The story that children far and wide are being poisoned by unwrapped Halloween candy and home-baked Halloween cookies, that there was ever a razor blade in the apple is the very definition of an urban legend. It is a myth to the extent that NO American child is on record as EVER being seriously hurt by a contaminated Trick-or-Treat bon bon.
This guest post has been reprinted with permission from Lenore Skenazy, author of the book Free-Range Kids. Lenore’s hot-off-the-press book is about “Giving Our Children The Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry”. It is a fast, funny, full-of-facts, must-read book for all parents who remember a simpler time and want it for their children. After you have pieced together enough silent moments (in between cleaning up spills and tying shoes) to finish reading Lenore’s book you will feel a lot better about hustling the kids outside to play while you put your feet up to read your next book in peace. Here is an excerpt from Free-Range Kids that busts the myth about Halloween candy poisonings.
Heck, even I grew up being told not to eat candy that had been obviously unwrapped. But why? Was there ever really a rash of candy killings?
Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, took it upon himself to find out. He studied crime reports from Halloween dating back as far as 1958, and guess exactly how many kids he found poisoned by a stranger’s candy?
A hundred and five? A dozen? Well, one, at least?
“The bottom line is that I cannot find any evidence that any child has ever been killed or seriously hurt by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating,” says the professor. The fear is completely unfounded. Now, one time, in 1974, a Texas dad did kill his own son with a poisoned Pixie Stix. “He had taken out an insurance policy on his son’s life shortly before Halloween, and I think that he probably did this on the theory that there were so many poison candy deaths, no one would ever suspect him,” says Best. “In fact, he was very quickly tried and put to death long ago.” That’s Texas for you.
And then there was a time in 1970 when a five-year-old died from ingesting heroin. But it turns out that in that instance, the boy got into his uncle’s stash and accidentally poisoned himself. Afterward, the family sprinkled heroin on some candy to make it look as if a stranger had done this hideous thing.
And, OK, there was one other time some kids were given poison on Halloween. “A woman in the 1960s was annoyed with children that she thought were too old to trick or treat, so she put ant poison in their bags,” says Best. “But it was labeled, ‘ANT POISON.’ She probably thought it was funny. Until the police arrived.”
So despite this wacky woman (who made her intentions pretty clear), we now have zero recorded instances of death by strangers’ candy. And yet look at all the things that have sprung up in response to this myth.
First and most obviously, we’ve killed the whole idea of, God forbid, baking treats for the local kids. Any cookie a kindly neighbor makes is going to be automatically dumped in the trash, so why bother? Ditto, most fruit. I’m not saying the candy companies concocted these scary rumors, but they sure aren’t knocking them down.
Then we have the concerned but misguided authorities reinforcing the fears that shouldn’t even exist. In 1995, for instance, no less a maven than Ann Landers warned her readers (basically everyone in America who wasn’t reading her twin sister, Dear Abby), “In recent years there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy.”
Reports? None substantiated. Rumors? Yes, indeed. Rumors like the ones she was spreading! And those rumors ended up actually changing the holiday. To this day, Nationwide Hospital in Columbus, Ohio — one of the biggest children’s hospitals in the country — offers free x-rays of any Halloween candy a parent is worried about. …says Pam Barber, the hospital’s spokeswoman, “We have never ever discovered anything questionable…It would be great to bring back some of those [Halloween] childhood joys.”