All Hallows Eve, the holiday now known as Halloween, is rich in history and tradition. Similar to all holidays, it also contains its fair share of legends, from razor blades in candy, to heightened crime. But just how true are these urban legends? Where did they start, and should they be trusted?
One of the best-known legends includes a rather violent thought: harmful things in candy. The origins of this myth are unknown, but its inspiration is quite logical. With children receiving candy from strangers, the thought of the unknown causes fear. The stranger could have done something to the candy, and while there are a few instances of this legend coming to life, it's not common. In one famous case, a boy named Timothy O'Bryan died after eating Halloween candy poisoned by his father. Even the father's motive had nothing to do with Halloween. He had poisoned the candy with cyanide to claim Timothy's life insurance. Another instance of stranger candy danger came in 1964 when a woman named Helen Pfeil gave children insect traps. These traps weren't in candy wrapping, and no children were harmed by what Pfeil called "a prank." In 2000, a man in Minneapolis was found to have been putting needles into chocolate. Experts have found from many studies that no child has been gravely injured by strangers tampering with candy. While stranger danger is still strongly advised, there's little reason to be afraid of the candy handed out by said strangers.
Another Halloween myth is the idea that decorations are secretly dead bodies. This legend may get some tread from horror movies, but real-life evidence is difficult to find. In 2005, a hanged woman was found in Delaware after being left in a tree for hours. This woman was left for so long because people walking by the tree thought the body was a decoration for Halloween. In California in 2009, a person was left on a porch for two weeks because of neighbors' assumption that the body was a Halloween decoration.
The only urban legend that truly holds up is the elevated crime rate. Halloween night's crime count is usually about 50% higher than any other day during the year, with crime reports going up 17% on the day. The roots of Halloween crime go back to the 1800s when Irish and German immigrants first came to America in droves. These immigrants practiced more of the trick than the treat with pranks such as tipping over outhouses, uprooting vegetables in gardens and placing cattle on barn roofs. These traditions became smaller as trick-or-treating became a larger part of American culture following World War II, but they never disappeared completely. Today, the tricks have migrated to the night before Halloween and have become a night of widespread crime. Most crimes around Halloween do not involve person-on-person violence. Usually, the crimes include cars getting keyed, broken windows or graffiti. On college campuses, drunk and disorderly conducts are common as well. However, this can be said for just about every other major holiday, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Independence Day and even St. Patrick's Day.
All in all, urban legends stemming from Halloween are a dime a dozen, but the true ones are few and far between. Behind each urban myth lies only a kernel of truth and, thus, shouldn't be taken very heavily. Halloween is a time to enjoy candy, show creativity in costumes and have a fun night with friends. As long as you remember to be safe and protect yourself, there's nothing to fear. Happy Halloween!