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, Oct. 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.AD: x100
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, 12-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 D.C. 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 D.C., 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.