Near life-size versions of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox will stroll down Main Street in Anoka as part of the Gray Ghost Run Saturday morning.
It isn’t a premature start to the highly anticipated Grand Day parade but rather the latest costume design by Tami and Sean Wood.
The Gray Ghost Run is a staple event of Anoka Halloween’s Saturday festivities with its uniquely costumed runners. The 5k follows the Grand Day parade route through Main Street as runners done masks, capes, funky-colored tops and bottoms all in the name of fun for both the runners and parade-goers lining the route.
The Woods, along with several friends and family members, began putting together themed running gear in 2002. That first year Tami and friend Emily Smith dressed up in Hawaiian-themed hula skirts and the rest is history.
Longtime core members in addition to the Woods’ and Smith are: Anne Brettschneider, Paul Minkler, Paul Haun, Nicole Landree, Mary Beth Galey, Matt Olson and Matt McDonough.
The payoff for the Woods comes in during the 45 minutes of running. “Experiencing the reaction from the kids and comments we hear and the cheering from the crowd is fun. But it’s just a great activity to do with friends and stay active for Halloween,” Wood said, adding they have friends flying in to be part of the event.
To create a 12-foot tall Paul Bunyan, the Woods, with help from friends, used 1-foot by 1-foot pieces of wood to create a frame, filled the body in with crumpled up newsprint and wrapped the outside in felt. Paul comes apart at the torso to easily move and store in the couple’s garage.
Pushing Paul isn’t a problem, but keeping him going is one of Sean’s greatest fears.
“The wheels have got to hold,” he said, pointing to the casters that will be in contact with the road. One year they lost a wheel and had to nearly drag the costume through the finish line. “That was very tough,” he said.
Tami credits Smith and her co-worker for this year’s idea.
“We met at Cooper’s to talk about it and sketched it out that day and then got started on it in August,” she said, estimating they put in 40 hours of work in this year’s costume.
While it appears more than a half-dozen runners are needed to meander Paul and Babe through the streets, only two runners will be inside Paul, one in each leg with a safety person following to prevent Paul from separating and toppling. Babe will have a runner in each of the four legs. Tami and a friend plan to run as Paul’s larger-than-life-sized axes.
Over the years the group has taken it to another level to run in themes from Scooby Doo, Flinstones, Pac-Man complete with dots and the evil ghosts or a bowling ball and 10 pins.
Awards for the top costumed runners are handed out and the group, mainly graduates from the Anoka High School Class of 1986, are looking to regain the top prize this year.
“We try to make it as family-friendly and the running part isn’t that easy,” Tami said. “One year we went as Whack-A-Mole with five or six of us in a box [as moles] with wheels on it and we had a couple kids run around us with soft hammers.”
Developing the new theme starts in August and this year the group came up with the tall-tale theme sitting around a downtown Anoka restaurant.
“We always joke about taking it down a notch or not next year,” she said about the costume’s awesomeness. Friends and family share ideas, typically, resulting in the opposite reaction. “We stuck around to see who won the Best Costume awards and then started winning awards and now we have to kick it up a notch each year.”
Since then they’ve come up with something unique, family-friendly and uses several people to pull-off properly on the route.
The group drew the largest laughs as dominoes. Not only did they run in a line, but added a skit where they toppled each other over – like dominoes. “The crowd was screaming for us to fall,” she added.
A six-foot high bowling ball made out of paper mache was complete with a matching set of 10 pins was another favorite along with a German theme from a few years back complete with Lederhosen.
Interactive with the crowd and able to run are the only self-imposed requirements the group set.
Last year’s theme was Peanuts complete with Charlie Brown and Snoopy. “Eleven of us ran with the dog house and Lucie’s Psychiatry booth as well,” Wood said as the effort paid off by taking first place in the group themed costume.
The group doesn’t limit itself to run in only this race, just not in costume. “This is the only themed race we do,” she said.