It recently came to my attention that another city, Anoka, Minn., is believed to be the first city in the United States to put on a Halloween celebration to divert its youngsters from Halloween pranks.
Their history dates back to 1920 when they staged a parade. It is said that when Anokans awoke to find their cows roaming Main Street, their windows soaped and their outhouses tipped over, they decided something had to be done. So, back in 1920 they organized a celebration beginning with a parade that featured children in costumes, school bands, police, fire, clubs and more taking to the streets. It has continued with the exception of 1942 and 1943, when the festivities were cancelled because of World War II.
Anoka’s story relays that by the 1930s, the festivities had expanded and attendance had grown to 2,000-plus costumed children marching down Main Street and more than 20,000 spectators lining the streets to watch the nighttime spectacular. In 1937, a 12-year-old named Harold Blair went to Washington, D.C., carrying a document proclaiming Anoka the Halloween Capital of the World. So, this city of about 17,000 population has made a name for itself for its Halloween traditions.
Through the years, Cleveland has also made a name for itself, as 20,000 to 30,000 people gather in our downtown area for our MainStreet Halloween Block Party. Such great entertainers as Little Richard, Vince Vance & The Valiants, Doctor Hook, Jason D. Williams and others have graced the stage. And visitors such as the “Leave it to Beaver” television cast including The Beaver (Jerry Mathers), brother Wally (Tony Dow) and friend Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond) have been here in person to enjoy the Block Party and meet and greet fans.
While Anoka may have its parade tradition, we have our Tall Betsy Legend, as this “mysterious tall lady in black” was named the “Official Halloween Spook” of Tennessee by the Tennessee Legislature.
We are blessed to be the home of M&M Mars, a community-minded company that helps to host “Treat Street” where thousands of young school children are given candy in a fun and safe environment.
Our Centenary Avenue neighborhood tradition continues and is the location where Tall Betsy originally appeared. Centenary is listed on the National Register of Historic Streets, and residents have always decorated, entertained and hosted the children for special treats each year as part of the event.
Lining our historic downtown streets is a variety of vendors that include civic clubs, churches and organizations offering everything from funnel cakes and candied apples to face painting, Block Party sweatshirts, photos and more. Also located in our historic downtown area is the Craigmiles Mausoleum, which has been listed in several books as one of the top 10 ghost stories of Tennessee.
As many folks know, the “man behind the mask” of Tall Betsy, and who has provided endless top entertainers for the Halloween Block Party, is Cleveland businessman Allan Jones. He and his family are former residents of Centenary Avenue and for many years the tall tree on their front lawn was the official site for Tall Betsy’s annual appearance. Their lawn and the street were filled with literally thousands of young and old alike waiting to hear the recitation of Tall Betsy’s legendary story.
Allan and Janie opened their home to not only Tall Betsy, but to friends and neighbors who joined them for smoked barbecue on their back lawn. Allan’s love for Halloween and his enactment of Tall Betsy have brought acclaim to our community and he has been fondly dubbed by some as “Mr. Halloween.”
So, while Anoka is the official Halloween Capital and the city also boasts being hometown to Fox News’ (and 1989 Miss America) Gretchen Carlson, we here in Cleveland, Tenn., can boast being home to “Mr. Halloween” and to Tall Betsy, Tennessee’s Official Halloween Spook. We should take pride in what we have created here for a family atmosphere and safe environment for Halloween each year. And we salute other cities like Anoka for creating such an atmosphere for their youth as well.
Sharon Marr and the MainStreet Cleveland team are now busy coordinating this year’s celebration and it promises to be a great event. We are proud of those who began this tradition and those who continue to support it and carry on the tradition for our community.