Truffles and Tortes, Truffles and Tortes, where do I even start? Charming, yes. Quaint, indeed! Edible works of art, positively. Sinful, absolutely… Suggested by my sister Heather, the sweetest little shop of Main Street in downtown Anoka may offer savory food like chicken wild rice soup and pillowy quiche, but I need to tell you about these incredibly scrumptious-looking desserts. The Wild Thing is banana cake with banana mousse covered in chocolate. The Bailey’s Rhumba is Bailey’s Irish cream mousse and devils food cake covered in dark chocolate ganache. The European chocolate truffles and Aztec Truffles Infused with spices inspired by the aztecs such as bitter lime, cinnamon and spicy chili. The Chocolate Nirvana, an award winning chocolate dessert with velvety smooth chocolate mousse with a hidden dome of creme brulee rests on a a bottom of milk chocolate hazelnut praline. Oh, the Concerto… Another award-winner! A dome of milk chocolate caramel mousse, caramel cream and caramel sauce with a hint of fleur de sel, covered in a dark chocolate glaze. So many tarts, too! Key lime, raspberry fudge, caramel pecan, turtle, caramel apple, pumpkin spice and fresh lemon curd. All kinds of cookies including chocolate chip, double chocolate pecan, oatmeal craisen, snickerdoodle, old fashion peanut butter, ginger molasses, sugar with toffee, and my favorite, plain sugar. Gourmet bars like oatmeal fudge, 7 layer bars, double chocolate brownies, mint brownies, almond raspberry, salty nut, and lemon. And the CHEESECAKES! Pumpkin, Raspberry Swirl, Toffee, Peanut Butter Fudge, Turtle, White Chocolate and Vanilla Bean with pure Tahitian vanilla beans. ALL THE TORTES! The pièce de résistance! The Black and White Mousse, Double Chocolate, Chocolate Mascarpone, Chocolate Chili, Strawberry Chantilly, Lemon Cream, Lemon Raspberry, Truffle, Strawberry Cream, Tiramisu, and Turtle. Ok, I have to stop or I’ll send myself into a sugar coma. If that doesn’t sell you on stopping in, I don’t know what will!
If you find yourself in Anoka, head over to the Georgian Revival style designed Historic Old Post Office Building off East Main Street. Designed by prolific architect James Knox Taylor, the beautiful entrance will have you wanting to wander the halls. Once there, make your way upstairs to Emerald Isle Antiques and Gifts. The building is a survivor of history and the Emerald Isle is an extension of that rescue, full of local history and sits as an homage to local antiquity. Often, antique stores overflow with bric-a-brac and useless knickknacks but Emerald, not so much. It’s a place where you can find old Minnesota license plates, vintage tap handles, hard to find Hamm’s Bear signs, a variety of old cameras and beer cans from local breweries of the past and some of Minnesota’s relic newspapers and magazines from the turn of the century. The staff is really helpful, too, and the place is littered with the owners’ Irish heritage.
I have mentioned Anoka, Minnesota as “The Halloween Capital of the World,” but I haven’t told you why.
While the holiday had been recognized for quite some time, it wasn’t until 1920 when George Green and other Anoka civic leaders suggested the idea of a giant celebration that included an evening parade to keep young kids, who would otherwise play tricks, occupied. Then ending the night with a large bonfire. This ensured Anoka’s reign as the first city in the United States to put on a Halloween celebration to divert pranks. The town has completely embraced the idea, holding huge celebrations every year since (with the exception of two during World War II). By the 1930’s, there were thousands in attendance of the parades. Since then, the festivities last over two weeks every year and include music, pumpkin carvings contests, house decorating, eating contests, pet costume contests, a medallion hunt and more. This year marks the 96th anniversary.
Which brings me to the buttons. The first Anoka Halloween commemorative buttons were created in 1940. Originally made of wood, they were fastened with a safety pin glued to the back. I have countless buttons but the ones that you see pictured here are from 1991, 2007, 2012, 2014 and this year’s 2016 button design winner. Buttons weren’t the only way to remember such an occasion – they also sold Anoka Halloween Festival beer cans filled with August Schell Brewing Co. beer. [Fun Fact: The Mad Hatter Tea Room in Anoka is where Charles Kiewel, the president of Minneapolis Brewing Company that later became Grain Belt lived. I wrote about it here.] The beer cans welcome message assured drinkers that it was “recommended by Vampires, Goblins, and Ghosts the world over.” There were also mugs, medallions, license plate frames, aprons, neckties and cloth banners that you can still see hanging around town. These buttons along with other collectibles can be purchased at the Anoka Halloween Capital of the World Gift Shop of Second Avenue and Main Street. The gift shop is 100% volunteer and non-profit, as are most of the Anoka Halloween festivities.
When I say that Anoka is ”The Halloween Capital of the World”, its not just because of the fun parades or the inflatable pumpkins. Anoka carries a much more sinister past. Anoka State Hospital, also known as First State Asylum for the Insane, Anoka State Asylum and most recently Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center, Minnesota’s largest mental health hospital. After aggressively lobbying, Anoka’s asylum, built in a circle of cottages (one pictured here), opened its doors to its first 100 patients in 1900. Considered innovative at the time, housing and later treating mentally ill patients, the asylum ran for 99 years, using everything from leather restraints and straitjackets to lobotomies, electroshock therapy and hydrotherapy. It also served short term as a tuberculosis treatment center and a place for emotionally disturbed children and adolescents. The spookiness doesn’t end there. Patients often wandered off the hospital grounds into downtown Anoka. Starting fires, shoplifting and loitering, some female patients were lured off campus with alcohol and drugs and assaulted. It gets worse. In 1976, a patient escaped hospital grounds, broke into a nearby home and killed the homeowner. The facility closed in 1999, leaving the remnants of terrifying stories, personal accounts and unspeakable secrets and tragedies. Beneath the cottages are a network of tunnels that have since been forbidden. It is trespassing if you venture into them or the boarded cottages – I wouldn’t suggest it either. Those who have remiss about old wheelchairs pacing back and forth in the attics, distant footsteps, whispers, orbs and cold spots. After it closed, the state gave the buildings and grounds to Anoka County. It is now a 110-bed state psychiatric hospital, essentially a prison, housing the mentally ill and violent criminals. Further ties to Halloween? In 1949, Governor Luther Youngdahl visited the Asylum on Halloween night and, burned hundreds of leather restraints and straitjackets in effigy, in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 people.