As the sun set into dusk, a headless horseman led a procession of haunted figures through downtown Anaheim's Center Street Promenade. Costumed "Star Wars" characters marched down the streets, as locals and neighbors from nearby cities alike crowded onto the sidewalks to watch the action at the Anaheim Halloween Parade's 91st edition, on October 24.
The first Anaheim Halloween parade took place on October 30, 1924 with baseball icon Babe Ruth in attendance as the grand marshal. The parade was reportedly well-attended and grew bigger and bigger drawing in thousands of attendees from Anaheim and Southern California. The parade would become a fall tradition. At one time, it was one of the biggest Halloween parties in the nation, attracting 75,000 people by the 1970s, according to the Orange County Register. In fact, Disney studios was involved with the Anaheim Halloween Parade prior to the establishment of the theme park in 1955.
The Anaheim Halloween Parade was originally conceived as a remedy to deter adolescent pranksters and hooligans. The spectacle was created by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, as well as merchants and store owners in the downtown area to offer an alternative activity for kids who were more into tricks than treats. The Parade was even broadcast on television for a time during the 1960s. Over time, Anaheim shifted from being a rural town inhabited by orange groves into a popular tourist destination and one of the largest cities in Orange County. As the region underwent an urban transformation -- and the downtown region experienced an exodus of residents -- the interest in the Anaheim Halloween Parade began to lag.
Then in 2012, the Anaheim Halloween Parade was revived, thanks to former Disney art directors, Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily. Nearly 45,000 were in attendance at last year's parade. Kidney and Daily's credits include Disney's "Fantasmic" and many of the attractions and parades that have taken place over the last 30 years. The duo stumbled upon Anaheim's historic neighborhood when they drove to Anaheim for a meeting and arrived early. "We had a good amount of time to spare so we decided to explore what's known as the city's historic colony and while driving about," Kidney recalls, "we found an incredible old Victorian house. We so happened to be in the market to buy a home and ended up purchasing the 1897 Victorian house."
As a result of discovering their home's history, they soon fell in love with the history surrounding Anaheim and would end up joining the Anaheim Historical Society. Immersed in the history of Anaheim the two decided to join the historical board and one day while looking through old photographs Kidney remembers how the Anaheim Halloween Parade kept popping up. "During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s the parade was massive -- at a time it had almost 150,000 people who came from all over Southern California, out to Anaheim, out to the orange groves to stand in downtown and see the parade," Kidney says.
Then Kidney and Daily discovered that the parade was still taking place, but to a much smaller scale. "It was alive but it was small and it had lost its life and unless you lived in the community, you wouldn't really know about this parade and it wasn't gaining new audience members." The parade designers saw this as an opportunity to revive what was once hailed as one of the greatest Halloween parades and most importantly, an event to bring the community together.
In conjunction with local businesses, community members, and Disney, the Anaheim Halloween parade was brought back to the streets and relaunched in 2012 with a throwback aesthetic.
Keeping true to the history of the parade, Kidney and Daily have gone to the lengths of reproducing floats from decades past such as the 1953 "Flying Sasser" and the 1951 "Rocket Witch."
"The 'Flying Sasser' replica was all because of a photograph that we encountered from 1953 that had these little kids with this cardboard flying saucer and someone had misspelled it as 'Sasser,' which we thought was really charming." In 2014, Kidney and Daily's good friend, American pop culture historian, Charles Phoenix took part in the parade hovering down the streets of Anaheim in the "Flying Sasser."
Along with all the historical influence the Anaheim Halloween Parade embodies, the parade also demonstrates a reverence to the multicultural community that inhabits Anaheim today, like the Dia De Los Muertos section of the parade, with giant floats emulating papel picado, Mexican folk art designs punched out of paper. While this year's parade featured many community members, Kidney and Daily are planning for the next edition. "We're already talking about next year," Kidney says, "we're always talking about the parade -- it's really something that kind of consumes us. We do fundraisers all throughout the year that goes into funding the next year's Halloween parade, we're all volunteers and don't get paid so we rely on donations and raising funds."
As more community members become involved in creating the Anaheim Halloween Parade, the future of the parade could perhaps live up to the famous festivities of Halloween's past.