Meet Alison Horn, the Bubble Queen of Philly.
• Everyday magic: “I find joy in a lot of things but there’s just something about bubbles, they’re magic. They need very particular weather, they give off the most beautiful colors, and the bonus is seeing kids freak out.”
• On kids freaking out: “They want to touch them, they want to eat them, they want to be in them,” Horn said. “And watching kids cry because they don’t want to leave the bubbles is really precious.”
Alison Horn was watching videos online five years ago when she came across one of a woman creating thousands of bubbles in front of a live audience that was captivated with wonder and delight.
“I was like ‘Man, this is the life!’ ” Horn said. “All I thought was ‘How can I be her apprentice?’ ”
Horn, 33, a massage therapist from South Philly, didn’t act on her urge at the time, but when the pandemic and lockdown hit last year and she was unable to practice the massage work she loves so much, her thoughts turned back to the wonder she saw that bubble lady bring.
“When you care for people for a living you need something that brings joy,” Horn said. “And bubbles were a way to be around people and bring joy without having to touch anyone.”
An artistic DIYer (Horn loves spray painting, Bedazzling, and putting googly eyes on things), she first tried making giant bubble wands herself, before she realized she could easily buy them online. She bought her bubble powder (which she mixes with water and Dawn soap) online too, from a person who goes by the name of “Bubble Lady Linda” and lives in a van, traveling from New Orleans to Chicago creating bubbles.
“But it seemed there was no one in Philly who does it,” Horn said, “So I thought, ‘Maybe that’s me.’ ”
She decided to start by making bubbles for the children on her South Philly block in the spring of 2020. Horn was delighted to see the kids react with unbridled glee as they chased and popped the airy iridescent orbs she created down the street.
“Seeing their faces is so much, the way they light up, it’s all of it,” Horn said.
But it wasn’t just the kids who were excited by the bubbles. Older South Philly guys loved to reference the Lawrence Welk Show whenever she did her bubble thing, and even passersby were, for a moment, pulled out of their ordinary existence to wonder at the existence of bubbles.
“I remember hearing someone on a bike pass by and go ‘Oh wow! Bubbles!’” Horn said. “That felt really adorable hearing that from a random adult.”
Horn started taking her bicycle cart of water jugs, bubble mixture, and large wands to birthday parties and parks across the city, eventually making a name for herself as “The Bubble Queen of Philly.” In October 2020, she got her first paid gig at the East Passyunk Fall Fest and Spooky Saturday.
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She showed up in a bubble bath costume, complete with a papier-mâché tub, clay feet, and, of course, bubbles.
“I walked from my house to Passyunk, a good 10 minute walk, in that costume,” she said. “I am so freaking proud of it.”
Horn is making her second appearance at the fest this year, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Singing Fountain, and she promises an even bigger — and better — bubble costume this time around.
“I’m going to try to make it look like I’m floating on a cloud of bubbles,” she said.
On a recent Monday morning, as Horn set up her bubble cart in Dickinson Square Park in South Philly, tiny toddlers who’d been playing alone with their respective adults started to gather and play together in the center of the park, in awe of the unending wave of bubbles Horn created.
There were bubbles within bubbles, cascades of bubbles, piles of bubbles, and bubbles that stretched out for feet before they finally popped off Horn’s wand.
Courtney Baker, 38, of Pennsport, who brought her 16-month old son, Reo Narra, to the park, had no idea the Bubble Queen of Philly would be there.
“This is wonderful! This is just above and beyond. He is loving this,” Baker said, of her son. “When you see something neat and new like this, it brings them extra excitement and helps them explore their world more.”
While most kids can’t wait to run and chase the bubbles, Horn said she has a soft spot for the shy kids, who watch her from the sidelines, curious, but hesitant to approach a large crowd.
“I really love when I can just say to the other kids ‘This bubble is for my friend here because they don’t want to rush around,’ ” she said.
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In the summer, the bubbles pop too easily because of the heat, Horn said, so now that it’s fall she’s looking to get out and do more bubbling. But for now, being Philly bubble royalty is still only a side job for Horn, secondary to her massage practice.
“I do love what I do for a living, and it’s hard to give up a weekend day to do that, but I’m starting to change my mind,” she said. “And who couldn’t use more bubbles? I don’t think there’s a place you can go that wouldn’t just adore bubbles. Where there’s kids, there’s a need for joy.”
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