person who displays a spirit which is meaningful to the mummer tradition in the heartfelt manner of Mr. Stermel.

Mummers Museum Display
The “Learn to Strut” display inside the Mummers Museum. Photo by Steve Highsmith.

Frank was so good at being a mummer that the “Learn to Strut” display at the Mummers museum features a video of Frank dressed as a clown holding a 3-tiered umbrella strutting in proper mummer style. Thankfully that video, which is over 40 years old, has been fully restored and remains for all to view.

So if you find yourself interested in learning to how to strut, go learn from the master mummer himself Mr. Clown.

Conservation Assessment

Type of Marker: Headstone on base
Material: Granite

Historic Integrity: Intact
Structural Integrity: Excellent
Material Integrity: Excellent
Legible Inscription: Excellent

Marker Details
Inventory Number: 484
Plot Number: 828
Cemetery Section: 10
Orientation: East
Marker Height/Length (in): 24
Marker Width (in): 20.5
Marker Thickness/Depth (in): 8

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