The nice thing about urban legends is right in the name: Urban legends. You may shiver while they're told by the fire and spend hours lying awake after coming across one you haven't heard before, but in the end, most are (fortunately) fiction. On the other hand, that just makes the true urban legends even scarier, and sometimes a little harder to enjoy, once you know they've actually happened. This is particularly true when it comes to stories involving one of your favorite holidays — in this case, Halloween.
Urban legends are often used as morality tales to scare children and adolescents — especially teenage girls — into behaving. Usually, the protagonists come to a grisly end that serves as a warning: The high school sweethearts who are creatively murdered while necking in the woods, the distracted babysitter who lets her charges get creatively murdered while she watches TV, the driver who is creatively murdered after not checking the backseat — you get the idea. (There's a lot of creative murdering in urban legends.) Considering its association with general mayhem, you'd think that Halloween would be the center of all kinds of morality tales, but there aren't actually all that many Halloween urban legends out there. Perhaps everyone is too busy retelling the classics to come up with new ones.
That being said, there's still plenty of fodder if you're looking to creep yourself out. I've already written about the Halloween legends that turn out to be false, but others are actually true — and one, oddly enough, actually managed to make both lists. Here are four real Halloween legends to bust out next time you're sitting around a fire at night.
The Legend: In an attempt to scare his friends for Halloween, a young man pretends to hang himself. The noose accidentally tightens and actually hangs him, sometimes in front of other people. In other versions, the victim is a worker at a haunted house whose harness fails, with the same result.
The Reality: This probably should come as a surprise, but pretending to hang yourself is ridiculously dangerous, and the number of accidental hanging deaths that have actually happened proves it. According to Snopes, the closest fit to the urban legend was in 1990, when a teenager working at a Halloween hayride died while performing a fake hanging stunt. About a month later, another teenager died similarly during a gallows scene at a Halloween party.
The Candy Man
The Legend: Trick-or-treaters fall ill after consuming Halloween candy. When police investigate, they find that the candy has been poisoned.
The Reality: First, it's important to note that Halloween sadism isn't actually real. To date, nobody has poisoned random children's Halloween candy for the fun of it, despite several national panics; it's all pretty much exclusively turned out to be a hoax. That being said, there was someone nicknamed the Candy Man after poisoning his son's Halloween candy. In 1974, Ronald O'Bryan laced his son Timothy's candy with cyanide as part of a life insurance scheme. He was caught, tried, and convicted; he was executed by lethal injection in 1984. It's not the same thing as a sadistic stranger murdering an entire neighborhood of kids, but O'Bryan could have inspired the legend.
The Legend: In the most common legend, a babysitter has put the children to bed when she notices a disturbing clown statue in the corner of the bedroom. She goes downstairs to call the parents, asking whether they mind if she watches television downstairs because of the statue (which understandably creeps her out). The parents tell her to grab the children and run — they don't own a clown statue.
The Reality: The original legend isn't specific to Halloween, but I'm going to go ahead and call this one a Halloween myth because it's happening right now, just in time for the Halloween season. Beginning around the end of September, people across the world have been reporting sightings of creepy clowns staring at children or beckoning to them. To be fair, the clowns haven't actually hurt anyone, and it's likely just a series of escalating pranks causing people to panic. But the hallmarks of the legend are there: A sinister-looking clown that targets children.
The Legend: Sometimes told in conjunction with the "accidental hanging" legend discussed above, this legend tells the tale of someone who dies around Halloween. Although their body is left in the open, it's assumed to be a Halloween decoration until several weeks into November, when nobody has taken it down yet.
The Reality: Halloween decorations can get astonishingly realistic, so it's not exactly a surprise that people mistake dead bodies for seasonal decor more often than you'd think. In 2009, the body of an elderly man was left on his balcony for days after dying by suicide because the neighbors thought he was a Halloween dummy. Similarly, a woman's body found by a fence in Ohio was ignored by at least one person who thought it was a Halloween joke.
Really makes you want to stay in this Halloween, doesn't it?