Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween In OKC

Halloween, All Hallows Eve in the Christian church calendar (at least in some of its major components), has a venerable history and tradition in Oklahoma City. In Halloween's contemporary manifestations, perhaps no local person has a closer public identification with the holiday than our own local rocker Wayne Coyne, leader of the the fabulous Grammy award winning Flaming Lips.

This article looks at Halloween through the eyes of history — brief looks at its history in Oklahoma City, the challenges it could yet face in the current day, and a longer look at what it gloriously has become, Ghouls Gone Wild, including lots of photos of the 2008 parade.

TIMES GONE BY. A search of the Oklahoman's archives reflects the popularity of the festival prior to statehood. In an October 29, 1905, article, tips were given in article named, "Fate-Finding Fun For Halloween":
All Halloween, that intensely interesting and quaint festival, is almost upon us. "What shall we do by way of testing fate that we haven't done shoals of times before?" is qthe question asked by lots of girls at the present moment — girls who feel that to let this portentious eve pass unnoticed would indeed be like tempting Providence.

Of course one is obliged to create novelty merely by ringing the changes on the old love potions and conjurings that have worked "for weal or for woo" for many generations. But, like old wine, old books and old friends, they are the best after all. It is rather in the decorations of the room where the spirits of divination will hold high carnival that one's ingenuity can display itself to most advantage. Every one knows that these decorations should be as freakish and ghoulish as possible and savor richly of mystery and harvest home.
This November 4, 1906, article shows that the fun occurred even a religious institutions such as the recently formed Epworth University, the Methodist Church's college. "Jack o' lanterns by the dozen blinked from corners. A witch told fortunes from a tented corner, and a skeleton room presented dread mysteries. The guests were met on the campus by white robed, floating figures, and welcomed at the hall by similar apparitions."

It thus seems that the religious warnings about Halloween that some give today were not heeded in our distant past, even at events sponsored by religious institutions.
The following little cutie appeared in the October 24, 1937, Oklahoman:

It may also surprise many to know that the Ghouls Gone Wild parade was not the first Halloween parade to march the streets of downtown Oklahoma City. As shown by this November 1, 1939, article the 3rd annual parade and associated events which were sponsored by the city's parks department, drew 25,000 spectators. The 9-block parade was somewhere along Broadway and Main and had 35 floats.

An October 25, 1939, article reported that Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, in the city to deliver a speech on "Peace," had been invited to lead the parade but did not due to a time conflict with her own presentation that night.

1940's parade drew an estimated 20,000 persons from NW 12th & Broadway to Main and from Main to Walker, ending with the crowning of a festival queen, Jean Swidensky, according to a November 1, 1940, article. A similar parade was set for 1941 but was canceled due to bad weather.
MODERN MARVELS (read that "CONTROVERSY"). In some U.S. cities, Halloween has become associated with controversy spawned by conservative Christians which maintain the event to be "satanic" and a "work of the devil." Some have gone ahead with public events just the same, as did the Halloween parade in Georgetown, Delaware, as reported in the October 28, 1985, Oklahoman article below:

The October 14, 1995, Oklahoman article below reflects a different result in San Francisco (of all places) that year:

Thus far, Halloween's life seems to have been spared in Oklahoma City, which, given the religious and proactive conservatism of many residents here, is somewhat an amazing thing. It is not forgotten that some local religious leaders have been outspoken in their complaints about the Harry Potter movies and books, for example, nor is the fact that even Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet was banned from the library of Northwest Classen High School in 1966 on conservative Christian objections, and equally as bad if not worse, neither is the international ridicule the city rightly received for attempting to make it a criminal act for showing (or having in the city's libraries) the Tin Drum movie back in 1997. How long Oklahoma City will survive similar objections as to Halloween is a question that is, as yet, not answered.

It may well prove to be true that the celebration of Halloween in Oklahoma City represents an instance that the ghouly fun which Halloween presents is so ingrained in the local population that the holiday's celebration rises above and mutes the religious-conservative views of those who reside in the vicinity. As for today, all is good . . . here's a pic of a fabulously decorated home on NW 18th from my Mesta Park series ...

The same house in the October 31, 2008, Oklahoman's front page

GHOULS GONE WILD. In 2007, the Oklahoma Gazette joined forces with local rocker Wayne Coyne, leader of The Flaming Lips. The Gazette was the principal sponsor of the planned Ghouls Gone Wild parade, but the Flaming Lips was the engine which made the parade a smashing success. If you want to jump ahead to the 2008 photos, click here.

Shortly before the 2007 parade, Wayne Coyne and band members had just been presented with an oversized street sign of the "Flaming Lips Alley" by Mayor Mick Cornett.

About that event, Steve Lackmeyer reported in the October 30, 2007, Oklahoman as follows:

Creative ‘son’ making ‘Dad’ nervous?
Steve Lackmeyer

“We’re on the way to becoming the freakin’ coolest city in America.”
— Wayne Coyne, lead singer for the Flaming Lips at a street dedication honoring the band in Bricktown

Forgive me, Mr. Coyne, but I’ve already violated a basic rule of journalism by purposely misquoting you. Of course, we both know that in this family newspaper, I can’t repeat the four letter word that drew cheers from fans and squirms from the city leaders who were at your side at a ceremony last week dedicating Flaming Lips Alley in Bricktown.

I’m sure you knew what you were doing when you said it. For the past few years, civic leaders like Burns Hargis have taken to riding Segways and saying the word “hip” a lot, hoping that by doing so, they could prove that Oklahoma City is fertile ground for the much discussed “creative class.”

For those of you not up to speed on this discussion, the creative class theory was coined by author Richard Florida, whose 2002 best seller argued the future of economic development rests with young professionals and artists rather than executives looking to open a new factory. Florida began ranking cities, and Oklahoma City leaders were dismayed to find themselves on the bottom of his lists.

Oh where, oh where was Oklahoma City’s creative class?

They are in our midst — but Florida’s slap at Oklahoma City may have served as a notice that the folks who bear tattoos, nose rings or, gasp — curse at a public event — are valued contributors to the city’s economy.

And Coyne definitely fits the bill. His band has an international following; they’ve won multiple Grammy awards and their politics clash with Oklahoma’s conservative politics. And Coyne clearly loves his hometown.
* * *
Cap this all off with one final event Saturday night — the first ever Ghouls Gone Wild Halloween parade — the brainchild of Hargis and Gazette publisher Bill Bleakley. Once again, the creative class was told it’s OK to come out, celebrate and even be a little weird. And their grand marshal was none other than Wayne Coyne — walking amidst the crowd in an enclosed plastic bubble.

Will someone who once felt unwelcome in this city, now encouraged to strut their stuff in public, create the next big thing? Mayor Cornett and the folks at the chamber, though bewildered by the f-word at last week’s street dedication, are certainly hoping so.
It was, in fact, the "next big thing" and was a smashing success.

The Gazette's splashy 2008 ads pumped up interest in ways that the Oklahoman remains disinclined to do ...

In fact, the Oklahoman barely covered the event at all
... this was it

The 2008 Parade Route

2008 PICS. I didn't attend the parade but two who did have generously made the photos they took available, the images originally being mostly contained in this thread at, and I thank them both for their generosity in letting me use them here.

Enjoy the parade, and click on any photo for a larger image.

Photos by Dennis Church

Michael Ivins

That's Wayne Coyne Inside the Walking Ball

Photos by Karried

Thanks again for Dennis & Karrie sharing their work product for use in this article!

For more but not as good photos from the Gazette's website, click here. And for discussion about the parade, see this thread at

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