People here in Anaheim, California celebrate Halloween in a rather unique way— with a parade! The nighttime pageant of ghosts, goblins, jack-o-lanterns and witches stretching a mile through Anaheim’s darkened downtown has been a family-fun tradition for almost 90 years. And, as you might imagine, Disney has played a role in the festivities ever since Disneyland moved into town…and even longer than that! A source of city pride, the parade is part of the larger and older Anaheim Fall Festival put on every year by Anaheim businesses, schools, organizations, and residents. For one exuberant October night, the most populated city in Orange County takes on the atmosphere of a small town.
|Hallowe'en Past in Downtown Anaheim|
Long before “trick-or-treating” became the huge thing that it is today (since the 1930s), Halloween was typically a time for mischief and pranks by neighborhood youngsters. In the tranquil little farming community of Anaheim, soaped windows, uprooted fences, and damaged property were turning “All Hallow’s Eve” into a major headache for residents and businesses. To steer the energies of Anaheim kiddies toward “wholesome fun and frolic,” a “Halloween Carnival and Festival” with games and costume contests was devised by local merchants in 1923. Incredibly, this solution did the trick, and the following year a nighttime Halloween Parade was added to the Festival activities. 20,000 residents and neighbors from nearby towns crowded onto the sidewalks on both sides of the street on October 31, 1924 to watch the 45-minute procession led by baseball superstars Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson who served as the first Grand Marshals.
|1953 Anaheim Bulletin|
|1953 float designs by Disney Studio artist Roy Williams|
Comparing the concept art with the few existing photographs showing the finished floats, it’s important to keep in mind that Disneyland hadn’t even been built yet, and it was up to the local residents who performed on the floats to provide their own home-made costumes of the famous Disney characters. It may have been a tad hit-and-miss, but it’s a sure bet that Disney made a spectacular first impression upon Anaheim.
|First Disney character as Grand Marshal, accompanied by his voice.|
|1954 float concepts by Yale Gracey and Phyllis Williams.|
Most notable is the float representing “True-Life Adventureland”-- an area originally planned for the Park that would have been themed to Walt Disney’s Oscar®-winning series of nature films. The float was never built, as the concept rapidly evolved into the tropical Adventureland familiar to us today.
|1954 Tru-Life Adventureland float by Yale Gracey|
Disney continued to bestow its own special Halloween magic on Anaheim over the years in surprising ways.
|Disneyland's Wally Boag in the Anaheim Fall Festival, 1961|
|1973 Anaheim Halloween Parade step off at La Palma Park Stadium|
|1970's Halloween Parade featured the great Scatman Crothers with the Aristocats.|
|1973: Shared golden anniversaries|
In 1973, Walt Disney Productions and the Anaheim Halloween Festival celebrated their shared golden anniversaries with a “Fifty Happy Years” cavalcade of thirty-one familiar Disney characters dancing atop six giant drum floats. Naturally, Mickey and Minnie were the star attractions traveling through the streets of downtown Anaheim in one of Disneyland's own "horseless carriages" from Main Street U.S.A. It was Disney's biggest involvement in the Halloween Parade's history - before or since!
Research and text by Kevin Kidney, 2013