Every year, towns and cities throughout America seek to make Halloween history with their annual local Halloween parades and traditions. U.S. Halloween parades by state and by city have a long history of competing for the claim of "Longest Running", "Largest Spectator" and "Most Attended" parades - maybe 2012 is the year for a new city to rise above and manifest itself with the top honor, or at least frighten the current placeholders enough to increase spectator enjoyment. Exciting Halloween costumes and ominous parade floats are designed, as ghostly figures are erected and fall festivities are planned. Haunting hayrides, chilling Haunted Houses, spooky street walks, and spirited window displays materialize this time of year, teasing and tormenting with nostalgic guises designed to turn heads and vex townspeople.
Halloween Parades History and Fun Facts
U.S. Halloween parades have been an annual occurrence since circa 1920s, when the concept was introduced by immigrants eager to carry on their own cultural traditions. The honor for first U.S. Halloween parade is split between two locations; both Anoka, Minnesota and Hiawatha, Kansas claim to have held the first Halloween parade in the U.S., and there are no official documents to lend concrete evidence to either of the debating towns.
Oldest U.S. Halloween Parade
Anoka, Minnesota's parade was started in 1920 as a way of keeping the town's young people from performing pranks. The parade was meant to allow children and adults of any age to enjoy in Halloween festivities, releasing their "little ghouls" on the town in a constructive way. The parade still occurs to this day, with students dressed in costume as they walk down Main Street, and the town holds both a day and night parade. Anoka, Minnesota history includes a self-proclamation in 1937 that Anoka is the "Halloween Capital of the World".
Hiawatha, Kansas claims their parade dates as far back as 1914, six years before Anoka. Known as the Halloween Frolic, the Hiawatha tradition began by decorating wagons and wearing costumes but soon became a massive Halloween parade filled with floats and contests. While the parade still happens annually, many years were skipped for both Anoka and Hiawatha due to town hardships, preventing either city from holding the title as longest running Halloween Parade.
Longest Running Parade
The recognition as longest running Halloween Parade belongs to the city of Rutland, Vermont. Since 1960, the parade has marched on or around October 31st every year. The parade places a strong emphasis on comic books, allowing superheroes to spill from the pages of everyone's favorite comics to the streets of the town. The Rutland Halloween Parade has also served as the setting for numerous comic book adventures, including Batman #237. Events include a Halloween 5K race, corn maze, scavenger hunt, and Pumpkin Princess Pageant.
Largest Spectator Parade
The largest spectator parade is located in New York's historic Greenwich Village. While NYC has many Halloween parades, the Village Halloween Parade is the largest and most ornate, attracting an average of 60,000-80,000 spectators on the streets. Traditionally, anything from spooky puppets to detailed disguises can be seen throughout the streets on Halloween night, as all spectators are encouraged to participate in walking. The dedication and creativity of each attendee really shines when the sun goes down, which is why an additional 4-5 million spectators enjoy the colorful scene from their televisions.
Most Attended Parade
Debates rage between which is the most attended parade; Rutland, Vermont's Halloween parade has had superheroes in attendance (at least in the Avengers comic book), but New York's Village Halloween Parade has a high numbers of attendees as well. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Toms River Halloween Parade in New Jersey attracts over 100,000 spectators, making it the largest Halloween parade in the U.S., and the second largest in the entire world.
Halloween Parades and Community
Halloween celebrations have become very popular over the years, and with parades such as Disney's "Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween" and Universal's "Halloween Horror Nights", it seems that everyone, from professionals to cities, enjoys Halloween festivities. Events typically include games, crafts, food, masquerades and carnivals.
Communities such as Little 5 Points in Atlanta, Greenwich Village in New York City, and West Hollywood have annual events that celebrate Halloween and LGBT diversity. Parades offer communities a sense of togetherness and support, allowing creative minds to come together and celebrate a holiday that places emphasis on individuality, with safety in mind. From choosing a costume to creating a spooky ambiance through house decorations, parade floats, and street decorations, costume events provide a creative outlet as well as a way to elicit positive emotions within the immediate surroundings. Getting to know people with similar interests is also a benefit of events, particularly those participating, and Halloween parades harken back to the traditional idea of a day for the spirits of the dead to roam the streets and beg the living for offerings--or, in this case, candy. Additionally, pet parades such as New York's Annual Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade are held for 4-legged friends, and unique community fun takes place across the country, such as the Zombie pub crawls, charity events, church fall festivals and games, tarantula-fests and trunk or treats.
Charities, like Haute Dog Howl'oween Parade, offer pet adoptions during the animal Halloween celebration, and many charities that benefit cancer research attend these events, selling apparel and raising money for the cure. If you see a charity at your local event, make sure you get in the 'treating' mood as opposed to the 'tricking' one!
If you think attending or participating in Halloween events would be fun for you and your family, give it a try this year. Your little ghouls will love it! To find a parade by city or state, read the Mr. Costumes Halloween Parade Blog for an inside scoop.
If you're interested in participating in one of your local Halloween ceremonies, there are numerous Halloween Resources (like this one!) with contact information. Most marches are open to anyone with a costume who would like to walk the route. If you want to become a bigger part of the community on Halloween, do so by demonstrating your interest and shining as a volunteer.
Controversy in Halloween Parades
While Halloween parades create a great sense of community, there have also been controversial reports in dealing with over-zealous attendees. For instance, in Athens, Ohio the population doubles every Halloween, and many people are arrested for flashing, public drunkenness, and a slew of other illegal behaviors, usually unheard of in the small city.
New York's Occupy Wall Street became Occupy Halloween, causing another controversy in the midst of several different New York parades. Many protesters showed up in costumes representing big businesses or broken liberties of the American people. And, of course, many people dressed as the 99%.
Create a Halloween Parade in Your Town
If you have an idea for a holiday event in your town, reach out to your local government, or start small with a neighborhood celebration. Consider joining forces with another local community and establishing a joint Halloween parade. Halloween parades are about community and togetherness, so take time to come up with some great march ideas and present them to the people who can help make it happen.
If you want parade ideas for Halloween, try some of the following that are, by definition, winners:
Float decorating competitions by category, with prizes based on theme and/or genre
Costume contests - themes can include homemade, kids, teen and unearthly costume ideas for adults
Pet parades for hounds, horses, and other crowd-friendly animals who like to appear in style
A charity fancy dress event
School childrens ensemble with kids in uniform or disguise, and perhaps a mysterious visit from the Candyman?
Facebook promotions for after parties with an invite to buy tickets for a festivity