The origins of Halloween date back to the Celtic festival of Samhain which marked the end of the harvest season and start of winter. Things have changed a bit since then. This year, it’s estimated consumers in the US will spend over $6 billion on the celebrations, including $300 million on pet costumes. To help get you in the Halloween mood, we’ve compiled a list of some creepy facts. They range from the unnerving origins of Halloween myths to some shockingly strange celebrations. Here are ten freaky facts about Halloween.
1. There have been several cases of people ignoring actual dead bodies because they mistook them for Halloween decorations.
In October 2009, in Marina del Rey, California, a 75-year-old man committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. His body was visible to neighbors as it was slumped over a chair on the balcony of his third-floor apartment. But no one reported it for five days because they assumed it was a Halloween decoration.
A similar case happened in 2005, when a woman in Frederica, Delaware committed suicide on Halloween by hanging herself from a tree. Her body was hanging 15 feet off the ground from a tree next to a moderately busy street and across from a row several houses, but people ignored the body for several hours.(1,2,3)
2. Manitou Springs Colorado holds a race every Halloween where teams of competitors push coffins down the street. The event is in honor of Emma Crawford. In 1929, Crawford’s coffin became dislodged from its grave on Red Mountain due to erosion and went sliding down the mountain. The coffin shattered, littering her remains at the bottom of a canyon.
The event is called the “Emma Crawford Memorial Coffin Races.” It involves teams of up to five people pushing wheeled coffins down the street for 195 yards. Each team has to have one member as their designated “Emma” who lays prone in the coffin. The event was created in 1994 by town officials who were looking for a way to boost tourism. The event draws up to 15,000 spectators a year. Competitors wear a wide variety of costumes from dead celebrities to “Ghostbusters.” Before the race, competitors take part in a parade where they get to show off their costumes and home-made coffins.(1,2)
3. In Japan, the Yakuza crime syndicate organizes a children’s Halloween event every year. They canceled it in 2015 because there were fears about a gang war breaking out.
The largest faction of the Yakuza is called the “Yamaguchi-gumi.” The Halloween event is held at their headquarters in Rokkomichi, Kobe. The story goes that the tradition began when foreign children were trick-or-treating in the area and inadvertently rang the doorbell of the Yamaguchi-gumi headquarters. In 2016, there were reports that the event would be canceled again, but it ended up taking place without any problems.
The Yakuza organizes a variety of community events and is considered a semi-legitimate organization in Japan. In fact, there are six fan magazines dedicated to reporting on their activities. As another example of their community involvement, the gang also participates in relief efforts after disasters. They were among the first to provide food and water to survivors after the 1995 Kobe earthquake. They used a helicopter to provide relief services and were much faster to respond to the disaster than the Japanese government. Also, after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the Yakuza opened their offices to refugees and sent dozens of trucks full of supplies to help survivors.(1,2,3)
4. Parents’ fears about strangers giving their children poisoned Halloween candy are based on a myth as police have never documented any actual cases. However, there have been several instances of parents poisoning their own children’s candy and then claiming a stranger did it.
A sociology professor named Joel Best has been trying to debunk this myth for over 30 years. By searching newspapers from 1958 to 1988, he found 80 reported cases including two deaths. Further research revealed that 78 of the reports turned out to be pranks. For instance, one child put ant poison on a half-eaten candy bar and showed it to his parents.
The two deaths also turned out not to fit with the myth. One child who died was Timothy Marc O’Bryan. He died on Halloween 1974 after eating Pixie Stix that were laced with cyanide. In that case, the boy’s father was responsible. He had previously taken out a life insurance policy on his children and planned to blame the murder on a random madman. The other reported death was Kevin Toston who died in 1970 after getting into his uncle’s heroin stash and poisoning himself. The family then tried to keep the uncle out of trouble by sprinkling some heroin on the child’s Halloween candy.
One reason the myth persists is that these cases are widely reported before the full story comes out and they receive far less coverage afterward. That’s why many lists of Halloween safety guidelines put a focus on checking candy for tampering, and some medical offices will x-ray Halloween candy for free.(1,2,3)
5. In 2007, Daylight Saving Time was extended to include Halloween. Politicians said the change was made for safety. But others say it was due in part to lobbying by the candy industry which wanted children to have an extra hour to collect candy.
According to the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the change extend Daylight Savings Time (DST) to include Halloween made trick-or-treating safer. “Our youngsters will get an extra hour of daylight they didn’t have before which is a critical factor of why we picked this date.”
However, according to Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, the candy industry has lobbied for this change for over 25 years. “In fact, they went so far during the 1985 hearings on Daylight Saving as to put candy pumpkins on the seat of every senator, hoping to win a little favor.”
6. Some animal shelters won’t allow you to adopt a black cat around Halloween out of fear of people using them for ritual sacrifices. But the Humane Society says those fears are not supported by any evidence.
