Flashback Friday: Anoka holds first Halloween celebration in 1920 | KSTP.com

Flashback Friday: Anoka holds first Halloween celebration in 1920

Updated: November 01, 2019 03:39 PM

For many, Halloween means getting dressed up in costumes, going door-to-door trick-or-treating to get candy or maybe going to a party. But it wasn't always a celebratory event that everyone looked forward to.

In the early 1900s, not-so-innocent children would prank people in October. Anoka was one of many towns where the mischief-making spiraled out of control.

In an effort to put an end to the Halloween night shenanigans, the town decided to throw a celebration.

This year's Halloween celebration marked 99 years since the town started its Halloween festivities, for which it's now known as the "Halloween Capital of the World."

In 1920, city and local leaders formed a Halloween committee in Anoka, hoping to create an event so captivating that the town's youth would abandon their usual troublemaking ways and join in the festivities. That year, the committee sponsored its first-ever community-wide Halloween celebration, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

The event featured a parade down Main Street, in which hundreds of children marched, joined by local police and fire departments, the Anoka National Guard, the Fireman's Band of Minneapolis and the Kiwanis and Commercial Clubs. After the parade, the community had a bonfire in Bridge Square, and children who marched in the parade received free popcorn, peanuts and candy.

To the delight of the town, the event was so successful the police department didn't receive a single report of pranks. Preparations quickly started for the next year's Halloween celebration. Before long, new activities were being added to the holiday, such as dances, parties, games, concerts and fireworks, and eventually sing-alongs, races, costume contests and storefront-decorating competitions.

Soon, the festivities were drawing thousands of people each year, the Historical Society says.

Then, in 1937, 12-year-old Harold Blair was one of 200 Minneapolis Journal paperboys to win a trip to tour the nation's capital. Civic leaders in Anoka saw Blair's visit as an opportunity to make their little town a big player nationally on the Halloween scene.

A local artist was commissioned to create a customized patch for Blair to wear in D.C., and he was sent off with a proclamation to deliver about the town's unique achievement in bringing the town together and dissuading youth from pranking people. While on his trip, Blair gave the declaration to Minnesota Representative Millard Rice.
Later that year, the U.S. Congress officially named Anoka the "Halloween Capital of the World."

In 1938, Life magazine sent a photographer to the city to show the Halloween celebration. Two years later, the first Halloween button was created.

In 1942, the tradition was suspended due to WWII. During some of the member's absence to the war, the Historical Society says the committee opted to raise money for the war effort and focus on home-front activities instead of celebrating Halloween. The festivities were reinstated in 1944, near the end of the war.

As time went on, events were moved away from Halloween night so residents were home for trick-or-treaters, and new traditions were also added, according to the Historical Society.

  • Anoka High School hosted its first "Pumpkin Bowl" football game in 1948.
  • In 1950, western comedy screen and radio star, Smiley Burnette, became the first of many celebrities to entertain at the event.
  • The Miss Anoka pageant was officially re-established after it had stopped for 14 years.
  • In 1980, the town sponsored a hot air balloon trick-or-treating event.
  • In 1987, Miss Anoka Martha Weaver was invited to Japan for a goodwill Halloween celebration, which then continued for 10 more years with each Miss Anoka.

The Halloween celebration continues to evolve and grow each year. And, it doesn't appear that it'll slow down anytime soon.

Click the video box above to see a video of the Halloween parade in 1950 & 1971, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

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Josh Skluzacek

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