Family's Halloween tradition endures in Anoka

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 31, 2012 - 2:27 PM

For the Omdahl family of Anoka, the "Halloween Capital of the World," the holiday is one big deal.

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The home of Jane and Ross Omdahl of Anoka has become a neighborhood and family gathering spot during the city’s popular Halloween parade. “No one does it like we do it,” Jane Omdahl said of their holiday decorations and festivities.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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When he was young, Ross Omdahl's parents often had people over to their house in Anoka for the city's Halloween parade. The yellow Tudor-style house is situated along the route for the Grand Day Parade, as it's called.

Half a century later, Ross and his wife, Jane, carry on the family tradition in the same house, which they acquired in the 1980s. They've been throwing a party on the day of the parade since then.

"It's the best site for watching the parade," Ross said, adding that last year some people set up blankets and chairs on their lawn the night before to get a good spot to watch the three-hour procession.

This year the parade took place on Saturday. It's gotten a lot bigger than it was when he was a child, he said.

The 91-year-old parade, one of the oldest and largest in the state, was originally planned by the city to "divert its youngsters from Halloween pranks," the city's Halloween committee website reads.

Soon enough, the city distinguished itself as the "Halloween Capital of the World." To this day, the city puts on numerous events, including several parades, a costume contest, a wine tasting and more in the days leading up to the holiday.

Councilman Steve Schmidt, a lifelong Anoka resident, said the get-togethers that the goings-on inspire around town convey that "it's a community festival that's taken on a life of its own."

It's symbolic in some ways, too. At a time of year in Minnesota when parades are few and far between, it means winter is coming, he said.

All along the street where the parade goes, homes are filled with onlookers and festive decorations. But "no one does it like we do it," Ross Omdahl said.

Last year, they packed about 180 people into their house. By the end of the night, their yard was trampled flat.

This, despite the fact that the Omdahls don't call anyone about the party or send out invitations.

"Everyone just knows to come over," Jane said, adding that the same thing happens for football games with the high school's Goodrich Field just down the street.

'It's like a reunion'

Many people are familiar with their house, nicknamed the "gingerbread house."

Some people travel from as far away as California or Virginia to be there, with multiple generations represented. "It's like a reunion," she said. "We see some of these people once a year."

The Omdahls set up a buffet along the driveway, with chili, warm drinks, including Jane's signature sweet and spicy "hot wine," hot dogs and desserts. Guests bring food, too.

They arrange Halloween decorations here and there, such as some wooden figurines that Ross handcrafted when their children were little.

During the parade, often the bands will turn toward the house and play a song for them. "The house just shakes," she said.

Some friends who participate in the Gray Ghost 5K Run that precedes the parade typically stop by the house to show off their costumes.

"Halloween is a bigger deal for us than other holidays," she said. "It's the one main thing that we look forward to all year. We're proud to do this."

'My No. 1 holiday'

The couple's son, Seth Omdahl, who lives in Brooklyn Park, shares their enthusiasm. "It's my No. 1 holiday, even over Christmas."

Every year he watches TV documentaries about the holiday's history, listening for when Anoka comes up.

Although he enjoys the nostalgia of the parade, what he likes most is the social aspect. Last year he brought 40 friends to the party.

"I'm starting to get as many friends as my parents have," he said.

Gail Toohey, who lives in Ramsey, said she and her family, including her grandchildren and sister Julie Henderson, keep the event on their calendar every year.

"For many years Halloween has had special meaning for us," she said.

"We all like to get together and enjoy life."

Anna Pratt is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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