An old-school celebration: Henri David hosts the biggest and oldest Halloween Ball in Philly

Henri David

It’s one week before jewelry designer-celebration curator Henri David throws the 50th iteration of his Halloween Ball,  the city’s longest and largest fright-night bash, and the party thrower sounds a tad melancholy.

Henri David hosts the biggest and oldest Halloween Ball in Philly 

From the floor of his Halloween jewelry shop on Pine Street where pals Stevie Nicks and Elton John shop when in town, David, 72, enthused about the sales of his ball’s tickets (walk-ups are always welcome, you can call or come into the shop to buy also,  1329 Pine St, 215-732-7711) and, as usual refused to give away any hints about his costumes. “No, nothing,” he says with a laugh. “I know I usually give away some hint, but my three costumes – three, so far – have no theme running through them, no motif or connector. They’re just ridiculous, individual, and outrageous.”

Henri David could very well be talking about himself, and the reasons he started the Ball in 1968 at the long-shuttered Philadelphia Hotel, at Broad and Vine. David’s starting and hosting the Ball did not stem from his (then, recent) coming out, or even a need to frighten. “I never got the whole idea or desire to be scary or deal in horror when it came to Halloween. To me, it was just another perfect excuse to have fun and dress wildly and expressively in costume. I have always said that my parties are the best time you can have with your clothes on.” Or off, as many Halloween Ball revelers come scantily or entirely undressed.

Henri David

As for the gay aspect of his Halloween Ball, David says that he came from a place of theatrics (he worked with and for several local theater companies in the past, as well as counting actors as his dearest friends) in starting the party, but is delighted that LGBTQ crowds and causes have rallied around his party. “One of the greatest things that people tell me is that they feel safe at my parties as if they have found a home,” says David. “That has been very very rewarding. My Halloween party has always been a place where black, white, young, old, gay and straight mingled. It’s a safe space for everyone, And what happens there, stays there. People from all walks of life have had all sorts of fun at the Ball.”

What David isn’t so enthused about is how life, now, is lived almost exclusively on the computer and “looking down at the phone – arggh,” he says. David does not have a computer or use email. His store has no website and won’t accept credit cards. Those old world values – or eccentricities – are a given when dealing with Henri David. That’s his charm. Yet he recalls the moment when, “what 10 years ago, when cell phones first took over, I came out in this wild outfit as  I always do, and I saw lights go up, like how lighters go up at rock concerts. Then I realized: they were looking down at their phones and taking photos and videos of me. Which is fine, but… I yelled, ‘hey I’m up here. Stop looking down. Look at me.”

Henri David

There has been a great reason to look up at David in the last 49 years. He has entered on 20 foot high stilts, in feathers, metals, crystal plastics, reams of satin, chiffon, rubber, crinoline, wings, heels, and hats – always in “over the top” hats, he said of his sky-high tall headgear. Never dressed as a superhero or a monster, all of the ideas are singular, iconic and of his own creation. And he never tells the people who may help him stitch or hammer what the other person who is stitching and hammering are making. “It really is a secret until the big reveal,” he says. “Hell, sometimes even I don’t know I what I am until I am it.”

David loves his Halloween Ball and makes sure I know that it is his baby –for life. “I will keep doing this party until it isn’t fun anymore. The people who come look forward to the Halloween Ball as much as I.  Yet, as soon as it becomes NOT fun for me to do and dress up for, I’m out of here. That, however, is something I don’t expect will happen anytime soon. Halloween is too magical to waste on worrying about not having fun.”

Henri David will host his bash on Oct. 31 at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel, 17th and Race.