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Anoka Halloween Celebration

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Anoka Halloween Celebration kids’ parade, 1990, Minnesota

The "Halloween Capital of the World" float in the Anoka Halloween Celebration kids’ parade, 1990. Miss Anoka Kristin Young seated in back, Princess Jennifer Foss in front. Used with the permission of the Anoka County Historical Society.

Anoka, Minnesota, became the Halloween Capital of the World in 1937. The title recognizes its status as one of the first cities to discourage Halloween tricks by hosting a city-wide party: the Anoka Halloween Celebration.

In the early 1900s, Americans braced themselves every October for pranks committed by not-so-innocent children. The mischief-making spiraled so out of control in Anoka that the town decided to put an end to Halloween-night shenanigans by throwing a celebration.

Starting in 1920, Anoka civic leaders and local organizations, led by businessman George Green, formed a Halloween committee to address the growing prankster problem. The Halloween committee hoped to create an event so captivating that Anoka’s youth would forgo the usual troublemaking and join in the festivities.

On the evening of Sunday, October 31, 1920, the committee sponsored its first-ever community-wide Halloween celebration. The highlight was a parade down Main Street that included the Fireman’s Band of Minneapolis, the Anoka police and fire departments, and the Kiwanis and Commercial Clubs. A drum corps, the Anoka National Guard, and hundreds of children also marched. After the parade a bonfire was lit in nearby Bridge Square, and the youth who marched received free popcorn, peanuts, and candy.

The event was so successful that the police received no reports of pranks. Soon, plans were underway for the next Halloween celebration. Anoka’s new tradition expanded each year to include activities like dances, parties, games, concerts, and fireworks. It also grew to include community sing-alongs, races, costume contests, and a storefront-decorating competition for local merchants. Together, the festivities attracted thousands of people each year.

The city’s multi-day Halloween activities helped establish Anoka as the Halloween Capital of the World. That title, however, wasn’t official until 1937, thanks to an act of Congress. In that year, twelve-year-old newspaper carrier Harold Blair of Anoka was one of 200 Minneapolis Journal paperboys to win an all-expenses-paid trip to tour the nation’s capital. Civic leaders behind the Halloween activities seized on Blair’s visit as an opportunity to establish their little town as a big player on the Halloween scene.

Anoka’s Commercial Club, headed by drug store owner Bernard Witte, lead the charge. It commissioned local artist Alyce Vick to create a customized patch for Blair to wear in DC. The large insignia showcased a witch flying in the light of a full moon with “Halloween Capitol” (sic) written in the sky and “Anoka, Minnesota” below it. On the bottom of the patch was an open gate with the words, “The Gateway to the Great Northwest.”

The patch was sewn to Blair’s yellow sweater, a gift from Anoka clothing storeowner and Commercial Club member Craydon Colburn. The club sent Blair off with a proclamation to deliver about Anoka’s unique achievement in attracting youngsters to the annual celebration. In recognition of this, the town asked for Anoka to be officially known as the Halloween Capital of the World. In DC, Blair did his best to represent a city on a mission and gave the proclamation to Minnesota Representative Millard Rice. Shortly afterward, Congress granted Anoka’s wish.

With Anoka officially the Halloween Capital of the World, 1937 proved to be an especially celebratory Halloween season. The following year, Life magazine sent a photographer to Anoka to capture the Halloween spirit in a town that was virtually unknown outside of Minnesota. New events were added each year. Meanwhile, civic organizations and community volunteers raised money and worked year-round to make each celebration more impressive than the last.

Anoka’s Halloween traditions continued without interruption until 1942. By then, many of those involved in the planning of the Halloween activities were called to service in World War II. In their absence, the committee opted to focus on home-front activities like raising money for the war effort instead of celebrating Halloween. The festivities were suspended again in 1943 but reinstated in 1944 toward the end of the war.

Over time, Anoka’s Halloween events moved away from Halloween night so residents were home for the trick-or-treaters. New traditions began, including haunted houses, royalty coronations, celebrity appearances, Pumpkin Bowl football games, and house decorating. As the Halloween Capital of the World continues to defend its title, the celebration remains ever-evolving and expanding, providing a month’s worth of Halloween fun every October.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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“Anoka Halloween Celebration General Instructions.” Halloween Committee, 1960. Anoka County Historical Society Halloween Collection.

“Anoka’s Halloween History.” Anoka Halloween Committee, 2001. Anoka County Historical Society Halloween Collection.

“Anoka Sets Mark for Hallo’we’een; 10,000 Celebrate.” Anoka Herald and Anoka Free Press, November 1, 1921. Anoka County Historical Society Halloween Collection.

“Halloween Capital of World: History of Halloween in Anoka.” Anoka Herald, September 15, 1959. Anoka County Historical Society Halloween Collection.

Official Website for Anoka Halloween.
https://anokahalloween.com/

Orcutt, Roxy. History and Hauntings of the Halloween Capital. St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 2014.

Bannatyne, Lesley. “When Halloween Was All Tricks and No Treats.” Smithsonsonian.com, October 27, 2017.
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/when-halloween-was-all-tricks-no-treats-180966996/

Related Images

Anoka Halloween Celebration kids’ parade, 1990, Minnesota
Anoka Halloween Celebration kids’ parade, 1990, Minnesota
Anoka Halloween Celebration, ca. 1925
Anoka Halloween Celebration, ca. 1925
Anoka Halloween Celebration, 1936
Anoka Halloween Celebration, 1936
Float in the Anoka Halloween Celebration parade, 1937
Float in the Anoka Halloween Celebration parade, 1937
Anoka Halloween Celebration parade, 1953
Anoka Halloween Celebration parade, 1953
Lincoln School PTA float in the Anoka Halloween Celebration parade, 1961, Minnesota
Lincoln School PTA float in the Anoka Halloween Celebration parade, 1961, Minnesota
Float in the American Legion Parade at the Anoka Halloween Celebration parade, 1987
Float in the American Legion Parade at the Anoka Halloween Celebration parade, 1987

Turning Point

In 1937, the United States Congress officially makes Anoka, Minnesota, the Halloween Capital of the World.

Chronology

1919

Anoka’s Halloween pranksters become seriously disruptive.

1920

Anoka holds its first citywide Halloween celebration.

1928

An estimated 10,000 people attend the Anoka Halloween parade.

1933

The first Miss Anoka, Ruth Herbold, is crowned at the Green Theatre.

1937

Harold Blair travels to Washington, DC to ask Congress to make Anoka the Halloween Capital of the World.

1938

A Life magazine photographer captures Anoka’s Halloween celebration

1941

The first known Anoka Halloween button is created.

1942

Anoka’s Halloween activities are suspended because of World War II.

1944

The Halloween Celebration resumes.

1947

To accommodate the growing number of schoolchildren participating in the festivities, Anoka’s Halloween parade splits into a children’s parade and an evening parade.

1948

Anoka High School hosts its first Pumpkin Bowl Football Game. Anoka beats Robbinsdale 12 to 0.

1950

Western comedy screen and radio star Smiley Burnette is the first of many celebrities to entertain at the event.

1960

The Miss Anoka pageant is officially re-established after a hiatus of fourteen years.

1970

A couple that met on the television show The Dating Game wins a trip to Anoka and arrives by helicopter before the Pumpkin Bowl.

1980

Anoka sponsors a hot-air balloon trick-or-treating event.

1987

Miss Anoka Martha Weaver is invited to Japan for a goodwill Halloween celebration. The tradition continued for ten more years with each Miss Anoka.