“It’s like Christmas, but better, right?” Anoka, calling itself the Halloween Capital of the World, prepares for a big weekend.

Halloween season in full swing in Anoka

Halloween season in full swing in Anoka

Anoka is going all-out orange this weekend.

The ‘Halloween Capital of the World’ is preparing for 100,000 visitors Saturday.  

“It’s like Christmas, but better, right?” laughs Michelle Austin-Dehn, the chair of the Anoka Halloween Parade. “Halloween means everything to this town.”

From spookily decorated shop windows, to houses turned haunted, Anoka is dressing up with an orangey glow.

“It didn’t even dawn on me until after we brought the house,” says Jason Ladouceur, who’s converted his home into a haunted house every Halloween since moving to the area in 2016. “Moved in, and all my family said you picked the right place— it’s the Halloween Capital of the World— and here I am!”

On Friday— Anoka Halloween hosted a kid’s parade, and on Saturday, the Halloween Grande Parade starts at one p.m.

“It’s not scary Halloween,” Austin-Dehn explains. “It’s just bringing joy to people, and it’s showing them the love of our community, and the tradition and the holiday.”

She says that tradition started in 1920, when some area youngsters let some cows loose onto the city streets.

The idea behind the parade was to keep people occupied.

Of course, love of a community takes many forms— including the love of growing things.  

“I think we’ve got a pretty good recipe, it’s just will the weather cooperate,” says Travis Gienger.

This year, the longtime Anoka resident won the Safeway 50th annual World Champion Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, California.

His entry this year weighed 2,749 pounds, which he named ‘Michael Jordan’ because of its round shape.

Gienger won a $30,000 prize for his efforts.

Anoka is also proclaiming Saturday as ‘Travis Gienger Day.’

He and his pumpkin will be part of the big parade.

At events like this, Gienger smiles, there are always lots of questions.

“It’s really cool to be honored by the town,” Gienger exclaims. “It’s like— ‘oh my gosh, it’s so big, I can’t even believe it… how does it grow that big. How’d you do that, is that real?’”

It’s not just parades and pumpkins.

Dozens of houses are decorated for the Halloween festivities.

Ladouceur’s house even won a city-wide contest.

He says the set-up takes about a day— and is designed to be kid-friendly.

“We have a special way to help the little kids overcome their fears,” Ladouceur notes. “So, as they come through, they don’t get super scared. Our actors know not to jump out and scare them.”

Meanwhile, Gienger says he’s planning to drive ‘Michael Jordan’ to the Buffalo, New York area, so it can be carved into shapes to benefit the Tunnels to Towers Foundation, a non-profit that provides mortgage-free homes to Gold Star and fallen first responder families.

Gienger is considering using some seeds from ‘Michael Jordan’— to grow yet another potentially prize-winning pumpkin.  

This year, it took from April tenth to October seventh— 184 days.

But for now, Gienger says he is humbled and grateful for this year’s win— and the recognition from his hometown.

“I never imagined in a million years setting the world record. That’s cool,” he says. “But now having a day in remembrance of me— that’s just really neat.”