By Candace Roberts
In 1959, Bill Isaacs, a South Philadelphia taproom owner and lifelong Mummer, founded the Downtowners Fancy Brigade. Within a decade, Downtowners say, he changed Mummers history. And earned their title “the Legend.”
In December, in a front-page article in The Inquirer, current Downtowners president Frankie DeVito explained that “just like in the NFL, when every few years there’s a coach that comes along and changes the system, Bill changed the parade and the way of doing things.” Before he came along, fancies were “thought of as string bands without instruments,” DeVito said. Mr. Isaacs gave them his imagination. And floats.
In 1963, he bought an old Packard for $52, built a large float around it, and on New Year’s Day rolled it up Broad Street with the Downtowners. “It completely changed the Fancy Brigades,” Downtowners’ captain Jim Julia told The Inquirer in December.
“Each club that wanted to beat him had to learn to use props,” he said. “It started with one prop, then two props, and now you have what you see in the Pennsylvania Convention Center.” But beat them Mr. Isaacs did, winning seven first prizes in his 21 years as the Downtowners’ captain.
After working as a carpenter at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, he was a carpenter’s mate in the Navy in the South Pacific from 1942 to 1945. He returned to Philadelphia to work as a union carpenter, and from 1953 to 1998 he co-owned and operated the P&B Bar in South Philadelphia at 12th Street and Oregon Avenue.
But his legend was as a Mummer. It’s what he lived for and why he will long be remembered.
Type of Marker: Slant Marker
Date of Marker (estimate): 2009
Historic Integrity: Intact
Structural Integrity: Excellent
Material Integrity: Excellent
Legible Inscription: Excellent
Inventory Number: 434
Cemetery Section: 8
Marker Height/Length (in): 21
Marker Width (in): 24.5
Marker Thickness/Depth (in): 11