October is Gay History Month and, in Philadelphia, somewhat synonymously Halloween.
Other cities have their eccentric icons. Baltimore, obviously has John Waters with his pencil thin mustache and portfolio of dark comedies (to put it politely), every city in the South seems to have a pageant system of bawdy drag queens, and New York and Los Angeles are professional actors guilds of larger than life personalities.
Of course in Philadelphia, with our subdued sense of pride often bordering on the self deprecating, we never want to brag. Our characters are our characters. You can find them if you know where to look. At times that seems unfortunate, but it's not as if Philadelphians who don't mesh with our Colonial reputation are in any way hiding. Philadelphians tend to like being a well kept secret, but word-of-mouth keeps our festivals and parties exciting.
If you haven't figured out what I'm talking about yet, I'm talking about Henri David and his annual Henri David Ball.
Henri David is Philadelphia's John Waters, as if he needs a doppelganger. David isn't a director, actor, or drag queen. He's not a retailer, an event planner, or a party promoter.
Henri David is a presence. One who, despite his outrageous personas, you'll rarely encounter.
A jeweler for 40 years, David has a shop on 13th and Pine aptly called Halloween. With no sign, no display windows, not even a website, you've probably passed it a thousand times without a clue. David's Halloween, where he crafts his custom jewelry, is in an unassuming row house, and like the best things in Philadelphia, not on display. Halloween is by appointment only.
Don't let this fool you, David is no curmudgeon hiding from the public eye. For one night every year David has thrown one of the city's most lavish parties each Halloween since the late 60s. It's almost as if he spend the year saving up for the spectacle.
What started out as an excuse to wear his costumes turned into a local phenomenon, one which, had it taken place in Chicago or Seattle, would have likely morphed into a national event. But that's not Philadelphia. John Waters once told Henri David, "you have more freaks than I do. You do good here," and luckily for us, David has kept all the freaks for ourselves.
The 45th Henri David Ball will be held on October, 31st at the Sheraton Center City Hotel on 17th Street. Tickets are $25 to $60 and can be purchased at Halloween at 1329 Pine Street or by calling (215) 732-7711.