Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treating & The Posioned Candy Scare

Trick or treating has a awkward place in my heart. As a young child I didn't get to go Trick or Treating because of the poisoned candy scare and because it being linked to the ancient evils of sorcery and Catholicism. So when I read that it is a strongly American tradition it gave me greater resolve that I will force my kids Trick-or-Treat from the time they can walk until they are in High School.

Trick-or-treating may have developed in America independent of any antecedent. Though some people claim that it is derived from the Irish or British custom of "Souling" where poor folk would go door to door, receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (All Hallows Day). There is no evidence that souling, was ever performed in America.

There is little primary documentation of masking or costuming on Halloween — in Ireland, the UK, or America — before 1900. The earliest reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English speaking America occurs in 1915, with another isolated reference in Chicago in 1920. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but do not depict trick-or-treating. Ruth Edna Kelley, in her 1919 history of the holiday, The Book of Hallowe'en, makes no mention of such a custom in the chapter "Hallowe'en in America."

It does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the earliest known uses in print of the term "trick or treat" appearing in 1934, and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939. Thus, although a quarter million Scots-Irish immigrated to America between 1717 and 1770, the Irish Potato Famine brought almost a million immigrants in 1845–1849, and British and Irish immigration to America peaked in the 1880s, ritualized begging on Halloween was virtually unknown in America until generations later.

Trick-or-treating spread from the western United States eastward, stalled by sugar rationing that began in April 1942 during World War II and did not end until June 1947.[14]

Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children's magazines Jack and Jill and Children's Activities, and by Halloween episodes of the network radio programs The Baby Snooks Show in 1946 and The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1948. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon Trick or Treat, Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show, and UNICEF first conducted a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating.

Although some popular histories of Halloween have characterized trick-or-treating as an adult invention to rechannel Halloween activities away from vandalism, nothing in the historical record supports this theory. To the contrary, adults, as reported in newspapers from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, typically saw it as a form of extortion, with reactions ranging from bemused indulgence to anger. Likewise, as portrayed on radio shows, children would have to explain what trick-or-treating was to puzzled adults, and not the other way around.

Despite the falseness of these claims the news media promoted the story continuously throughout the 1980s, with local news stations featuring frequent coverage. During this time cases of poisoning were repeatedly reported based on unsubstantiated claims or before a full investigation could be completed and often never followed up on. This one sided coverage contributed to the overall panic and caused rival media outlets to issue reports of candy tampering as well.

Over the years various experts have tried to debunk the various candy tampering stories. Among this group is Joel Best, a University of Delaware sociologist who is considered the foremost expert on candy tampering. In his studies he researched newspapers from 1958 on in search of candy tampering. Of these stories fewer than 90 instances might have qualified.

The first event took place in 1964, where an annoyed New York housewife started giving out packages of inedible objects to children whom she believed were too old to be trick-or-treating. The packages contained items such as steel wool, dog biscuits, and ant buttons (which were clearly labeled with the word ”poison”). Though nobody was injured, she was prosecuted and pleaded guilty to endangering children.

Upon closer examination nearly all of these claims were false or hoaxes created by the child. Within the reports of candy tampering Best has only found five child deaths that were initially thought to be caused by homicidal strangers.

In 1970, a 5-year-old boy died after eating his uncle's hidden heroin stash. The family tried to protect the uncle by creating a story about drugs being found in the child's Halloween candy.

In a 1974 case, an 8-year-old Houston boy died after eating a cyanide-laced package of Pixy Stix. A subsequent police investigation eventually determined that the poisoned candy had been planted in his trick-or-treat pile by the boy's father, who also gave out poisoned candy to other children in an attempt to cover up the murder. The murderer, who had wanted to claim $40,000 in life insurance money, was executed in 1984.

By 1985, the media had driven the hysteria about candy poisonings to such a point that an ABC News/Washington Post poll that found 60% of parents feared that their children would be injured or killed because of Halloween candy sabotage.

Advice columnists entered the fray during the 1980s and 1990s with both Ann Landers and Dear Abby warning parents of the horrors of candy tampering.

"In recent years, there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy. It is no longer safe to let your child eat treats that come from strangers." –Ann Landers
"Somebody's child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade." –Dear Abby

What is so sad to me about the whole Poisoned Candy conspiracy is that I am just a victim of the times. I was born in 77 so it was just starting to become a frenzy as I was entering prime Trick-Or-Treating years. I only remember going Trick-or-Treating twice as a kid. Both of which I was already in High School.

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