On Nov. 1, 1919, residents of Anoka, Minn., woke up to a scene of serial depredation. They saw wagons spirited onto rooftops, capsized outhouses and cows wandering along Main Street. House windows were soaped. Several cows were locked in the town’s jail, and one was sleeping in the sheriff’s office. A bull was locked in a classroom.
The young men of Anoka had once again spent Halloween night wreaking mischief.
The town had had enough. Civic leaders met to discuss solutions to the perennial scourge of increasingly malignant pranksterism. One town father, George Green, suggested diverting the attention of the mischievous youth by holding a week-long community-wide celebration to usher in the next Halloween.
The local Kiwanis Club and the Anoka Commercial Club spearheaded the preparations with the cooperation of businessmen, teachers and parents. In the weeks leading up to the big event, more than 1,000 school children created costumes and assisted in planning.
The plan was a rousing success. According to one contemporary newspaper account:
“On that Halloween evening, October 31, 1920, local bands and drum corps, neighboring musical units, the Anoka Fire Department, Anoka Police Department, the Kiwanis Club, Commercial Club, Anoka National Guard, the Boy Scouts, and the school district all joined hands to make the evening a success.”
Hundreds of bags of popcorn, candy, peanuts and other goodies were given away and the evening was capped off with a huge bonfire.
The following year’s event was even larger. According to the Anoka County Union, the parade, illuminated by spotlights along Main Street, was headed by the Punkville Band. The band was followed by 64 Boy Scouts, 60 nurses from the local asylum and a variety of floats. Comprising the centerpiece of the parade were 1,000 costumed school children. Even the crowd chimed in on the revelry.
According to the article, “The American Legion Drum Corps made a lot of noise, and every kid on the street had a horn, a bell, a squawker, or some noise-making device.”
The vandalism evaporated in light of the community-wide celebration and Anoka has never looked back.
The festival has been held every October since 1920 with two exceptions — 1943 and 1944 — when the event was scuttled by America’s involvement in World War II.
Officially dubbed the “Halloween Capital of the World” by congressional proclamation in 1937, the city of 17,000 hosts a month-long family-friendly celebration that draws more than twice the city’s population in visitors.
Currently, the world-class celebration includes:
- three parades
- football games
- block parties
- Bingo nights
- a medallion hunt
- a 5k run and one-mile walk
- contests for human and pet costumes, house decorating and pumpkin recipes
- scholarship awards
- wine tasting
- pillow fights
Last year’s parades featured 212 floats and 15 marching bands from all over the Midwest; nearly 1,800 runners finished the 5K Gray Ghost Run.
The ever-evolving celebration is decidedly community, family and kid friendly. Parade participants are required to adhere to two iron-fisted rules: No. 1 no depictions of gore, blood or violence, and No. 2 no political campaigning.
The year-round planning is now conducted by Anoka Halloween Inc., a 501(c) (3) all-volunteer organization. Its mission is “to provide opportunities in our community using unique family-friendly ways to celebrate Halloween while raising money for scholarships and schools.”
For more information about the organization and this year’s festival, visit www.anokahalloween.com.
An added attraction this year, the United States Postal Service unveiled four commemorative Halloween “forever” stamps on Sept. 29 in Anoka’s City Hall Plaza.
The series of stamps features lit jack-o’-lanterns designed and carved by artist Paul Montari and photographed by Sally Andersen-Bruce.
The ceremony coincided with the 100th anniversary of the city’s historical “Old Post Office.”
But Anoka is not just about Halloween.
“Anoka’s downtown business community continues to grow into a fully developed shopping destination housed within the framework of historical buildings and our nostalgic Main Street,” touted www.discoveranoka.com, a website administered by Discover Anoka, a downtown promotional organization.
The city recently completed its two-year downtown makeover, installing wider sidewalks, constructing new roads and surrounding the 120 retail shops, service businesses and restaurants with “stunning landscaping.”
“Our revitalized downtown features a growing number of thriving businesses with unique products and services that you can only find in Anoka,” beckoned the website.
“Choose from clothing, personal accessories, shoes, locally made products, one-of-a-kind gifts, home decor, furniture, original art, toys, teaching supplies, music supplies, fine jewelry and even mattresses and unique plumbing fixtures.
“Regardless of where you stop in Anoka, it will be a treat you won’t forget.”