Halloween Frolic

Iconic Communities, On the Road, Seasonal, Traditions
on October 18, 2011
Harland J. Schuster

Isaac Wingert, 10, switches on the lights of the John Deere tractor costume that he built from a cardboard box for the Halloween Frolic parade in Hiawatha, Kan. (pop. 3,417), as he awaits pre-parade judging with more than a hundred other costumed children.

"I came up with the idea because I'm a big John Deere fan," says Isaac, of Ottawa, Kan. (pop. 11,921), while standing in line with youngsters dressed as Raggedy Andy, a skunk, a jack-in-the-box, three ladybugs in a red wagon, and a gangly "sharkopus" that is part shark and part octopus.

Since 1914, Halloween has been a delightful treat for children in Hiawatha. Students are dismissed from the town's public schools if Halloween falls on a weekday, so as not to interfere with the hallowed frolic and the nation's oldest Halloween parade.

Elizabeth Krebs, president of the Hiawatha Garden Club, founded the frolic because she wanted to discourage flowerbed trampling and other mischief on Halloween.

"Mrs. Krebs decided to try to direct that energy another way," says Eric Oldham, 35, director of the Brown County Historical Society.

During the frolic's early years, Krebs handed out prizes to children who paraded around the town square in homemade costumes pedaling bicycles and pulling decorated wagons. Though she died in 1931, her spirit lives on as ceremonial grand marshal of the daytime children's parade and evening grand parade, both led by a truck bearing flowers and a sign: "In Memory of Mrs. Krebs, Parade Founder."

Last October, spectators lined sidewalks with lawn chairs and stood three-deep during the 96th annual Halloween Frolic to cheer and wave as young pirates and princesses paraded on foot and rode in wagons, horse carts or aboard a miniature train. The youngest participant, 2-month-old Jillian Keebler, of nearby Highland (pop. 976), wore a paper-plate hat heaped with yarn spaghetti and Styrofoam meatballs and snoozed in a giant bowl while her sister Lydia, 2, was dressed like a chef.

During the evening parade, an hour-long procession of marching bands, queen candidates, politicians, dignitaries and floats rolled through town. In keeping with the theme, "A Reel Spooky Halloween," townspeople dressed as characters from Ghostbusters, The Birds and The Beverly Hillbillies, and waved to the street-side spectators from their movie-themed floats.

Residents of the North Sixth Street neighborhood joined the parade in a 50-foot-long Batmobile, built on a wooden frame and fitted over a pickup truck.

"It's families and neighborhoods building floats," says Dr. Steffen Shamburg, 42, the town's general practitioner, about the annual celebration. He and Mayor Crosby Gernon, 47, have spearheaded their neighborhood's float project for 11 years.

Having fun and making memories is the underlying theme of every Halloween Frolic, which includes school dances, a queen contest with a $500 scholarship prize, and two days of trick-or-treating at homes and businesses.

Mary Bowen, 77, can't remember a year when she didn't attend her hometown's Halloween festivities. "When I was 5, I had a witch costume and a mask with a string that I pulled to make the eye wink," says Bowen, the grandmother of tractor-wearing Issac. "We made our costumes out of the rag bag. There weren't any store-bought at the time."

Another longtime resident, Carol Speidel, 65, smiles at her memory of 1952 when she shimmered and shivered as Cinderella. "My mother made me a white satin dress covered with sequins," Speidel recalls, "but it was so cold that year."

Despite the weather, Hiawatha's Hallo-ween parade marches on, says resident Bobi Dozier, 49, who has filled three scrap-books with family photos from the frolic.

"I get antsy every year and think it's time to get creative," says Dozier, who fashioned costumes and directed her family's float for 18 years when her children were younger. "It's something you look forward to every year."

One of her earliest Halloween memories is of her mother pulling her hair into a ponytail atop her head and anchoring it with a bone so she could masquerade as Pebbles Flintstone.

 For nearly a century, Kreb's clever and wholesome idea to take the trickery out of trick-or-treating has worked perfectly.

"We don't have any problems at all on Halloween," says parade organizer Stacy Liechti, 34. "This is the town's favorite holiday."