According to a representative of the Animal Welfare League in Chicago, the reasoning behind not adopting black cats during the Halloween season is simple. “There’s a lot of weirdos out there.” In 1996, a Humane Society representative said: “It goes back to satanic rituals and the strange kinds of things that happen at this time of year.” However, actual cases of cat-sacrifice on Halloween are hard to track down. For example, was a series of animal mutilations reported in Utah around Halloween of 2002, but those incidents actually started in the spring and also included dogs.
But since the early 2000s, some shelters have been dropping the policy, and others even use Halloween to promote adopting a black cat. According to the Toronto Humane Society, a study of news reports showed no correlation between Halloween and animal abuse. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also says they see no increase in cruelty cases around Halloween. The Humane Society concluded that “restricting adoptions at Halloween, rather than protecting black cats, simply keeps them in the shelter.”(1,2,3,4)
7. Before Harry Houdini died on Halloween 1926, he made an agreement with his wife Bess that if he was able to communicate from beyond the grave, he would send her a prearranged passphrase. That way, she would be able to debunk or verify any mediums who claimed to be in communication with him.
In the 1920s, Harry Houdini had focused on debunking psychics and mediums. So before he died, he told Bess the passphrase “Rosabelle believe” which was a reference to their favorite song. After Houdini’s death, Bess held annual séances on Halloween. In 1929, the psychic Arthur Ford claimed to be in contact with Houdini. His claims were supported by Bess, as she said he had provided the correct secret password. However, she later said the incident had been faked.
After Ford’s death in 1971, his biographer found evidence that Ford may have figured out the secret password using existing clues. Bess stopped trying to contact Houdini after the last unsuccessful séance in 1936. Years later, when explaining why she stopped the tradition, Bess said: “ten years is long enough to wait for any man.”(source)
8. In the 1980s, Stephen King used to host a haunted house at his home every Halloween. But he canceled the annual event after 1,400 people showed up one year.
The “frequently asked questions” section of Stephen King’s website explains why the event was canceled. “It’s great to see everyone, but it wears everybody out and it plays hell with the law so we’re not doing that anymore.” Stephen King lives in a historic-looking house outside of downtown Bangor, Maine. It has a wrought-iron fence surrounding the property that incorporates decorative spiders, bat-winged creatures, and a three-headed reptile.(1,2)
9. In 2015, Airbnb held a contest where the winner got to spend Halloween night in the Paris catacombs that hold the remains of about six million people.
The catacombs span more than 200 miles of tunnels and crypts. It has been described as the world’s largest grave. Paris began moving human remains there in the 1700s in order to eliminate its overflowing cemeteries.
Airbnb had to pay Paris’s City Hall approximately $331,000 to have access to the catacombs for the night. The contest winner was provided with a double bed next to large piles of skulls and bones. The prize also included a dinner, violin concert, and a storyteller. The 27-year-old contest winner said he wasn’t scared about sleeping there and described himself as a “history nerd.” As his guest, he brought his mother.(1,2)
10. On Halloween 1992, the BBC aired a “mockumentary” called Ghostwatch. The pre-taped show was presented as if it were a live broadcast. It showed reporters visiting an ordinary household in North London that was apparently haunted by a poltergeist. The show was convincing enough that two young viewers exhibited some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Another viewer committed suicide because he thought his house was haunted.
The two viewers who experienced PTSD symptoms were both ten-year-old boys. A 1994 article in the British Medical Journal said they showed some of the features of PTSD. For instance, a full year after the show was broadcast, one of the boys was still experiencing panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, sleep difficulties, nightmares, and fear of the dark. In the end, the article concluded the boys experienced a brief anxiety reaction—not actual PTSD.
The viewer who committed suicide was Martin Denham, an 18-year-old with learning difficulties. He had the mental age of 13. The pipes in Denham’s home were prone to making noises, and he drew a link between that and the show. The ghost on the show was called “Pipes” because, in the beginning, the mother of the family blamed the pipes in their home for causing the strange noises they’d been hearing. Denham left a suicide note that said: “if there are ghosts I will be … with you always as a ghost.”
The BBC was flooded with calls following the broadcast. In response to viewer complaints about the show, the Broadcasting Standards Commission ruled that Ghostwatch was excessively distressing and graphic. They also pointed out that since Ghostwatch used some TV personalities who regularly presented children’s programs, it confused parents about whether Ghostwatch was appropriate for children. The BBC placed a ten-year ban on the program. In 2002 it was released on VHS and DVD.
A writer for The Telegraph explained one reason the show was believable to some viewers was that they used real BBC presenters of the time. “It is the essential ordinariness that makes it so convincing – the suburban setting and the familiarity of the presenters, proving that fear can come from the most unexpected of places.”(1,2,3)