Halloween has always been an edgy holiday – a kid-centric time of costumes and candy that got its start as ancient pagan rituals; though most of the darker aspects were sanitized out by the 1920s, when the holiday started to catch on in towns across America. Still, darkness lurked at the fringes of the family-friendly events: toilet papered trees, soaped windows and all those suger-crazed demons and ghosts. The edginess was part of what made the holiday so hauntingly fun! Mass produced costumes became available in the 1930s, further fueling Halloween’s popularity among kids. But later, mass produced hysteria over rumors of poisoned candy turned the holiday into the BAD FOR YOU experience many parents’ fear today.
It’s hard to know what launched the poison candy rumors, but the best guess is that it all began with the death of Timothy O’Bryan on Halloween night, 1974. Yes, the poor 8-year-old ate poisoned candy; candy, his father claimed, which came from some neighborhood psycho. Except the deadly treats actually came from the psycho daddy who had taken out a life insurance policy on Timmy to collect on after his son’s “mysterious” death. The father’s crime was discovered by police and he was later executed for murder. Dad might be dead, but the poison rumors live on.
Joel Best, a University of Delaware sociologist, has been trying nearly 30 years to find one single example of madmen poisoning kids with Halloween candy (or injuring them with the equally mythic razors-in-apples). So far, zero confirmed reports, at least for any cases outside the immediate family.
But that doesn’t keep communities and schools from continuing to treat Halloween like it’s dangerous – even when those dangers are unspecified. In early October, letters went out to parents of kids at Sporting Hill Elementary School in Pennsylvania, canceling costume-wearing to class because “safety is a top priority.”
In another case just outside of Philadelphia, Inglewood Elementary, the school feared a strange variation on the poisoned candy theme: “that some kids with peanut allergies might eat or come into contact with something peanut-based” and ended the traditional student Halloween parade.
While the fear over Halloween impacts kids across the nation, it seems like all the recent stories come from Pennsylvania: on Tuesday, just two days ago, police seized 40 pounds of drug-laced candy, fearing the sweets “would find their way into the hands of children.” Except, as authorities admit, these drug-laced goodies were intended for sale to other students at the college where the confectionery was uncovered.
Seems like the kids-and-bad-candy scenario cannot be shaken. Certainly, not by reality.