Remember the good old days of traipsing up and down the street in your finest Halloween getup to ask each neighbor for candy? We never gave a moment’s pause as to whether it was dangerous or inappropriate to run around after dark with pillowcases, filling them full of unchecked goodies.
It seemed to be such a strange tradition to begin with, but I always felt safe and never considered that there was anything sinister afoot. Fast-forward to the trick-or-treating of today—very few parents, if any, seem to participate unless it is a group sanctioned outing. So when did the tradition change from casual to candy tampering fear?
All the hysteria seems to have started where any good rumor does, by being circulated in the mass media. Imagine catching news headlines of “The Halloween goodies your kids collect this weekend may bring them more horror than happiness.” Of course it was enough to inspire panic in millions of the country’s family households.
The idea of candy tampering saw its origins in the 1960’s with (oddly enough) a housewife who was convicted of doling out steel wool, dog biscuits and poisoned ant buttons to children she thought were too old to be trick or treating. While that incident may have spawned many an urban legend, this act did not alone start the mass paranoia. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the advent of the “razor blade” in the apple legend—which didn’t actually start from one incident in particular, but rather evolved from other unrelated reports.
[ctt tweet=”In 60s, a housewife gave out steel wool and poisoned ant buttons to kids she thought were too old to trick or treat. #Halloween #trivia” coverup=”80351″]
Joel Best, a University of Delaware Sociologist, has studied all reported incidents of candy tampering from 1958 to present and states, “While it is true that some of these things did in fact happen, they were mostly found to be hoaxes reported by malicious victims or purposeful acts perpetuated by a family member.”
Case in point, in 1970 a 5-year-old boy from the Detroit area found and ate his uncle’s heroin, which the parents then promptly blamed on Halloween candy. Another case involved cyanide being “found in a child’s pixy stix,” but after investigation it was found that the child’s father had actually planted it to collect on insurance money—and had even given it to other neighborhood children in order to cover up the murder.
The public’s mindset really began to change in the 1980’s, particularly in 1982—a year already fraught with product tampering such as the Tylenol poisonings. Media began to spread the warnings, especially via the “Dear Abby” gossip-columns, which were popular at the time.
Ann Landers emphatically stated, “In recent years, there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison into taffy apples and Halloween candy. It is no longer safe to let your child eat treats that come from strangers.” Trick-or-treating soon took a back seat to “Safe Street” activities and community events at the church or event halls, which have given us a much more sanitized version of Halloween celebration.
When sifting through the history it seems that our apprehension was mostly unfounded and largely supported only through rumor. While it is sad to lose innocence in yet another tradition, some may say that it is better that the tradition change to fit the times we are subject to today. With 9/11 and all the craziness perpetuated by the news stations on a daily basis, I have to think that it is just good common sense that we do not subject our children to strangers handing out food after dark.
What Halloween hoax or rumor do you remember from your childhood?
About the Author
Guest writer Carol Young is a specialist in personal background research and suggests All Area Codes as a good starting point for setting up a neighborhood watch, or doing criminal background checks.