Joseph Farley

New Year’s Eve in Holmesburg

It was New Year’s Eve in Holmesburg. December 31st. Just like any other year a crowd was gathering around the firehouse at Rhawn Street and Frankford Avenue waiting for midnight and the annual dropping of the pants. The pants were old and battered, mostly black with some gray from wear. Any new holes that had grown since last year had been patched for the occasion.

I don’t have documents or other proof, but enough people have said the same to me that I guess it’s true. The pants once belonged to a state assemblyman for the area. He’d been found without his pants on in compromising circumstances, and skipped out the back door of a local row house without them. A firefighter coming home witnessed the embarrassing situation. Considering himself an offended party that firefighter took the pants back to the firehouse where he proceeded to run them up the flagpole. There they flapped in the wind just below our nation’s flag.

As I heard it the assemblyman tried to negotiate the return of his pants or at least his wallet and  belt. He used back channels to avoid more exposure. He’d had enough of that when he ran bare assed from the house, across the street and into Pennypack Park right next to Lincoln High School. He hid there in the bushes until his personal driver came to his rescue.

The firefighters rallied round their offended brother and helped him broker a good bargain. The assemblyman got his wallet and belt, but the station kept the pants. They kept the pants flying until their colleague received compensation for his pain and suffering. Some say this was cash. Some say real estate. Others say it was a promotion and transfer to another firehouse. As it turned out the deal was finalized, so they say, on the last day of December, and the pants came down from the flagpole at midnight.

This is local lore. I can’t vouch for the truth. All I can say is the ceremonial lowering of the pants on New Year’s Eve is a longstanding tradition that had to have gotten started some way.

Children line the avenue as the clock ticks down. Teenagers and adults flow out of the bars to watch. Fireworks, illegal for the most part, are poorly concealed on porches and in driveways waiting to be lit. A pair of firefighters in full regalia, ready for a six alarmer exit the station and walk towards the flagpole. They take hold of the rope and begin to slowly lower the pants. By the time the pants have completely dropped it’s midnight. A new year. Champagne. Beer. Fireworks. And occasion gunfire. That’s what makes the night come alive. Will worry about the dead and wounded in the morning.

There will be partying until daybreak. But not for the pants. The pants are headed to the laundry to be washed, dried, and pressed. They will be stored away until next December 31st, when another crowd will gather to watch the pants descend, and shout “Happy New Year!”

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