Damn kids! The annual Anaheim Fall Festival & Halloween Parade began in 1924 as a response to the midnight mayhem brewed up by kids on what was known as mischief night almost a century ago in Orange County. “Halloween wasn’t this trick-or-treat holiday we know today,” explains co-organizer Kevin Kidney in a promotional video for the annual festival he helped bring back from the grave with his partner Jody Daily and a team of local volunteers. “It was kind of more of the trick holiday where kids upended fences and soaked windows and all that kind of stuff that people don’t do today.”
The idea of a parade and party being held to curb childhood Halloween pranks wasn’t unique; similar efforts were made in cities such as Huntington Beach, a place historically known for riots and other instances of melees and mayhem. An article in the Santa Ana Register from Oct. 23, 1924, titled “Give Party at Beach City to Keep Young People From Streets and Usual Pranks,” blamed Boy Scouts as the root of the town’s seaside seasonal tomfoolery. “Local Boy Scouts will not be in trouble over the tearing down of gate posts, the running away with wagons, or any other Halloween prank,” the article declared, citing local Scoutmaster C. E. Morris’ Scout’s honor. “Scouts of the three troops here have given their promise that if given a good party, they would lay off the usual ‘kid’ stunts,” Morris said.
“Back then, [Halloween-night pranking] was a big problem,” says Kidney, “so the City Council and some of the neighborhood shops decided, ‘Let’s try to turn that energy into something more productive and fun.’ So they started the Anaheim Halloween Festival.”
According to newspaper accounts, the new festival began on Oct. 30, 1924, and featured a costume contest, a mutt parade, street dancing, and an evening parade led by Grand Marshals and baseball legends Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson. (The Bambino and Barney were in town for a Halloween-day charity baseball game at nearby Brea Bowl featuring fellow Hall of Famer Sam Crawford.)
The parade eventually became the star of the annual festival. Local businesses would sponsor and build floats that were required to be at least 50 percent Halloween themed, but that other 50 percent allowed imaginations to run wild. Fan favorites included the Flying Sasser, a “float” that debuted in 1953 and was made by neighborhood children that was a flying saucer placed over a covered wagon with a young man’s head popping out the top as he was pulled along by a wagon’s handle, and the 1951 Rocket Witch float, which featured a Space Age witch riding not a broom, but rather a giant skyward-pointing phallic rocket.
The parade grew to such a spectacle that the LA Times once heralded it as the “biggest Halloween parade in the nation,” with reports of 150,000 spectators on the sidelines; it was televised live on KTLA in the late 1960s.
However, “as the city of Anaheim began to experience unprecedented urban growth,” according to the Anaheim Fall Festival, “the small-town feeling began to wane, and by the 1980s the parade seemed to be in danger of becoming a nostalgic relic of the past.”
Then, in 2013, Kidney and Daily—both Disney artists and Anaheim residents—became inspired to revive the tradition. They gathered fellow artists and community members to begin building vintage-style floats. Thanks to the efforts of Kidney, Daily and volunteer Kathy Couture—as well as their crackerjack team of volunteer community artists, builders, and supportive fellow retro-heads and nostalgia nerds—the Rocket Witch (played by Anaheim rockabilly songstress Amber Foxx) rides again!
Under their care, the Anaheim Fall Festival & Halloween Parade has risen from the grave.
“Our [event] is really the old-fashioned Halloween we remember from when we were grade-school kids,” says Kidney. “It’s got a very vintage look to it.”
Though the art and floats of the festival are heavily vintage-inspired, they also have a modern twist. Fundraisers include retro-style tattoos from Orange artists Show Pigeon, a backyard rockabilly barbecue led this year by Anaheim rockabilly icon Big Sandy, and a retro Halloween slideshow led by the uproarious and hilarious Charles Phoenix, the Ambassador to Americana (“I knoooowwwwww!”).
“It just kind of started as this little neighborhood volunteer group,” explains co-organizer Couture via the registered 501c nonprofit organization’s website. “We’re all volunteers, and we love to come together and spend time. It’s kind of the best thing about the parade. The parade happens one day a year, but volunteering can take place 365 days a year.”
Anaheim Fall Festival & Halloween Parade on the Center Street Promenade, between Harbor and Anaheim boulevards, Anaheim; www.anaheimfallfestival.org. Sat. Festival, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; parade (down Broadway, across Harbor and Anaheim boulevards, then to the Center Street Promenade), 6 p.m. Free. Those interested in helping to keep the spook-tacular fall event rolling can sponsor, volunteer, attend one of the year-round fundraisers, purchase sweet retro Halloween swag on the online store and even straight-up donate via PayPal at the festival website.
When not running the OCWeekly.com and OC Weekly’s social media sites, Taylor “Hellcat” Hamby can be found partying like it’s 1899.