Halloween and poisoned treat rumors: What are the facts?

1920s Halloween postcard.
Via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain in USA.
Many of us probably heard the stories as kids: the razor in the apple, the poison in the Pixy Stix, the mean elderly lady who inexplicably wouldn’t let children run through her flowerbeds and thus was clearly planning some dire Halloween revenge on those who did. As adults, some with children, we see these rumors in a new way, one that perhaps has us trailing our children at a respectful distance, making sure they heed our warnings to go only to the houses of people they know. (OK, I don’t do that, but some parents do).

But how frequent are these acts of Halloween malevolence? Which of the most infamous rumors are, in fact, facts?

Who better to answer those questions that the queen of poison writers–that’s a good thing–Deborah Blum, author of (natch) The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, one of the most lyrical, fascinating, and macabre interweavings of history, forensics, and chemistry you’ll ever encounter. So, for more of that narrative craft and to sift the facts from the rumors, get thee over to Blum’s blog site at Wired, where she’s got the post that answers your childhood–and adult–questions about the real-life ghouls of Halloween night, including one terrible story about a father who killed his son. 

Blum writes:

This was the 1960s and even then, people told stories, warned their children, about the psychopaths out there who might drop poisoned candy into one’s hands. In the long history of the holiday, truthfully, this has almost never happened. But the very nature of Halloween – the witch at the door, the monster in the closet – lends itself to such ideas. Wasn’t there a crazy woman on Long Island in 1964, after all, who handed out arsenic to trick-or-treaters she thought too old for the candy hunt? 

It hardly mattered that as Snopes points out, she didn’t kill anyone. And her deliberate poisoning attempt seems to be an odd exception to the general goodwill of the holiday. The psychopath at the door is an urban myth.  

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About Emily

Emily, co-founder and editor in chief of DoubleXScience, is an editor and a research scientist whose investigations involve sex determination/differentiation and developmental endocrinology, toxicology, genetics, and physiology. She also is the ambigendered partner of a Viking and the mother of three very interesting sons.