The desperation in Cathy Conlon-Townsend’s voice was unmistakable and out of character.
For a better part of about three decades the ever-joyful Conlon-Townsend has been a force in bringing one of the fixtures of Mardi Gras to Galveston each year.
Mardi Gras regulars know them as the mummers. Conlon-Townsend calls them “my boys.”
Mardi Gras’ final weekend wouldn’t feel right without Bobby Shannon and his crew from the Quaker City String Band. They are from Philadelphia, but for one weekend each year they are Galvestonians.
The late George P. Mitchell was the man who thought the mummers would be a great addition to Mardi Gras. So for many years the father of Galveston Mardi Gras arranged for the group to come to the island.
Conlon-Townsend soon caught mummer-fever. She so loved the group that she traveled to Philadelphia to see them perform in their annual competition.
When in Galveston, she hosted her boys at her house on 25th Street for a nice lunch.
When the mummers returned to Galveston the Mardi Gras after Hurricane Ike, there was Conlon-Townsend and Quaker City String Band leader Bobby Shannon marching up the driveway of The Galvez. Conlon-Townsend, who is called Momma Mummer by the group, was dancing away carrying an open umbrella.
Somehow that signaled to the hundreds who attended that Galveston would indeed recover from Ike better than ever.
With Mr. Mitchell’s help Conlon-Townsend arranged for her boys to come to Galveston every year for Mardi Gras.
Mitchell told Conlon-Townsend, “as long as I am alive the mummers will be here for Mardi Gras,” she said.
In July the man who gave so much to Galveston died.
Conlon-Townsend knew what that meant to her effort to bring extra joy to Mardi Gras revelers.
She put out a call hoping people would step up and help fill in the $25,000 gap left by Mr. Mitchell’s passing.
That led to the phone call.
Conlon-Townsend’s usually chipper voice was strained.
“I need your help,” she said. She explained the lack of funding and the huge gap created after Mr. Mitchell’s death.
She asked if I’d write a story about the need for funds to bring the mummers back to Mardi Gras.
I agreed, but warned; that a story wouldn’t guarantee the help would come. Let’s be serious, $25,000 is a lot of money.
Many people may not see the value of spending so much money for a bit of Mardi Gras entertainment.
But for the children who participate in the Mardi Gras Children’s Parade, held on the final Sunday of Mardi Gras their appearance is priceless.
“They are our main attraction,” Charlie Olson, head of the Galveston firefighters union and who coordinates the Mardi Gras Children’s’ Parade. “I can’t say enough about how important they are to our event. They are the biggest draw by far.”
Olson said members of the band always stop and pose for photos with children along the route.
That’s the joy Conlon-Townsend wanted to share during Mardi Gras.
After her call for help, Mardi Gras revelers stepped up with donations. Most were small, 25 bucks here, $50 there and the occasional $100.
Then my phone rang again. Actually it alerted me to a text.
Craig Eiland, the Galveston attorney and soon-to-be former state representative, wanted Conlon-Townsend’s number.
I knew what that meant.
Sure enough, Eiland stepped in and pledged to help Conlon-Townsend fill the void up to $25,000.
Momma Mummer kept pressing for donations, all of which are tax deductable since the band is a non-profit group. Eiland added a $19,000 check.
The mummers are back.
But, that’s this year. Next year and the years beyond are still in doubt.