Gerald Budd (the devil) and his wife, Helen (the black cat), run their annual Halloween show in 1955 at their home along the Cedar River in Austin on 4th Street Southeast or, at the time, South River Street. They offered this Halloween event in their back yard for at least 15 years, using the river bank and its trees to add to the spooky atmosphere. (Photo from the Oct. 31, 1955, edition of the Austin Daily Herald)

LOOKBACK: Austin family once hosted Halloween shows along Cedar

From 1946 to 1960, Budds offered community free, elaborate event in backyard with local Boys Scouts

Cedar River Watershed District
6 min readOct 31, 2023


By Tim Ruzek, Cedar River Watershed District

For more than a decade along the Cedar River, hundreds of Austinites got their frights from dragons, witches, ghosts, the devil and a host of other spooky characters at the Budd family home.

Gerald and Helen Budd, along with their sons Roger and Warren and local Boy Scouts, put on many free Halloween performances in their backyard along South River Street (today’s 4th St SE) overlooking the Cedar River across from the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

“A dragon will rise out of the mists of the Cedar River at Gerald Budd’s annual Halloween show,” the Austin Daily Herald wrote on Oct. 28, 1957.

Oct. 31, 1950, article in the Austin Daily Herald about the Budds’ Halloween show along the river.

Usually dressed as a black cat, Helen Budd made and distributed popcorn balls to an “onslaught of youngsters for whom Halloween has a special meaning because of the interest and ingenuity of the Budds,” the Herald wrote Oct. 28, 1960.

The Budds married in 1938 in Austin before moving around the country during World War II. They moved back to Austin in 1946, the same year they began a streak of Halloween events at their property for no charge.

When Helen (Ulwelling) Budd died in 2012 at age 93, her obituary noted that she and Gerald, who died in 1989 at 72, were “well-known for their Halloween parties.”

As Herald noted in 1958, it was easy to find the Budds’ Halloween shows as they were “in back of the house with the big pumpkin on the roof.”

A yellow arrow points to the former Budd property along the Cedar River where the family hosted Halloween shows in their backyard. Today the property hosts City Concrete Co. This drone photo by Cedar River Watershed District in 2022 also show part of Austin’s wastewater treatment plant.

15 years of Halloween fun

In 1960, the Budds hosted their 15th annual Halloween performances, which typically offered evening shows for three nights, including on Halloween, after 7:15 p.m. at their home. They lived at 1300 4th St. S.E., which today is the site of City Concrete Co. and its large garage.

Online newspaper archives stop referencing the Budds’ annual Halloween event after 1960, and there’s no article about it ending. Helen, however, served as a judge in 1964 for a Halloween costume contest in Lansing — an indication that they had stopped hosting the shows.

The 1960 performances also might have been the last because, as the Herald noted that year, the Budds’ oldest son, Roger, was 21 years old and about to be married. Roger, however, still helped his father that fall install a “complex maze of electrical controls which enables dragons to appear from the Cedar River behind the Budd home and brings ghosts and witches from the treetops.”

About 1,500 feet of wire was run through the trees of the Cedar’s eastern riverbank to supply power to eight loud speakers hidden among the trees.

Herald headline about the Budd family’s shows on Oct. 28, 1960.

These shows also usually featured special, colored lighting in the trees; paper mache figures; sound effects; skeletons; goblins; and moving objects to “add to the realism.”

Characters greeting attendees included Dracula, Frankenstein, Alice the Goon, the Headless Horeseman, an ape, bats, dragon, scorpion, talking ghost, Troll, Linx, orge, a witch riding across the moon, a stabbed lady and a dancing skeleton, among others.

Small start leads to community event

In 1946 when Roger Budd was 7 years old, his parents started the Halloween fun in their backyard with only a couple of neighborhood children. It started growing from there.

In 1950, the Herald wrote about the Budds’ shows on Halloween, which their third and last night of the performances.

“You ever see a dragon come out of a tree? Or a little boy turn into a skeleton,” the Herald wrote Oct. 31, 1950. “I’ll tell you, bud, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet till you’ve seen Gearld Budd’s nine-act Halloween show.”

More than 100 people visited their backyard the previous night when noise from the show could be heard nearly four blocks away.

“It’s getting bigger and better all the time,” the Herald wrote. “Mrs. Budd provides popcorn balls, and music fills in until the show is ready to go.”

By 1960, the Herald noted that “some 600 children” expected to gather in the Budd backyard for three shows on a Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Halloween).

At its peak, the event consisted of a cast of about 10 children, including the Budds’ children, including son, Warren, who was 12 in 1960. The kids performed as Frankenstein, Dracula, the Headless horsemen, and an owl, among others.

Fabled personages spoke through controlled speakers when Gerald Budd “judges the time is ripe for their contribution,” the Herald wrote.

On Halloween 1955, the Herald ran the headline: “An Eerie Night Out! Goblins Down by River; And Still More Tonight.”

“It was co-o-o-ld last night,” wrote the Herald reporter named Larry Scarry, who likely was a fictional person because of the name and that he wrote it in 1955 as if he was a child. “Just right for ghosts and goblins. And believe it or not, I saw a ghost — a big, white one taller than my daddy.”

The writer described sitting by the riverbank and it being “darker than a stack of black cats and the wind was howling. I had my mittens on and I pulled the flaps down on my new fur-lined cap.” He then started meeting characters, including a “big, red devil (who) jumped out of the trees,” which was Gerald Budd.

A red dragon breathed fire; a skeleton jumped out of the trees and started dancing followed by a headless horseman; a troll was seen in a tree; a scary, big ape; and a large moon with a witch sitting on it.

Red marker shows the location along the Cedar River of the Budd family’s Halloween shows.
Site of the former Budd home at 1300 4th St. S.E. Photo taken from Google Maps online.

News goes statewide for Budds’ Halloween shows

The following year — 1956 — news of the Budds’ show made the state newspaper wire, landing in other towns’ newspapers, including Winona.

“Tonight is the night for strange sights and sounds on the banks of the Cedar River,” the Winona newspaper wrote.

Article about the Budds’ shows in 1956 in the Winona newspaper

On Halloween 1956, the Herald’s headline for the show stated: “Goblins Ready for ‘Reign of Terror’ Tonight.”

“Goblins, ghosts and ghouls begin their annual Halloween antics this afternoon and swing into a full-scale reign of terror tonight for their one chance of recognition and appreciation in the United States,” the Herald wrote.

By 1958, the Herald referred to the shows as “Nightmare Junction.”

“Ghosts and goblins will haunt Nightmare Junction on the banks of the Cedar River” for three nights at the Budds’ annual, free shows for Halloween, the Herald wrote Oct. 28, 1958.

Austin Daily Herald article on Oct. 28, 1958

“Again this year, the chief ghost will be heard from 12 loud speakers, posted on both sides of the river and a witch will play a tune on 11 sentinels (horns).”

Budds move to northern Minnesota

In 1965, after nearly 20 years back in Austin, the Budds moved to Ball Club, Minn., where they purchased the Ball Club Lake Lodge, north of Grand Rapids and Leech Lake.

Until that time, Gerald Budd served as the local Scoutmaster with the help of Helen, who also served as the director of the Austin Day Camp for Physically Handicapped Children.

1964 Herald photo of Gerald Budd
Helen Budd (photo from her 2012 obituary)



Cedar River Watershed District

Formed in 2007, CRWD works to reduce flooding and improve water quality on the Cedar River State Water Trail and its tributaries in southern Minnesota.