Y'know, for a holiday that capitalizes on all things spooky, Halloween has surprisingly few urban legends directly associated with it. You'd expect there to be scads and scads, right? Well… not so much. But even though there may not be many Halloween urban legends, the ones that do exist are incredibly persistent. Why is that? I mean, that's always the question about urban legends — why do they tend to stick around with such staying power, when in the digital age, an article confirming or debunking them is just a Google search away — but with Halloween ones in particular, it's kind of fascinating how they just keep getting passed down, generation to generation.
Me? I always wonder whether it's because there's a kernel of truth in there somewhere. So I rounded up four commonle repeated Halloween urban legends — and then I started doing a little digging to find out whether or not they might be based on something real. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's a mixed bag: Some of them are fiction; some of them are, sadly, fact; and some of them lie somewhere in the grey area in between.
So here — let's take a look. Which spooky stories did you grow up hearing on All Hallow's Eve?
1. The 1962 Halloween Massacre
This image has been circulating the Internet for a while now, although no one is quite sure where it came from. It features a vintage Halloween photograph, which is creepy enough in and of itself (I don't know about you, but pretty much all vintage Halloween photographs look creepy to me) — but kicking it up to the next level of “WTF?!” is the text below it stating that the fellow in the black mask was actually responsible for killing seven people in the photograph, presumably shortly after it was taken. The incident is referred to as “The 1962 Halloween Massacre,” and the masked man was allegedly never caught.
Is It True?
Nope. In addition to the fact that there don't seem to be any news stories about it around — unusual, given that 1962 is still fairly recent, all things considered — Snopes points out a number of holes in the narrative that smack down its plausibility:
If the killer “locked all the doors [to the room] 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?
Touche. It all makes for a classic horror movie plot, though, so at least it's got that going for it, right?
2. Tainted Treats
You probably already know this one; in fact, you may have grown up with your parents carefully examining your trick-or-treat haul or forbidding you to eat anything that didn't come in a wrapper. Why? Out of fear that someone may have tampered with your sweets. Pins tucked into chocolate bars, razor blades lurking inside apples, and candy laced with poison were all feared as possible contaminants, all capable of causing serious injury — or even death.
Is It True?
Partially. The idea of someone tampering with Halloween treats in an effort to cause harm is often dubbed “Halloween sadism,” and Professor Joel Best of the University of Delaware has been studying it for decades. In 1985, he published an article reviewing press coverage of so-called “Halloween sadism” in four major American newspapers between the years of 1958 and 1984; he later updated that article and included it in his 1990 book, Threatened Children. Now available online, the article is sort of an ongoing project which Best continues to update periodically.
The entire article is fascinating, so I highly recommend heading here to read it; for those of you who are short on time, though, the gist of it is this: Yes, the media has covered incidents of sharp objects being found in Halloween candy; lots of these reports end up being hoaxes; and the few documented deaths that are frequently attributed to Halloween sadism were later found to be the results of other causes.
The closest story to actual “Halloween sadism” — as well as what I consider to be one of the saddest stories of all time — occurred in Pasadena, Texas in 1974. 8-year-old Timothy O'Bryan died after eating a piece of candy that had been laced with cyanide. It was later discovered that Timothy's father, Ronald, O'Bryan had given the boy the poisoned candy himself. O'Bryan was tried and convicted; he was executed by lethel injection in 1984.
3. Halloween Hangings
As is the case for a lot of these tales, there are a couple of variations on this one. One describes people who have completed suicide being taken as Halloween decorations; a second tells the story of a Halloween stunt going wrong, resulting in an accidental hanging.
Is It True?
Yes, unfortunately, and even sadder is the fact that in both cases, multiple incidents have occurred. I'll refrain from sensationalizing the details, but you can check out Snopes' entries on each version if you want to know more.
4. The Scariest Haunted House In History
Allegedly there exists, somewhere in the United States, a haunted attraction that is so frightening you get your money back if you make it all the way through it. The location and the theme of the haunt vary depending on who's telling the story — sometimes it's somewhere in Ohio and the theme is a hospital; other times it's in Detroit and built in five-story abandoned building; still other times it's in Chicago and 13 stories tall; and sometimes, it's simply called The Chimera House — but what they all have in common is the promise of a payout at the end, either a full refund or a specific dollar amount for every floor you make it through.
The other thing they have in common is the claim that no one has ever managed to complete it.
Is It True?
Heck no, although I can see how you might have been led to think it is. Snopes traces the legend of the “too scary to finish” haunted attraction back to the mid-1980s, although it's seen something of a resurgence in the years since then due to the growing popularity of high-octane haunts. (The creepypasta "NoEnd House" probably helped, too.) That's not to say that seriously impressive haunts don't exist — Snopes recalls Richard Garriott's efforts to transform his 4,500-square-foot mansion, Britannia Manor, in Austin, Texas into “an interactive theme park where guests were led through a real-life sword-and-sorcery adventure” between the years of 1988 and 1994; furthermore, anyone who's familiar with New York's Blackout attraction or other extreme haunts like it knows that there are some pretty out there options for the “don't just spook me; terrify me” crowd.
But as Chicago Halloween Guide notes, a “too scary to finish” haunted attraction just wouldn't be feasible from a practical standpoint. For one, haunts have to be safe in order to be open to the public, which means that an attraction with trap doors in the floor that shoot you down a level when you least expect — a claim one of the more outrageous versions of the tale makes — it likely wouldn't pass muster; and second, it would be astronomically expensive to make something so scary no one has ever gotten through it. According to How Stuff Works, a decent haunt requires at least $15 to $25 per square foot of space just for decorations and special effects, which means that for a 5,000-square-food haunt, you're looking at $75,000 to $125,000 — again, just for the décor. For a 13-story house as frightening as the one in this legend, you'd need way more — and we haven't even started to talk about things like operating costs yet.
That said, though, a few places have offered some monetary compensation for going above and beyond during their haunt experiences. The Panic Room in Kentucky, for example, featured an additional, optional room where patrons who “ate something, drank something, and did something” received their money back; think Fear Factor without the cameras. I've also heard tell of a haunted house in Warren, Mich. called Urban Legends that that apparently used to give you your money back if you could find the haunt's hidden room… although oddly, I haven't been able to find any documentation about this house other than hearsay. Another part of the legend, perhaps?
In any event, someone did eventually register the concept "money-back haunt"; you can create licensed haunts under the Money-Back Haunt banner, although I doubt anything produced under this license will reach the same mythic proportions of the haunts told about in the urban legend. Also, does anyone else think registering the concept kind of takes the fun out of it?