As October 31 draws closer, tacky websites and e-mail chain letters will start circulating the internet, warning parents to watch out for the dangers of Halloween. While letting your kids run from door to door and eat whatever people give them used to be completely innocent, recent years have seen an increase in watchfulness and fear on the parents' part.
Fortunately, most of these threats have been vastly inflated and are actually nothing to worry about. They are urban legends, which, by definition, are not true. They play on people's fears that bad guys want to harm our little children. These urban legends include, but aren't limited to, the "Poisoned Halloween Candy", and the "Drugged Tattoo". Sometimes schools even catch on, and send warnings home with their students.
How to Spot a Hoax
If you receive an email or wind up on a web-page that warns you about Halloween, you will be able to tell that it isn't true by looking for two details:
1. A typical alarmist warning will probably have some writing that is in all caps. "PLEASE TAKE THIS VERY SERIOUSLY!!!!" or "FORWARD THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW-- IT MAY JUST SAVE A LIFE!!!!"
2. In the style of an urban legend, the message will not state any specific details- no time, location, or names will be given out. It will merely say something along the lines of "A journalist interviewed a convicted killer, and he said...", or "Police across the country have released warnings about poisoned Halloween candy...". The event may have happened to "An uncle of a friend of a friend", or "A woman who wishes to keep her identity a secret".
The Drugged Tattoo
This legend claims that drug dealers target school children with a rub-on tattoo, usually of a blue star or of Mickey Mouse, that contains LSD that can be absorbed through the skin. Sometimes these tattoos are reported to be laced with rat poison. If you have ever found evidence of any event like this happening, please forward me details on the location, date, and names of victims and police officers involved, because I have never found a documented case of this actually happening. It's just another Halloween hoax!
Another very common urban legend that always resurfaces around this time of the year is of the poisoned candy. Some reclusive, evil neighbor hands out candy tainted with arsenic, razors, tiny screws, or something else that can cause great harm or even death. This is a very common fear among parents, and newspapers and schools often send out warnings about this possibility.
You will probably hear about this myth in some form or another, involving any range of imaginable poisons. However, I do not believe there has been a documented case of this happening, ever. No evil neighbor has knowingly poisoned hoards of children by taking advantage of this holiday.
The only story that is remotely similar to this is of Ronald Clark O'Bryan (a.k.a. The Candyman), of Texas, who intentionally poisoned and killed his son with Halloween candy in order to claim life insurance money in 1974. This man was executed, but the event led to awareness about the possible dangers of trick-or-treating, and several cities implemented Halloween safety programs.
Halloween Safety Tips
1. Check all of your children's candy before eating. Throw away anything with a broken or distressed wrapper. Don't eat anything that isn't store-wrapped (eg. homemade cookies, popcorn balls, etc.)
2. Don't let your kids trick-or-treat alone, and don't stay out after most other people have finished trick-or-treating.
3. Sometimes local hospitals offer to x-ray your candy to screen it for foreign objects, so you may want to take advantage of this.
4. Tell you children that if anything tastes funny, they should spit it out and save it in case you end up needing evidence.
Of course, I've not advocating that you don't take any precautions, but I think you should think carefully before becoming alarmed, spreading the message, or spoiling the fun of this holiday for the children. Year after year, stories like these will continue to surface, but unless there is concrete evidence that someone in your area was charged with a crime targeting random trick-or-treaters, I wouldn't worry.