This Halloween, be scared for the right reasons.
Credit: Val Shevchenko, Shutterstock
Halloween is a time to let the imagination run wild, whether that means dressing up as your favorite fantastical creature or telling ghost stories in a dark room.
But enjoying the spooky treats of Halloween doesn't have to mean getting tricked by common myths and urban legends. From poisoned candy to vampires, read on for the truth about Halloween.
Myth #1: Evildoers use Halloween as an opportunity to poison children
It seems the perfect crime, albeit one out of a fairy tale: Wait for innocent kiddies to show up on your doorstep, then poison them with tainted Twix bars.
The only problem is, this "stranger danger" just doesn't happen. In only one case has a child died from eating poisoned Halloween candy. The candy was planted by the 8-year-old boy's father in an attempt to get the child's life insurance money. The convicted murderer, Ronald Clark O'Bryan, was executed in 1984 for the 1974 crime.
The only recent exception to the surprising lack of Halloween candy tampering is one odd case in 2008 in Ontario, where a handful of children in a single neighborhood found cold medicine pills in sealed boxes of Smarties. However, the orange gel capsules were obvious outliers from the rest of the candy, and no child consumed the medication. [13 Halloween Superstitions Explained]
Halloween is dangerous for kids in another way, though. According to an analysis commissioned by insurance company State Farm, Halloween is the deadliest day of the year for child pedestrian accidents. An average of 5.5 children die after being hit by a vehicle on Oct. 31 each year, compared with an average of 2.6 child deaths on other days. The message? If you want to protect kids on Halloween, drive safely.
Myth #2: Armed gangs will hunt pit bulls in the streets this year
A message spread on Facebook and Twiiter this September warning dog owners to lock their doors on Oct. 31 because Halloween had been declared "National Kill a Pit Bull Day."
"Baseball bats, knives, bricks and poisons (a hotdog soaked in radiator fluid works well) are all suitable tools," ran the grammatically challenged message, attributed to someone named Terry Jordan. "Their owners like brag about there [sic] high threshold for pain. So don't worry them suffering they can take it."
In fact, as debunking site Snopes.com uncovered, the messages and warnings were all a hoax aimed at punishing Terry Jordan of Slater, Mo., a councilman who was a major player in developing an animal ordinance for the city. An early version of the ordinance singled out pit bulls as vicious, but the wording was later changed so as not to specify any particular breed as aggressive. Presumably someone in town was angry enough at the original draft to go vigilante on Jordan with the false "Kill a Pit Bull" post. It worked. According to the Marshall Democrat-News, Jordan and the city were both inundated by angry and threatening calls after the post went up. [What Your Dog's Breed Says About You]
Myth #3: Halloween is nearly as pricey as Christmas
A common bit of folk wisdom holds that Halloween is second in consumer spending only to Christmas. That may feel true as you're hauling giant bags of bulk candy home while wearing your custom-ordered Steampunk Witch costume, but unfortunately, Halloween isn't that big a boost to the economy.
In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, spending on Halloween costumes and candy is expected to hit $8 billion this year. That's dwarfed by Christmas holiday sales, which are expected to reach $586.1 billion this year. And other holidays pull ahead, too: Father's Day spending was estimated at $12.7 billion this year, and Mother's Day regularly pulls in more than that, clocking in at $14.1 billion in the lean year of 2009. Even schmoopy Valentine's Day does better than Halloween, with lovers spending around $17.6 billion on that holiday in 2012.
Myth #4: Sex offenders hunt on Halloween
Like tales of poisoned candy and apples filled with razor blades, the idea that sex offenders target trick-or-treaters appears to be an urban legend. According to a study published in 2010 in the journal Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, there was no uptick in child sex crimes on Halloween.
Of 67,307 non-family sex offenses reported, none were more common on Halloween, the researchers found. In fact, according to the anti-sexual abuse organization Stop It Now!, 85 percent of sexually abused children are abused by someone they know, with as many as 47 percent of abusers in the child's own family.
Myth #5: Vampires are real
We're not sure how many people really believe this one, but just for fun, let's go over the mathematical reasons why vamps can't exist.
According to University of Central Florida physicist Costas Efthimiou, if the common myth of vampires were true (that they suck their victims' blood and turn them into vampires, too), the entire population of the world would have been converted into vampires in a mere 2.5 years after vampire legends emerged. Using a human population of just over 5 million (the population in the 1600s), Efthimiou assumed that vamps would convert, at minimum, one person per month (hey, why not?). At that rate, the entire world would be vampires in less than three years, he found, even taking into account human population growth.
Of course, creative sorts could fudge the numbers — what if vampires make other vampires only rarely? That is, after all, the fun of Halloween.