10/11/08

Fact or Fiction #8: Apples and Razor Blades

Remember the razor blade in the apple scare? Was it real, or simply a case of mass hysteria? The media certainly fostered the scare - read some of these clips from major news sources:

"... that plump red apple that Junior gets from a kindly old woman down the block may have a razor blade inside"(New York Times, 1970)
... and the NY Times was at it again that year with: "Those Halloween goodies that children collect this weekend on their rounds of trick or treating may bring them more horror than happiness."
"If this year's Halloween follows form, a few children will return home with something more than an upset tummy..." (Newsweek, 1975)

Even "Dear Abby" got in on the action by reminding parents of the danger that, "...somebody's child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade."
In a response to a perceived outbreak of cases in 1968, the New Jersey state legislature passed a law mandating prison terms for those caught putting harmful items in Halloween candy. But was it all just another example of the media overstating statistics? Turns out there were isolated cases of booby trapped Halloween treats. Most turned out to be either hoaxes or within the family (i.e. a parent harming their own child).

It's not hard to see why this particular urban legend took hold. It combines some of the most common themes in urban legends including (1) danger to children, (2) contamination of food, (3) mistrust of others and (4) fear of crime. Plus, it capitalizes on some pretty nasty fears: biting into a caramel apple and having a razor blade mince your tongue to shreds has got to be one of the most painful and horrific thoughts imaginable.

For a good example of how parents can over protect their kids on Halloween, look no further than this 1977 Halloween safety video. I know I've been getting pretty heavy handed with the YouTube clips of late, but this one cracked me up. In an effort to keep her "safe" the poor girl goes from a decent witch costume to looking like a KKK member wrapped in reflective tape.




Part 2 can be found here.

8 comments:

  1. I remember being told all the horror stories by my parents and others. They would tell us about which candy to eat and not. They would tell us never to take certain items from people. We could never be be sure what they might have put in it.

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  2. Keith- In a sense, this wasn't an urban legend because it actually happened. There were a few cases of apples with razor blades (and even a poisoned pixie stick).

    To be accurate it's really a case of the media overstating statistics.

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  3. I was a kid in San Antonio Texas during the early 70's I think when the poisoned pixies stick occurred and I recall the Halloween hysteria the following year. As I remember the case happened in Texas, maybe Houston, and the killer was the boy's father and it was all about insurance money.

    I am sure you know about Chick Publications. When my bandwidth issues are settled I was going to upload an entire track about Halloween from their site. If you have not read it please do at:

    http://www.chick.com/default.asp

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  4. Willy- Funny you should mention the Chick tracts - I was actually planning to post on them myself. I'll refrain - I'm sure you'll do a better and more thorough job of it.

    Anyway, I almost find it hard to laugh at those tracts. They're so ignorant and offensive. The thought that people actually buy into them is a scary thought.

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  5. Sheesh, Gil, you're right! She went from a cute lite witch to the little Grand Wizard in NJ history!

    Cars might now see her in the street at night now, but it does mean she isn't gonna get hit!

    Yikes!

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  6. I agree. That video is ridiculous, and horrible.

    Who the heck sends kids out BY THEMSELVES to Trick or Treat? That's sheer lunacy.

    We always have a gigantic posse of kids, babies, moms, dads, grandparents ---- you name it. We all go together.

    If we don't have enough people in our group, we find another group and just join in with them.

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  7. Great website, by the way. I'm looking forward to many happy hours strolling down memory lane.

    One thing, though: Unfortunately, it's not completely G-Rated. I won't be able to show it to the kids and grandkids. :-(

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  8. Um, well, now I see that it's not G-rated at all. Perhaps you could take down my comments. Sorry.

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