That time Utah tried to ban trick-or-treating

As it turns out, the problem wasn't razor blades or drugs in treats

In 1970, two days before Halloween, the Park Record alerted its readers with the unqualified headline “Trick or Treat Holds Danger.”

“The abolishment of the traditional Halloween activity of Trick or Treat was urged to day by Darcie H.H. White, Utah Safety Council’s Vice President for Home Safety,” the Park Record’s news story began.

“‘Over the past several years,’ White reported, ‘a number of instances where youngsters were out Trick or Treating were given apples imbedded with razor blades or candy which was impregnated with drugs have been reported.'”

But as it turns out, the problem wasn’t razor blades or drugs in treats, but a kind of safety hysteria which swept the country at the time, Axios reports today.

The upshot?

The unnecessary rise of X-rays of Halloween candy. And an urban legend that never really quit.

University of Delaware sociology professor Joel Best, who researches urban legends and “Halloween sadism,” has found no evidence of a child being killed or seriously harmed by Halloween treats.

But what best has found is sometimes ghoulishly illuminating, and sometimes sad.

Best gives five instances of “deaths attributed to Halloween sadism”:

“Kevin Totson (Detroit, 1970). Five-year-old Kevin died after eating heroin supposedly hidden in his Halloween candy. Less heavily publicized was a follow-up story that Kevin had found the heroin in a relative’s home.

“Timothy O’Bryan (Pasadena, TX, 1974). Eight-year-old Timothy died after eating cyanide-laced Halloween candy. Later investigation revealed that he had received the candy from his father (who had taken out a life insurance policy on his son). The father was tried, convicted, and executed for the murder of his son.

“Patrick Wiederhold (Flint, MI, 1978). Two-year-old Patrick died after eating Halloween treats. However, tests of tissue samples failed to find traces of drugs or poison, and police concluded that Patrick’s death was from natural causes.

“Ariel Katz (Santa Monica, CA, 1990). Seven-year-old Ariel collapsed while trick-or-treating and died. Although her parents told the authorities that she had heart problems, the initial press reports blamed Halloween sadism. The coroner attributed the death to an enlarged heart.

“Name Withheld (Vancouver, British Columbia, 2001). A four-year-old girl died after eating some Halloween candy, leading police to advise parents to throw out all Halloween treats. However, pathology tests showed no evidence of poisoning, and the autopsy showed she died of a streptococcus infection.”

Today, the Utah Safety Council seems more concerned with driving and occupational safety.



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