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Tom Gleason

The Dangers of Trick-or-Treating

Posted on 2008.10.11 at 09:29
Last month I was having a conversation with a friend when she mentioned that she takes her kids trick-or-treating at a department store. She told me it was safer and more convenient. I understood and appreciated her position. She wants to protect her children from candy that could possibly be tampered with. It can also be exhausting just having two small children at home, let alone hauling them around the neighborhood, going door-to-door. 
That said, the thought of Halloween spent in a shopping mall or department store horrifies me. To me, it would be like taking my family to a fast food restaurant to have McThanksgiving dinner. Would it be more convenient? Sure. Would it have all the magic entirely drained from a once a year event I have with my family? Absolutely. Would my kids grow up wondering why I even bothered? You betcha. Convenience is just not an excuse for me. With that addressed, let's move onto the fears associated with trick-or-treating. 
I commend the various stores and shopping centers across America for providing an alternative place for families to celebrate Halloween. They are filling a perceived need and bringing people into their places of business. However, the fears that have been largely responsible for creating this trend are unfounded. 
No child has ever been seriously harmed by Halloween candy that was tampered with by a stranger. Let me repeat that. NO CHILD HAS EVER BEEN SERIOUSLY HARMED BY HALLOWEEN CANDY THAT WAS TAMPERED WITH BY A STRANGER. Every year I hear stories of poisoned candy and apples with razor blades hidden within. These are the stuff of urban legend and not actual fact. Actually, it is worse than urban legend, as it has been the product of an irresponsible news media that needs to sell papers and keep viewers tuned in more than it needs to tell the truth. 
The origins of this unfounded fear began in the mid-1960s. A woman in New York got annoyed by trick-or-treaters who she perceived as being too old to be partaking in the Halloween tradition. Rather than just deny them treats, she decided to give these older kids items such as dog biscuits and those round poisoned traps you use to kill ant colonies. She wound up getting prosecuted for child endangerment for her little stunt. The items were clearly not meant for eating however, and no child was harmed.
On October 28, 1970, the New York Times printed an article about the potential dangers of Halloween candy. The concerns were furthered by the Ann Landers and Dear Abby news paper advice columns in the decades following. Yet, research shows that the fears had no real evidence to back them up. 
There was an incident in 1970 when a child died, supposedly from heroin laced candy. It turned out to be a lie made by the child's family. The boy had eaten his uncle's heroin and they wanted to cover it up by blaming it on Halloween candy. In another incident a few years later, a father poisoned his son with cyanide-laced Pixie Stix. The father wanted to collect on the child's life insurance. He also attempted to poison his daughter and other kids trick-or-treating WITH his family in order to cover up his crime and make it appear the candy had come from trick-or-treating the same place as his kids. The truth came out and the man was arrested for his crime. 
Other instances of suspected Halloween candy poisoning have been revealed to be hoaxes or unrelated coincidences (such as children dying from illnesses nobody knew they had). There have been an extremely rare few instances where foreign objects were into candy as pranks, however most reports of tampering of this nature have also been revealed as hoaxes.
You or someone you know is as likely to be harmed by something bought straight from a store shelf as you are from eating candy given to you by a neighbor. To say that the likelihood of anything bad happening is low is a severe understatement. Too often in this society we fear the unlikeliest situations.
If you are still concerned about Halloween candy, you can always take it to a local fire department or hospital to have it x-rayed. You can also search through the candy and check for signs of tampering. 
Halloween is quite possibly the most social holiday we have remaining in our culture. Hardly anyone goes caroling for their neighbors at Christmas time anymore. Most everyone huddles in their small tribes of family and immediate friends during the holidays. People have become disconnected from their neighbors and surrounding community. 
What makes anyone think that a poorly paid and possibly disgruntled employee of a large store chain is any safer than someone from their own neighborhood? 
What kind of message are you providing your children with, when you show them every Halloween that you trust a corporation more than you trust your own neighbors? 
-Tom G
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The following online resources provide more details on things mentioned in this blog. Some were used while researching for it. 


elanya at 2008-10-11 16:52 (UTC) (Link)
Part of me has often wondered if this wasn't some sort of ploy to sell more pre-packaged commercial candy and dissuade people from giving out home made stuff, or healthier treats like fruit :p

Hallowe'en rocks. I feel bad for kids who don't get to experience it's full glory.
Wednesday Lee Friday
wednes at 2008-10-11 17:37 (UTC) (Link)
What a great piece, thank you.
Lusty Neffy, The Scurvy Pervy
nefret at 2008-10-13 12:43 (UTC) (Link)
awesome possum. great post.
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