Happy Halloween, Gentle Readers!
You’ve probably already got your plans all set for tonight — even if it’s just staying in and watching a whole bunch of movies, listening to a ton of podcasts, playing a couple of games, or reading a good book — but let’s do a little something to mark the occasion while we’re here: Tell a few classic Halloween urban legends. Or perhaps more accurately, debunk a few classic Halloween urban legends, because honestly, urban legends aren’t interesting unless you’re digging into where they came from and whether or not they’ve got a kernel of truth buried in there somewhere.
In case you still need a few ideas for how to occupy your time tonight, here’s a list of things to do on Halloween — but why not kick it off by taking a look at a few of the tales below? I’m sure you’ve heard them before. So, which of them are actually true? You might be surprised.
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The Chimera House
The legend: “Oh, hey, did you hear about that haunted house? I think it’s in an abandoned building or a hospital or something downtown — it’s supposed to be so scary that you actually get your money back if you make it all the way through. I don’t think anyone’s ever done it. Bananas, right?”
Is it true? Nope. Or at least, mostly not. I explored this topic in depth last year for my real person job in a longish-form piece about the creepypasta “NoEnd House,” but the short version is this: The exact haunt changes depending on where in the country you are, as does the prize — but either way, it’s never actually existed. For one, it would be way too expensive; additionally, can you imagine the legal hoops something like that would have to jump through in order to actually open its doors? It just wouldn’t be a good business plan.
A number of high-octane haunts that exist these days are probably about as close to the Chimera House we’re going to get; think the Blackout haunt in New York and LA. But for what it’s worth, I did find a few… oddities in my research. For example, I found a number of references in weird places online to a haunt in Warren, Michigan called Urban Legends; allegedly, if you could find a hidden room somewhere in the haunt, you’d get the cost of your ticket back. But no one seemed to actually have been to it, and although I found a defunct website, an email address, and a location, my attempts to contact the creators of the haunt came up empty.
It was weird.
Do with that what you will.
The Halloween Massacre of 1962
The legend: …Pretty much exactly what it says up there. This meme has been circulating the internet for a number of years, because, well… vintage Halloween photos are even creepier than regular vintage photos. And those are pretty darn creepy.
Is it true? Heck no. As Snopes notes, Oct. 31, 1962 saw absolutely no murders remotely resembling the one detailed in this meme anywhere in the United States. Additionally, writes David Mikkelson, the story has rather a lot of plot holes:
“If the killer ‘locked all the doors from the outside,’ how did he get into the room to stab his victims (or get back out of the room afterwards)? If his intent was to slaughter everyone present, why did he stop after killing only seven people? (Clearly he wasn’t subdued and captured, since he was reportedly ‘never caught.’) How could the FBI definitively know that a mask found seven years later was the very same one worn by the perpetrator of that massacre back in 1962?”
All very good points.
But while we’re on the subject, let’s just agree that Halloween costumes in the pre-commercialized era were terrifying.
The Blue Star Tattoos
The legend: “When it comes to trick-or-treating, it’s not unheard of for some houses to offer kids non-edible surprises instead of candy. But if you see a temporary tattoo that looks like a blue star tumble out of your kids’ treat bags, do not let them use it. They’re probably laced with LSD — or maybe even strychnine. Drug dealers use them to target kids.”
Is it true? Nope, nope, nope. According to Snopes, this urban legend dates back to the ’70s, but no instance of LSD-laced temporary tattoos has ever been recorded. You might hear this one outside of the Halloween season, too; it’s also been known to pop up around back-to-school time every year, feeding on the fears of vulnerable parents who might be letting go of their newly-school-age kids for the first time. I suspect there’s also some classist fearmongering going on every time it surfaces; people like to use the phrase “drug dealers” as a euphemism for anyone who might be different than they are — even they have no reason to believe the people in question actually are drug dealers.
Tainted Halloween Candy
The legend: “Always make sure you check your kids’ treats — and I mean each and every piece. If the wrappers are loose, don’t let anyone eat them; they might have been poisoned. And always cut apples or other loose items up into pieces first — sometimes people hide razor blades in there.”
Is it true? Kind of. As far as the poisoned candy goes, the closest we have is this: Tragically, 8-year-old Timothy O’Bryan of Pasadena, Texas died in 1974 after eating Pixie Stix laced with with potassium cyanide. However, it was later discovered that his father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, had given him the candy; it hadn’t been part of his trick-or-treat haul. O’Bryan was arrested and tried for the crime, and a jury found him guilty of capital murder and four counts of attempted murder. He was executed by lethal injection on March 31, 1984.
Interestingly, although Snopes notes that a number of newspaper clippings over the years confirm reports of razor blades or pins in candy — one of which we definitely know happened, a case from 3000 involving James Joseph Smith of Minneapolis, who was charged with adulterating a substance with attempt to cause death, harm, or illness — sociologist Joel Best isn’t convinced any of it is actually true. Best has been collecting and analyzing data about “Halloween sadism” — reports of tampered-with Halloween candy — for decades, and according to his research, almost all of the reports ultimately turned out to be hoaxes.
The Hanged Man
The legend: “Did you hear about that thing a couple of years back at the haunt they do at the community center every year? People kept walking by a decoration of a hanged man with a noose around his neck all night — but when the haunt closed down for the night, they realized it was actually one of the scare actors. His harness had failed and he had accidentally hung himself for real.”
Is it true? Sadly, yes. People mistaking a dead person for a Halloween decoration has happened numerous times over the years. Sometimes the death is accidental; sometimes it’s intentional; and it’s not always a hanging; but no matter what the circumstances are, it’s always unbelievably tragic.
The Psychic & The College Disaster
The legend: “Did you hear? That TV psychic everyone loves predicted that a giant massacre is going to happen at your school this year on Halloween — don’t go to any parties!”
Is it true? Nnnnnnnope. Snopes has a thorough run-down of the many variations on the theme this story undergoes every year, but it’s never true, no matter where it surfaces or when. And it’s been around for ages — at least since 1968. And no, it wasn’t even true at Kent State University in 2007. Time to put this one to bed, folks.