In many neighborhoods there’s one house that goes “all out” for Halloween. There’s a house in our neighborhood that has it all – the entire front yard is transformed into a graveyard, complete with tombstones and a rickety black fence. A skeleton half-buried in the ground lights up as people walk by. Cob webs hang loosely from the trees, the wind sending them into an eerie dance as it blows through the wispy, gray strands. Every year, the homeowners add to their display so it gets bigger and better. Of course, this is the house my kids always want to go to first. When someone takes this much time and effort, you can’t wait to tell them how much it’s appreciated.
Since this one house is the only house in our neighborhood that goes all out, I try to get the kids to go to other houses first to draw out the excitement. When we finally make it to that house, I try to get them to guess “who” will answer the door (the homeowners dress up in costumes every year and “ham it up” for the kids). The anticipation builds and they can’t wait to ring the doorbell and yell “trick-or-treat.”
If you could take that one special house and multiply and amplify it until it consumes an entire town, you’d have Anoka, Minnesota. Anoka is the Halloween Capital of the World. The city has claimed Halloween as its own, and residents celebrate in a big way. Halloween doesn’t last just one day in Anoka – events take place all month long, with the last two weeks of October slammed with haunted houses, live performances, movie nights, parades, family dinners, a bonfire, contests, a Halloween block party, a “Gray Ghost” 5K run, and an “orange tie” ball.
So how did Anoka come to claim Halloween? It began during the 1920s, when Halloween pranks had residents waking up to cows roaming the streets and tipped-over outhouses. They got together and decided to keep the kids busy with a parade and a bonfire. This parade was a first – no other city in the country held a Halloween parade. The event grew every year and began to include other things – pumpkin carving contests, dances, window-painting contests, and even a kangaroo court. In 1937, a 12-year-old boy took it to Washington, and congress officially declared Anoka the Halloween Capital of the World.
Most of the time, Anoka is an attractive, quiet little city. The downtown Main Street is lined with quaint shops and restaurants housed in brick buildings with striped awnings. Flowerbeds overflowing with firecracker pops of color adorn brick-lined sidewalks, and period lighting adds a cozy, old-fashioned punctuation mark to the scene. Anoka was founded in 1844. It is situated along the Rum and Mississippi Rivers, roughly 15 miles northwest of Minneapolis. With beautiful parks such as the Anoka Nature Preserve along Rum River, Anoka has a lot to offer all year long, from camping and fishing in the summer to skiing and sledding in the winter. And since it is just minutes from Minneapolis, residents are a short car or train ride away from the museums, theaters, and employers of this major metropolis. Most of the time, Anoka is Americana wrapped in a bow.
That all changes in October when this unassuming city dons its costume and ghosts, goblins, witches, and vampires all line up to march in parades. When skeletons, scarecrows, and zombies decorate front porches and haunted houses creek open their doors. Where bonfires, crazy contests, and street dancing create a quirky, weeks-long fete. If you love Halloween, this city will bring out that excited little kid who just can’t wait to ring the doorbell.