Halloween: Fact, Fiction, and Fun!
To get you and your family safely in the Halloween spirit
Legends and Folklore
Were you one of those kids with parents who searched your Halloween candy for staples and razor blades before you were allowed to dig into your hard-earned stash? Do you do the same thing with your children? Have you been paralyzed with fear upon reading a terrifying chain-email describing the abduction of a child from a well-known discount store; her little head shaven in the bathroom to disguise her, as she’s spirited out of the store, only to be rescued by vigilant security guards? It’s enough to make you pass up the adorable costumes, skip the candy aisle, turn off your porch light, and forget Halloween altogether!
Before you deadbolt the door, take a breath and rest assured that you’ve been the victim of some of the dozens of urban legends floating around playgrounds, schoolyards, and now the Internet, for decades. The vast majority of these legends are untrue, and you’ll be pleased to learn that Halloween can be a safe, exciting, and fun day for the entire family.
Poisoned Candy and Razor Blades
It’s simply untrue. Joel Best, professor and chairman of the sociology department of Cal State–Fresno, is considered the best authority on what he calls Halloween sadism. In 1985, he conducted a study of Halloween terrorism—candy laced with poison, razor blades, or pins. He reviewed 76 specific stories and rumors reported from 1958 to 1984 in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, and The Fresno Bee. “We couldn’t find a single case of any child killed or seriously injured from candy contamination,” he said. “The Halloween sadist is an urban myth.” When he did substantiate a story, sadly it turned out that the criminal was an 8-year-old boy’s father, hoping to hide his crime behind the old “razor in the apple” tale.
Does that mean that you should let your children eat anything they’re given from anyone at all? Probably not. Although the odds are that Halloween candy is safe for consumption, you never know when some weirdo is going to resurrect the old tale for his amusement. Sheriff Specialist Lori Hill of the Contra Costa Country Sheriff Department in Danville, California, puts it this way: “This is not a widespread problem, but safety is the better part of valor, so we recommend that children go through their candy with a parent and that only wrapped items or items from family and friends be eaten.”
If you own a computer, you’ve undoubtedly read at least one of the dozens of horrifying chain emails passed from mom to mom in hopes of warning each other about unspeakable crimes against children. These notes almost always start off with some vague proof of authenticity such as, “This happened to a little girl in my hairdresser’s cousin’s first grade class.” They typically describe an unbelievable scenario where a child is whisked away to the bathroom of the Kmart, a bookstore, a department store, or Disneyland, her head shaven and her clothes changed, in order to smuggle her out of the store unnoticed. Or a small child is accidentally injected with a lethal dose of heroin while playing in a McDonald’s ball pit. With Halloween around the corner, there’s an email floating around about terrorists purchasing candy in New Jersey as part of a plot to poison it and give it to kids.
Think about it: If these stories were true, wouldn’t you have read about them in the newspaper or seen them on the news rather than receiving emails about them from people six states away? Kidnappings and terrorism are awful and they are real. But real stories are reported via the mainstream media, not only someone’s personal Yahoo account.
People get hooked on these emails for the thrill of the story, much like watching action films or reading mystery novels. Mothers are particularly good targets because we’ll read and pass along anything that’s related to protecting our children. Unfortunately, anyone who forwards these tales along is chasing ghosts because these emails are complete hoaxes. (So are those sappy emails about dying children that urge you to pass them along to 10 friends so some large corporation will donate a dollar to that child’s family for each email. Total baloney. No chain email has ever generated a dime for anyone reading it, sending it, or receiving it.)
Gary W. Adams, Chief of Police of the University Park Texas Police Department says, “Chain emails have proven to be hoaxes in the past. Use common sense and call your local law enforcement agency if you have concerns.” You can also visit a myth-debunking website such as Urbanlegends.com or Snopes.com, or call any newspaper located in the city listed in the email (if no city is listed, that’s a good indication that the story is fabricated) and ask for yourself. Once the laughter in the newsroom dies down (because journalists are generally a smart-alecky bunch), you’ll feel better about deleting those annoying notes.
Due to the nature of the holiday, the police see a marked increase in vandalism and burglary on October 31. Chief Adams, a 27-year veteran of law enforcement, advises parents, “Impress on older children that trick-or-treating is for fun—no tricks. These could be considered criminal and that takes the fun out of Halloween. Decorations are the property of the home owners, so leave them where they belong.” It’s usually a good idea to bring your jack-o-lanterns and expensive decorations inside after the younger children have stopped coming by. You can always set them out again in the morning for the neighborhood to enjoy.
Sheriff Specialist Hill says, “Halloween in particular generates an increase in burglaries. There are so many people out and about, it is easier for burglars to blend in and gain access to homes. We recommend that people pay close attention to home security on Halloween.”
She offers this checklist to keep your property safe:
- Lock all doors and windows (even if you are home).
- Close your bedroom curtains and make sure the window is secure (the master bedroom window and side garage door are the most vulnerable points of entry).
- Leave lights on so you don’t create concealment areas: front porch, side-yard, or backyard lights.
- If you leave your home and you have an alarm, make sure you set it.
- Secure your vehicle and remove ALL items from view. If possible park in your garage.
Halloween is all about kids being seen in their adorable, scary, or original costumes, so do everything you can to ensure that your goblins are seen by everyone—especially drivers! Sheriff Specialist Hill recommends that younger children be home before dark.
“Twilight is a great time because the feel of nighttime is still there for the young ones, but there is still enough light for them to both be seen by vehicles and for the trick-or-treaters to see where they are going,” she says. Hill also recommends using face paint instead of masks, which can obscure children’s hearing and vision, and adding a little reflective tape to the back of your fairy princess or Harry Potter for good measure.
Both law enforcement veterans agree that all children should trick-or-treat in their own neighborhoods, and small children require an adult chaperone. But what about older kids? Only you know how mature your child is, how well he deals with peer pressure, and how reliable his buddies are. Make an informed decision with the parents in his group and have a quick one-on-one about responsibility and safety with your child before sending him out. Chief Adams suggests, “Older children who are capable of going out without a parent should only trick-or-treat in familiar neighborhoods, and parents should be aware of where that will be. Establish a time to come home or check-in, and have them carry a cell phone to call in or for emergencies.” Another way to keep things safe and fun for older kids is to host a Halloween party and sleepover for their friends. A costume contest, some scary videos, and plenty of junk food is all it takes.
So relax—it’s only Halloween! Ignore the fake horror stories and have fun retelling the old-fashioned ghost tales. Dress up, eat too much, stay safe, and have fun with your little ghouls!
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