5 Surprising Facts About Halloween

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With Halloween right around the corner, kids are picking out their costumes, and parents are fretting about their children eating a month’s worth of sugar in one night. You’ve probably heard tales about the roots of Halloween and how it actually began as part of a religious celebration. But have you ever wondered about more recent Halloween “traditions,” such as the fear of tainted candy and torching abandoned buildings? And is it possible that some store-bought costumes are still quite flammable? The facts may surprise you.

5. Strangers Giving Out Tainted Candy is an Urban Legend

The legend of tainted Halloween candy is an urban legend.

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Stories of strangers distributing poison-laced candy have circulated widely since at least the 1960s, according to the rumor-debunking website Snopes.com. According to the site, there was one famous case in 1974 in which an 8-year-old Texas boy died after eating candy laced with poison, but there’s a catch — an investigation eventually led to the boy’s father being convicted of murder in the case. There was also another similar case involving someone poisoning a family member. Researchers have actually gone through decades worth of newspapers, looking for possible candy-poisoning incidents, but have come up empty. Other suspicious deaths of children dying after eating Halloween candy have been eventually attributed to everything from congenital heart defects to a bacterial infection unrelated to any candy. Still, the rumored threat of tainted candy is pervasive and convincing enough that some hospitals still offer to X-ray Halloween candy for concerned parents. From a risk-management perspective, parents are putting their children at much more risk by driving them to the hospital for such a chore than if they simply let them eat the candy.


4. Traffic Poses Relatively Minor Threat to Trick or Treaters

Simple precautions can keep your children safe on Halloween night.

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children are four times as likely to be struck by a car on Halloween than on any other night of the year. That sounds terrifying, as if children are being run down left and right, but a closer look at the numbers puts things in perspective. A 2009 study by Safe Kids USA found that, from 2002 to 2006, an average of 2.2 children were killed in pedestrian accidents on Halloween night in the U.S. The number of children killed in pedestrian accidents each year works out to about 1.5 per day. Common sense should prevail here. Be sure to have an adult accompany grade-school children, and equip each child with a flashlight. Be sure to cover ground rules about traffic safety before leaving the house.


3. Flame-Proof Costumes Don’t Always Live up to Billing

Not all flame-retardant Halloween costumes actually work.

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Costumes also pose a health threat to young trick or treaters. Despite longtime federal safety standards designed to prevent the sale of flammable Halloween costumes, some store-bought costumes are still flammable. Homemade costumes, which are not subject to the regulations, can be even more dangerous. However, it would be easy to overstate the danger. The Consumer Product Safety Commission found that in the past 30 years, 16 children in the U.S. have suffered burns while wearing Halloween costumes, and only one child has died. If your child’s costume is homemade, be wary of using flammable materials, such as cotton and linen. Avoid dangling tails, long hair, capes and other items that might come in contact with candles on someone’s porch. And be sure the costume fits properly, with good eyeholes cut out for visibility. Sure, Junior looks cute in the oversized Darth Vader costume, but he won’t look so cute battered and bruised after tripping on the costume and falling down a set of steps.


2. Pumpkin Carving Spurs Emergency Room Traffic

Carving jack-o'-lanterns is inherently dangerous.

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Not surprisingly, given an activity that usually involves people cutting and stabbing a tough-but-slippery object with sharp kitchen knives, the art of pumpkin carving sends an untold number of people to the emergency room each year. Even worse, many of the injuries are serious, involving damaged nerves or tendons. Doctors and other health-care providers recommend the use of special pumpkin-carving kits. One can only imagine the number of injuries caused by carving jack-o’-lanterns hundreds of years ago, when the Irish used turnips or potatoes for jack-o’-lanterns, while people in England used large beets.


1. “Devil’s Night” May be Staging a Comeback

The practice of torching abandoned buildings around Halloween is making a comeback.

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Halloween has long been associated with mischief, and never more so than in Detroit beginning in the 1970s. Miscreants and arsonists turned out in force each year on Oct. 30 for “Devil’s Night” or “Hell Night,” to torch abandoned houses and other buildings in the inner city. The problem became a crisis in the 1980s, with a peak of 800 fires in 1984. In the mid-1990s, the city mobilized tens of thousands of citizens to patrol the city, an effort nicknamed “Angel’s Night.” But after years of decline, the number of fires rose sharply in 2010, to 169 fires, up 42 percent from the year before. Even more troubling, the tradition of torching houses around Halloween, which has been noted in several other cities for a couple of decades, may be spreading. Saginaw, Michigan, logged 42 arson fires on Devil’s Night and Halloween in 2006, and other cities such as Flint, Michigan, have battled the problem with varying degrees of success in recent years. Many city leaders point out that the current economic woes have resulted in even more abandoned buildings for arsonists to target.

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