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Halloween is traditionally a night of danger. It is, after all, a celebration of the Festival of the Dead. Zombies, ghouls and beasties are on the prowl and looking for trouble.
None of that is real, of course. There are no dangerous monsters on the loose, no vampires hanging upside down from trees, no werewolves lurking in the bushes.
And do you know what else you don’t need to be scared of on Halloween? Razor blades in your candy apples.
Candy tampering is a popular myth that resurfaces at this time of year. The prevalent urban legend is that ill-intentioned individuals would be able to hid harmful objects or substances in the candy they pass out from their doorsteps on Halloween. These rumors always seem to include needles, drugs, poison and the most common item: razor blades.
In fact, only a few incidents in the history of modern American Halloween celebrations involve any instances of deliberate Halloween candy tampering, and almost none of them were random.
In 1964, a peeved New York City housewife was tired of teenagers showing up on her doorstep to trick-or-treat. Thinking them too old, she started giving them specially wrapped packages which contained, reportedly, steel wool, dog biscuits and ant poison. No one was injured, but the woman was prosecuted for endangering children.
This incident started to foster the rumor mill, which spread out into suburbia. Before long, there were reports of lye-filled bubble gum and more rat poison. In 1970, Judy Klemesrud of The New York Times wrote a story entitled “Those Treats May Be Tricks,” in which she warned readers of the dangers inside trick-or-treating bags. Many of her points were overblown.
News media in the 1980s became especially exploitative of parents’ fears. Many claims of candy tampering were reported by papers trying to one-up each other, leading to hysteria on the subject.
This is not to say instances of tampering haven’t occurred. There are two known Halloween-related incidents from the 1970s which did have fatal endings. One 5-year-old Detroit boy died in 1970 after eating heroin his uncle had stashed. The family tried to cover up by saying the drug had been sprinkled in the boy’s candy. In 1974, an 8-year-old Texas boy was killed by his father after eating Pixie Stix laced with cyanide. The drugged candy had been put in the boy’s Halloween candy by the father in an attempt to claim life insurance money (he also gave out poisoned candy to other trick-or-treaters to cover up the murder).
However, there has never been a confirmed case of murder or even severe injury related to altered Halloween candy. This, of course, does not mean that all trick-or-treating is safe. Parents should never be lax in letting their children eat anything which is not prewrapped, and should at least check out the candy before letting their children eat. But when it comes to Halloween night, parents would do more to make sure their children are safe on the streets by making them wear light or reflective clothing than they would by giving in to the fear of candy.