Saturday is Halloween, and for the first time since 1968 it will happen in Philadelphia without a major party hosted by Henri David.
Just one more piece of fun that has been destroyed by COVID-19.
Halloween will still live, in attenuated form, but what about Henri, once celebrated as the Pearl Mesta of Philadelphia? (For younger readers, Pearl Mesta once was the party-arranger for official Washington, D.C.)
When Henri tossed his first Halloween bash, Philadelphia was not the vibrant, happenen’ town it is today. It was drab and quiet, with Sunday Blue Laws and Center City sidewalks that rolled up at 9 p.m.
He set up on the northern edge of Center City, in the ballroom of the Philadelphia Hotel (R.I.P.), Broad and Vine. “I was such a hippie,” says 74-year-old Henri, “I had two bands.”
The following Halloween — Henri’s parties are always on Halloween, even when it falls on a weekday — he moved it one block south, to Town Hall (R.I.P.), Broad & Race.
Over the years, the party has traipsed around to many Center City hotels. I became a fan in the ‘70s when it spent a few years at the Warwick, 17th & Locust. It was about then the party was attracting up to 3,000 revelers and became the premier event where straights and gays could congregate and party.
Sometime later Henri moved to the Franklin Plaza (R.I.P.), 16th & Vine, which later became the Sheraton and is now the 201.
For his 25th party, Henri became the first individual to rent the then-new Convention Center, 11th & Arch. He made his entrance on an 18-wheeler, with its air horn blasting.
Prior to the party, management handed him a 32-page contract, which he read without the help of a lawyer.
“Then I call a meeting, and we went through it page by page, and I showed them seven things they were going to charge me for, like lights,” he said. Henri believed lights should be included. And they were.
“We got to the last page and it said no glitter,” Henri recalls.
“I said, ‘Gentlemen, it is Halloween. There will be glitter!”
And, of course, there was.
But this year. . .
Halloween will be a full moon, a blue moon, says Henri wistfully.
No way will he be home.
Where will he be?
With the help of Councilman Mark Squilla, some helpful people in the Streets Department, and Philadelphia Trolley Works, Henri will be circling Center City between 7-9 p.m. in a horse-drawn carriage, with him in an elaborate Halloween costume. The carriage company “forewarned me that city permission was necessary and it would be like adopting a child — and it was.”
His costume “won’t be as big as I can wear in a hotel, he says, “because the carriage is confining. But I will be handing out candy and a card saying ‘I miss you so much this year, I’ll see you next year.’” The coach will look like a pumpkin. “I just want to see people, smile at people and do something nice.”
Because of traffic and some street closures, Henri doesn’t have a schedule, but says he will circle Rittenhouse Square, and travel up and down Walnut and Locust streets.
The carriage will be sparkly, like Henri, and the candy will be safe to eat.
Trust me — it’s a treat, not a trick.