A hundred years of Halloween tradition all started on Oct. 31, 1914 by the late Mrs. John Krebs.
Founder of the Hiawatha Garden Club, Mrs. Krebs was very fond of flowers and not so fond of the pranksters who liked to wreak havoc in her flower gardens every Halloween.
“Her house sat at 512 Iowa,” said Virginia Regier, longtime reporter with the Hiawatha Daily World and a co-organizer of the Halloween Queen pageants for many, many years. She compiled and edited articles detailing years of history for the 75th commemorative Halloween Frolic edition in 1989.
Mrs. Krebs’ solution was what Hiawatha celebrates today. Create a parade and “frolic” for all the town to take part in, keeping them occupied and entertained. She planned a party — or community frolic — for the children, encouraging them to dress in costume and gave a treat to all who participated.
Her ideas were criticized as “foolish,” but Mrs. Krebs went ahead for plans for her party, that consisted of Halloween costumed characters with whistles and horns meeting in the downtown area and parading main streets. While the first snowflakes fell, a small band provided music for the revelers. Following the parade, the comics and characters went to the Armstrong opera house for the judging. The children were given treats as prizes.
The community was so appreciative that Mrs. Krebs’ idea solved the problem of what to do on the annual “night of destruction.” In years after, adults, too, were urged to costume themselves, wear masks, dance, mill around blocks of main street with bands playing. It was fun for all, with continued guessing of the unidentified costumed characters.
Soon, the festivities became too much for Mrs. Krebs to handle alone and the town fathers, and later the Chamber of Commerce, stepped in to assist and help sponsor the events as the frolic grew larger each year. But Mrs. Krebs’ name still lives on as founder of the oldest consecutive Halloween parade in the nation.
In 1919, the crowning of the first Halloween Carnival Queen was added to the parade festivities. the late Mrs. Frank W. Sterns of Hiawatha held the title. There was no official record of a 1920 queen, but accounts of the year’s festivities describe tremendous downpours of rain, so it is thought this may have been one of the reasons there was no queen. The tradition continued on in 1921 and over the years, the selection process changed, the name changed, but the queen still reigned — and continues to do so.
The frolic has changed as well over the years, with elaborate floats and talented bands from all over added to the downtown evening parade. Floats from the early days called for tedious piece work, but over the years they expanded and blossomed into huge floats with decorations that were assembled by experts.
The thought of some of the remarkable floats, along with the sounds of marching feet and tooting tubas, is what many hope to be back for the 100th Halloween Frolic.