Is Poisoned Candy A Halloween Horror Waiting to Happen?
You've all heard the stories. That weird guy on the corner who slipped broken razor blades into his homemade candy apples, or those junkies who were jabbing needles into Snickers bars. Maybe you heard the one about the old spinster marinading jawbreakers and gumballs in rat poison, or the psycho who handed out LSD-infused smarties in an effort to transform Halloween trick-or-treat from something fun and wholesome into something dangerous.
There's just one slight problem... most of what you think you know is a shadow cast by one heck of an urban legend. In short no matter who says she knows someone whose cousin was totally put into the hospital by bad candy, the numbers don't lie. It never happened.
It Must Have Happened to Someone!
Or else how did the legend get started?
Let's throw some hard facts out there, shall we? There have only been 2 cases of children dying as a result of eating candy ever since these incidents began getting reported around 1950. One case was clearly a child who'd gotten into his uncle's heroin supply, and the candy was used as a smoke screen to absolve the uncle of blame (after he'd tried to cover up the heroin, obviously). The other case was a young boy whose own father gave him a pixie stick laced with cyanide; an act which may not have been (but probably was) motivated by the large life insurance policy hanging around his son's neck.
Despite the miniscule number of confirmed cases linking Halloween candy with harm to children (and both of them caused in the child's own home), there have been several hundred cases of reported shenanigans involving everything from cookies and pixie sticks to hard candies and milk balls. What gives?
The Blame Game
Urban legends are great for one thing; taking blame.
If a teenager gets really bad abdominal pain because he took too many pills at a party, then he's going to claim there must have been drugs in the candy as a way to shift the blame to a mythical bogeyman. He would never go out and get high on Halloween; it must have been the candy he had at the party, or the batch of cupcakes that tasted funny (true story, that one).
To perpetuate the myth of random, stranger poisonings there have also been dozens of hoaxes, many of which were meant as practical jokes. Such as the woman in the 1960s who gave out packages of ant poison pills, dog biscuits and steel wool to teenagers she thought were too old to be participating in trick or treating. She told them all what it was to be sure no one got hurt, but the prank still got her charged with child endangerment (since they may have been too old to trick or treat, but they were still minors).
An Alternative Explanation For This Halloween Panic
There is another implication of the popularity of the "nameless, faceless someones are trying to poison my child" myth.
Sociologist Joel Best says the prevalence of this myth shows just how afraid of the unknown people in America are (and are continuing to be). Whether they're worried about Satanic Cults (an enduring myth from the Satanic Panic of the 1980s), terrorists, serial killers, or child molesters the fears all have one thing in common; these monsters could look like anyone. Your neighbor, the scout master, or even your own family.
In the end how afraid you are of your children being poisoned isn't really based off of hard facts and a realistic assessment of your neighborhood and your neighbors; rather it's a statement of how much you distrust the places your children go, and how dangerous you feel the world is at that particular moment. All facts agree that the most dangerous beasts your children will encounter in their candy are high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, and all of the caffeine found in specialized candy and energy drinks that have become the late night favorite of kids who want to be up long past the witching hour.
The worst thing about all of this panic over poisoned candy though? It distracts from the very real dangers that are actually common on Halloween night. Auto accidents, always a danger for children, tend to sky rocket on Halloween night. Young people driving under the influence spikes as well, as it tends to on any holiday with lots of parties.
If you're going to be afraid of something, be afraid of something real.