Columnist gets a taste of Penn Museum's Day of the Dead Celebration



So - boo - I'm dead again. At an editor's request, again.

I'm sensing a problem.

Last year, it was as a zombie for Eastern State Penitentiary's Terror Behind the Walls, which technically made me one of the undead, but whatever. It was one of the best times I've had on this job. Probably that's a problem, too.

This time, I'm getting dolled up dead in advance of today's Day of the Dead, Dia de Los Muertos, celebration at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. And not to tout my naturally cadaverous characteristics, but I make a much better Catrina - the iconic grande dame of death - than zombie. Probably because Dinorah Capuzzi, my talented face painter, is using lots and lots of paint. No complaints. Finally, something to hide the bags under my eyes.

For the last four years, Penn Museum, the Mexican Cultural Center and the Mexican Consulate have pulled out all the stops for the multiday holiday that honors departed loved ones.

This year, there's music, dance, puppets, sugar skull and mask making, and an elaborate altar with a special backdrop by renowned muralist Cesar Viveros. His last design for the pope's visit to Philly was signed by the pontiff himself. This one honors Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo and is one of the highlights of the museum's celebration.

So is face painting, which I highly recommend. What I didn't think I could recommend is scheduling appointments too close together so that you'd have to hail a cab with the ghoulish get-up. But that was before I ran out of the museum to make my next appointment, thinking there wasn't a chance in, well, hell that a cab would stop for me.

The very first one I flagged down stopped and, Fred, my see-no-evil, hear-no-evil cab driver barely blinked when I got in.

"Seriously . . . You're not even gonna ask?" I said after several minutes passed without him so much as sneaking a peek in his rear-view mirror.

I wasn't nearly the most disturbing looking person he's picked up on the job, shrugged my horror-movie-loving cabbie. Plus, Fred said, better a dead sober person in the back of his cab than a living drunk one. Fair enough.

But back to Penn Museum's Day of the Dead celebration. There are other Day of the Dead celebrations in the city this weekend, and you should check them out, but you don't want to miss this one.

While Capuzzi went about transforming me into an elegant skull, the executive director of the Mexican Cultural Center, Ana Flores, explained the tradition.

In most regions of Mexico, Nov. 1 is when participants welcome the souls of children who have passed away, known as Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents). Nov. 2 is when the adult souls arrive. Loved ones will traditionally put up altars to honor those who have died with gifts of their favorite things. Celebrations are also held at graveyards. At Penn, guests are invited to bring photos or mementos of loved ones to place on the altar.

"It's a wonderful way to continue the tradition and to teach others about it," Flores said.

For muralist Viveros, it's also an opportunity to combat the negative views a certain presidential candidate has been spouting about immigrants, specifically Mexicans.

"Of course, Donald Trump says things louder and on a bigger screen," he said. "We don't have the power to match that. But we can do it this way. We can teach people about our customs. We can show people all the beauty that we create."

My advice - if you want to learn something real about Latinos and their rich culture, turn off the talking heads and go to today's celebration.

The family-friendly festivities go from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. at Penn Museum, 3260 South St. Dress up. Costumed guests under 12 get in at half price. Guests dressed in Day of the Dead-themed costumes can join a parade and costume contest. Call 215-898-4000 or get details at

The good news is that after you have had your fun, you can grab a cab to wherever you're going next. I told Fred there would likely be a lot of people looking like me this weekend. No problem, he said. As long as they pay their fare, the dead are welcome.


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