The Early Years of the Whiting Halloween Parade
Taken from the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society Newsletter
Andy Yanas, assistant superintendent of parks and recreation, has had a long association with the Halloween parade. Prior to 1940, when he became a member of the Community Center staff, he worked as a part-time member with the parade committee. Although permanent records are not available, Andy stated that, in his estimation, there were parades in the late 1920s, when John Sharp was the director of the Community Center. At that time the parade was mainly for the younger kids who would gather at the parking lot next to the Center. They would march east on Fischrupp Avenue, go north to 119th Street, and then march back to the parking lot where a stage was set up. The youngsters would then go on the stage and participate in such events as apple-bobbing, balloon blowing, and eating crackers and trying to whistle. A bonfire would be lighted on the parking lot, and after the bonfire had burned out, the kids would disperse and go home, hopefully.
By 1950 more kids began to participate in the parade, and it was necessary to find a larger gathering spot and to eliminate the bonfire at the parking lot. Andy had the kids gather at the Whiting High School parking lot. He would separate them into groups and have them march down 119th Street to the Community Center Auditorium. However, before the parade started, Andy saw that judges were selected, issued different colored cards, and spotted, at intervals, on 119th Street. When the judges saw a costume that they thought was prize-worthy, they would issue a colored card to that child. In the Auditorium the youngsters would be treated to a movie and other entertainment. Finally, there would be the costume-judging contest. The person in charge would call up to the stage all the youngsters with a certain color card. and the winner would be selected by the applause of the audience. First, second, and third place prizes were awarded. After the contests, as the youngsters would leave, they would be treated to goodies by the members of the Whiting Moose Lodge.
Andy pointed out that by 1970 it was necessary to restrict the parade to youngsters under twelve years of age and to separate them into three categories:
those under 5 years of age
2. those 6, 7, and 8 years of age
3. and those 9, 10, 11 and 12
The parade still started at the Whiting High School parking lot, and the youngsters marched down 119th Street to the Auditorium. There they would be shown cartoons, the costume-judging contest would be held, and, as the kids left, they would be given apples and candy by the members of the Moose Lodge.
In 1990 the costume-judging contest was eliminated, and this year, 1991, Mrs. Maggie Corpus, the interim recreation director, who is in charge of the Halloween Parade and other activities at the Center, indicated that there would be a clown show this year in the gym, not the auditorium, after the parade. Maggie indicated that the parade was scheduled for Saturday, October 26, 1991, and that the kids would assemble at the Whiting High School parking lot at 1:00 PM and follow the same procedure.
The Halloween parade has always been supervised by the Community Center staff, with the assistance of the city administration that has always supplied adequate fire and police protection for the youngsters in the parade as well as for the on-lookers.
At one time an attempt was made to have the youngsters return home after the festivities. Prior to Halloween a jar of beans was kept on the main desk in the Center. Youngsters were encouraged to come in to register by 1isting their names, their phone numbers, and their estimates as to the number of beans in the jar. After al1 the activities were over on Halloween, names were drawn from the group of registered youngsters, and phone calls were made to their homes. If they were home and answered the phone, they could come to the Center the next day to claim a prize of one dollar.
Cy Stribiak, a local barber, remembers the Halloween parades during the war years. He particularly enjoyed the bonfires on the parking lot next to the Center. After the wood had been piled, pictures of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito were placed on the top of the bonfire and it was ignited. As the flames crept upward and began to ignite the pictures, loud yells and shouts of "Hitler, I hope you burn in . . . " could be heard. After the bonfire, there was a magic show at the Hoosier Theatre, sponsored by the theatre, with the magician, without fai1, sawing in half a pretty young lady in a sequined outfit. Also, Cy remembers the Victory Gardens, and he hinted that some of the gardens may have been "visited" by overly-zealous, or overly-hungry, Halloweeners, especially if, by chance, the gardens contained kohlrabi, a favorite of the younger set.
One year, Andy and his staff planned a Halloween surprise. They would have a witch emerge from one of the windows in the Center and fly into the raging bonfire. However, the enterprising "engineers" had not worked out al1 the kinks for this spectacular, and the witch failed to cooperate. Andy and his engineers had to manually throw the witch into the fire, to the applause and whistles of the crowd.