Thanks for the Mummery
The Stone Harbor Connection that Led to a Shiver Sensation
By Dave Bontempo
Mummers outfitter Jimmy May positions hat on Eagles’ Jason Kelce for the Super Bowl parade, then poses with him (right).
Some of the best holiday gifts are memories. Like May-to-Clay, the touchdown pass that brought the Super Bowl to Stone Harbor in 2018.
Or at least the victory celebration.
Stone Harbor homeowners Jimmy May and Tim Clay relish their unique bond. May is the Mummers legend, recently retired after nearly five decades outfitting winners in one of the nation’s oldest festivals. You know the New Year’s Day tradition in Philadelphia: Local clubs compete in the categories of comics, fancies, fancy brigades and string bands, bringing months of preparation into one performance.
It was the world he thought he had left until Jason Kelce summoned him in February. During the Eagles’ first-ever Super Bowl parade, capped by the burly center’s impassioned speech from the Art Museum steps, Kelce wore a Mummers outfit that May had made 10 years earlier. It went viral. May’s phone lines lit up, and he was asked to fill orders recreating Kelce’s look, which just happened to be Irish. And St. Patrick’s Day was coming, along with the Stone Harbor Shiver.
That’s where Clay, who recently completed his realm of Stone Harbor Yacht Club Commodore, comes in. He and his wife Rosemary were the King and Queen of the Shiver, which raises money in support of Family Promise of Cape May County and the Stone Harbor Chamber of Commerce. It was a high-profile weekend, complete with 500 ocean plungers, many decked in green and gold. Clay was a hit with his exact replica of Kelce’s costume, specially created for him by May.
Their connection was unique. May is a native of Ridley Township, Pa., who purchased a home next to the Yacht Club in 1980. Peter Miner, its general manager, knew of May and suggested his participation to Clay.
“I had no idea that Jimmy May lived here,” says Clay, whose family has enjoyed a Stone Harbor address for 27 years. The Clays have a dental practice in Wilmington, Del.
Drs. Tim and Rose Clay, the 2018 Shiver King and Queen.
“Peter says, ‘The guy who lives next to the Yacht Club makes these great costumes for the Mummers.’ I didn’t realize that was a career. I said, ‘Well, what does he really do for a living?’ And he told me again, ‘He makes these.’
“Well, people sent pictures of me at the Shiver and of Kelce at the [Super Bowl] parade,” Clay laughs. “It said, ‘Separated at birth.’ Jimmy did a wonderful job, it’s a work of art. Now I have this costume and don’t know what to do with it. I’ll give it back to the charity and see if they can raise money with it. I have to say he did an incredible job.”
May is the Merchant of Mummerabilia, designing somewhere around 50,000 costumes and making countless trips to the winner’s circle. One year he helped eight organizations design their Mummers look, and his clients finished one through seven.
“The string bands would give me the title of their theme and we would go from there,” May recalls. “I would work with people in my shop, get a prototype, get you to approve it, and then put it to work. When they came in, they’d say, ‘We want to win.’ But there were several groups saying that. I would tell them I’ll do the best I can for you, but you need your music and presentation. I will give you the beautiful Christmas package, but you don’t know what’s inside until you open it up. Here’s the ammunition, now you make it work.
“Mummers are known for their sparkle,” he adds. “That’s been our forte. You look for something that, when the sequins hit them, they jump.”
Jimmy May poses with his creation.
May mastered the infinite details. There is color and pattern. Then think of cutting, grafting, pom-poms, the shamrock and the feather work. One hat might take three people a total of seven hours to make, let alone the time for a full costume. Nothing glued, all hand-sewn. How extensive was this? Multiply the process by nearly 100, for one string band, and then by however many groups employed his service. Year after year. Decade upon decade.
Besides the Mummers, May’s work has been on display in casinos, the Franklin Mint and on Broadway via “Beauty and the Beast” characters.
Returning here is sweet for him. May chuckles, recalling his early involvement with Stone Harbor. He’d come here as a teenager, outfitting his niece in a baby parade.
“We won against professional people,” May says, grinning warmly. “We were asked politely not to come back, because others thought they would have no chance of winning.”
A storybook route followed. In Pennsylvania, he made prom and wedding dresses for Betty Lou, now his wife of 55 years. May opened a bridal establishment in Pennsylvania, increased his customer base via word of mouth and was asked to design a costume for the Durning String Band at the Mummers in 1972.
“For the first time in 25 years, they made the top four,” he recalls.
More word of mouth. More business. More requests for what entrants called “The Jimmy May Sway.”
The hat worn by Jason Kelce.
“The design had been taken off a ladies skirt,” he says. “When the band members walked, the bottom of their pants would sway. They asked for the Jimmy May Sway.”
May formed another sway, gaining a Stone Harbor address from which to move back and forth.
“I bought one of the four solid concrete houses that existed in Stone Harbor back then,” he says. “I demolished mine a few years ago and built on it. Our family has always loved the shore. During the summer, we are there most every weekend, and sometimes a week or so at a stretch. We like the surroundings, the places to eat. We like the way our house is situated. We like the privacy and we also like our neighbors. It’s a great community.”
May also enjoys the mixture of business and family. Betty Lou still does all the secretarial work for the company.
The couple have four children and grandchildren. One of his daughters, Maria, makes the hats that have been in the Mummers parade. May’s mother Phyllis, then 89, reminded Jimmy of his career route as they drove one day to Stone Harbor.
“If I was working on something and it wasn’t quite right, she would tell me to go to bed and it would look different to me in the morning,” he says. “That was always true. On that drive, she told me that she would often stay up all night and fix it for me. She had wanted me to keep that confidence.”
May’s career would become a long victory march and the Shiver a pleasant side route. There will never be another first Super Bowl championship or the magic of a Kelce speech marking the end of a city’s frustration. The roles of the legend and the king will never again merge like this.
That’s why May-to-Clay is a permanent highlight.
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