Razorblades in apples? Debunking common Halloween myths


Oct. 27, 2010 at 5:27 a.m.
Updated Oct. 28, 2010 at 5:28 a.m.

'Tis the season to be scared. Or is it?

Perhaps because of its association with ghouls, witches and other supernatural elements, Halloween has long been shrouded in myths and urban legends. From poisoned candy to Satanic rituals, stories circulate every year about the dangers of this holiday.

Investigating a bit further into these stories shows that many of these myths have little truth to them.

Poisoned Candy

Perhaps one of the most pervasive Halloween myths out there is that of madmen handing out poisoned candy, taffy apples and homemade treats. But for all the hoopla, there has never been evidence of a genuine Halloween poisoning, according to Snopes.com, an independent investigative website dedicated to debunking common rumors and urban legends.

The stories of poisoned Halloween candy most likely originated from the famous 1974 murder of 8-year-old Timothy O'Bryan. The child died after eating cyanide-laced Pixie Stix that were given to him by his father, Ronald O'Bryan, on Halloween. O'Bryan allegedly killed his son for insurance money and was convicted of murder in May 1975, according to the website.

Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware also came to the same conclusion after studying reports of Halloween mischief dating back to the 1950s. In nearly every suspected case of candy poisoning, Best determined it was either an attempt to cover up another crime, such as in the O'Bryan case, or a hoax.

Razor blades in apples

While poisoned candy stories have been debunked by experts, some stories about razor blades and needles being found in Halloween treats are true. In his research, Best tracked down approximately 80 cases of sharp objects found in Halloween food since 1959. But of those cases, almost all were found to be hoaxes, and 10 resulted in minor injury, according to the 1985 scholarly article Best wrote about his findings. No deaths or serious injuries were ever reported, and many of the hoaxes were a result of young pranksters or parents looking to make some money in lawsuits or insurance scams.

Although chances of finding something nefarious in your trick-or-treat bag are very slim, that hasn't stopped hospitals around the country from offering to X-ray candy for free. Locally, DeTar Healthcare Systems never offered this service, spokesperson Judith Barefield said, and while Citizens Medical Center hasn't X-rayed Halloween candies in the past 10 years, back when they used to, they never found anything in the treats, spokesperson Shannon Spree said.

Halloween second to Christmas candy sales

False. In fact, the National Retail Foundation ranks Halloween as sixth among holiday sales leader. The top five are Christmas and other winter holidays, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter and Father's Day.

But despite Halloween's somewhat low ranking, Americans are expected to spend $5.8 billion this year on the holiday, which is an increase of $10 per person over last year, according to a survey by the foundation. The largest expense, naturally, is candy, followed by adult costumes, children's costumes, greeting cards and, believe it or not, pet costumes.

Crime, vandalism spikes on Halloween

Halloween has long had a reputation as a night of mischief and darkly deeds. But that reputation isn't necessarily warranted, Victoria police chief Bruce Ure said.

Last year, the Victoria police department had approximately 90 calls for service from 5 p.m. to midnight on Oct. 31, and the year before that it was around 80 calls.

"That's right in line with what our guys do on other nights," he added. "Crime is not running rampant, which is somewhat amazing considering everyone is out on the streets, but most people are looking to get candy, not to steal a TV."

Ure also said that he suspects the same is true in most other places.

"It's just another standard night. In all the places I've been, I've never seen a crime spike. You just have to be careful when driving," he said.

Halloween is a pagan holiday

Although Halloween is often perceived as a pagan holiday, it does have roots in Christianity.

The Christian celebrations of All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2 evolved separately from paganism and Halloween, according to an article by Fr. William Saunders on the non-profit Catholic website www.catholicculture.com. All Saints Day, a commemoration of the saints, was generally celebrated on May 13 and eventually moved to Nov. 1 over time, beginning with Pope Gregory III who dedicated an oratory in honor of all saints on Nov. 1 back in the 700s. Although the exact origins of this celebration are unknown, commemoration of martyrs appeared throughout the church after the legalization of Christianity in 313 A.D., Saunders said. The night before All Saints Day was called All Hallows Eve, which was shortened into Halloween.

Eventually, these celebrations honoring the dead blended with the Celtic tradition of Samhain, the beginning of the Celtic winter on Nov. 1. On that date, according to Samhain, it was believed the souls of the dead came back. Also blending in this fall mixture of souls returning were the Roman feasts of Feralia and Pomona.



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