Hallowe’en Post-Mortem 2015: Needle Found in Candy!

Hallowe’en Post-Mortem 2015: Needle Found in Candy!

Photo of a pin found in Halloween candy in Brainerd. Photo courtesy of the Brainerd Police Department
Photo of a pin found in Halloween candy in Brainerd. Photo courtesy of the Brainerd Police Department *Diligent reader: Please read to end of this blog post for an update to this story

I was watching the news the day after Hallowe’en and was distressed by two stories. The first was about a five-year-old boy who was hit by a car in Minneapolis and died from his injuries. Tragic, but it did not surprise me. Given the circumstances, it’s as predictable as knowing that every year during hunting season somebody somewhere is going to be accidentally shot in the woods. We hope that maybe this year everyone will come home safely, and if not, that it doesn’t happen to one of our own or anyone we know.

The second story took me by complete surprise. What really upset my apple cart was a report out of Brainerd that some kid had found a needle in a Three Musketeers fun-size candy!

The reason the second story came as such a shock is that I have informed people for years that the whole razor-blade or needle in the candy story is an urban legend. It is one that has been reinforced periodically by well-meaning local police departments and (lazy) journalists, causing hysteria that whips parents into a bag-checking frenzy. They comb through the stash checking each individual piece. There are even some local medical centers that offer free x-ray screenings of Hallowe’en candy! The number of cases where these efforts have averted a child inadvertently getting a free but unwanted tongue piercing? Zero. Nada. Zilch. Because it’s never happened. The time and resources would be just as well used sending search crews down into the sewer looking for alligators. Urban legend.

…Until now, I thought, with a sinking heart. Here is a case, apparently, of an urban legend being copy-catted by someone and now entering the banal realm of fact.

Why was I so upset? Because I’ve long been an ardent cheerleader for the tradition of trick-or-treating. I observe with regret the growing popularity of programs that offer alternatives to trick-or-treating — churches and youth organizations hosting parties (straight-up Halloween parties in most cases, but the real fringe “Halloween is devil’s night” crowd redub their bacchanals-for-the-young’uns with names like “Hallelujah! Night.” I’m not making that up). I’ve nothing against Hallowe’en parties — I love ‘em! But I see them as one part of the mix, which also includes trick-or-treating before or after the party.

So when a concerned parent opines that it’s just gotten too dangerous — “you have to worry about the traffic, and you just don’t know what all the nutcases out there are sticking in the candy” — I immediately quell that second fear by assuring that there is no sound basis for it.

Granted, the fear of traffic is real — I have a four-year-old and a six-year-old, and the thought of traffic causes no end of anxiety for me. Alas, pedestrians being hit by cars is no urban legend. And you take thousands of kids running around on the streets at night? Inevitably someone is going to be hit by a car. It will happen every year.

Is that a reason to stop taking your children trick-or-treating? No more than one should stop taking them to the fair or to a parade or anywhere else outside your home where someone, sooner or later, is going to get hurt. (Come to think of it, inside the home is allegedly where the most accidents occur — so keeping them perpetually indoors might be the least safe option.)

great pumpkinThis shift to trick-or-treating alternatives (another one is going to the local mall and trick-or-treating store to store: Ugh) makes me especially sad to see here in Minnesota, my home state. Because, for me, Hallowe’en is best exemplified by the classic cartoon It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966). Charles Schulz portrayed a perfect Hallowe’en (except maybe for Charlie Brown: “I got a rock!” And Linus, who missed out on all of it sitting around in a pumpkin patch). There’s the party all perfectly decorated and with the traditional games like bobbing for apples. There’s the planning and making of costumes, and the grand culmination of it all: the trick-or-treating.

Schulz was a Minnesota native, and he portrayed exactly what he grew up with, and what his kids grew up with, and his grandkids, and me, and now my children. That modern version of the Hallowe’en celebration really originated here. Obviously the many rituals and traditions have roots that go back, in some cases, many centuries and even millennia. But Hallowe’en as it is conceived in America today — as one sees it in It’s the Great Pumpkin — evolved in Minnesota in the 1920s and ‘30s. Prior to that, it had become a night of rowdy, drunken revelry, when juvenile delinquents roamed the streets doing real damage (“tricks” would be an understatement — we’re not talking the relatively mild pranks of TPing or tossing eggs).

In 1920, “Anoka, MN, a.k.a the ‘Halloween Capital of the World,’ was the first city in America to officially hold a Halloween celebration, in an effort to divert kids from pulling pranks like tipping outhouses and letting cows loose to run around on Main Street” (deliriumsrealm.com). Other Minnesota communities followed suit. City councils even prepared books outlining various games, costume parades, and other kid-friendly activities that would shift the holiday toward a family-centered one. (I have one of those brass-fastener-bound books from the 1930s — highly collectible and quite fascinating. It is a thick ream of pages introducing the reader to all sorts of Halloween games and activities, many of which are still quite familiar today.)

I am disappointed to see trick-or-treating, after nearly a century of being a near-universally enjoyed tradition of American society, be shunned by so many in this generation.

So I am quite happy to report that on November 3, two days after the story first broke, the needle in the piece of candy was revealed to be A HOAX!

According to the Brainerd Dispatch, “further investigation by the police department revealed that the child involved had fabricated the incident.”

Heh heh heh. The urban legend lives on.

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I grew up in the Kansas City metro in the 80’s, and I have very clear memories of my parents taking me with all my halloween loot to the local hospital to get it x-rayed.

This was also around the time that my mom recorded the Geraldo Rivera, 2-hour primetime special about satanism, and FORBID me from watching it.
My parents are conservative Catholics, not the crazy kind, but have that “worst case scenario” syndrome that allows crazy stories like this to take root and fester… I think they did what they did out of genuine concern for safety. But they never forbid me from trick or treating, thankfully.

Take those two things (of course I found a way to watch that VHS of Geraldo), and my upbringing reading Robert E. Howard, Marvel comics and dungeons and dragons, and my parents quasi-belief that what separated the living from the dead was thinner on Halloween… and there was a stretch where I thought that JUST MAYBE there were evil cultists (just like in D&D!) roaming the nearby woods, and they JUST MAYBE were communicating with sinister evil things on the other side… Thing is, I spent a lot of time in the woods myself and the most interesting things I found were empty liquor bottles and old toys blown apart by firecrackers and melted.

As crazy as it sounds, I still cherish those memories and feel a bit of that special magic in the fall, like JUST MAYBE there’s something out there on the edge, just outside my line of sight…

Nick, you’ll be happy to know that where I’m at now (Chicago NW suburbs) trick or treating is alive and well, and it’s even capped by a community party that’s pretty well attended. The local public elementary school has a halloween party with costumes and games and a parade. I volunteered this year and helped the kids make “monster hands” by stuffing medical glvoes with popcorn.

The modern twist here? The adults handing out candy always ask if anyone has a nut allergy if they’re handing out snickers.

The only thing missing was bobbing for apples… but i’m fine with that. I did it once in boy scouts, and I remember looking at the water and seeing the remnants of five or six scouts’ face makeup swirling around and thinking “gross”!

But I still went in and got that apple!


I live in a small college town and we regularly get 200-300 trick or treaters. We live in a pre-WWII neighborhood where the houses are close together, and our streets have sidewalks unlike the neighborhoods built later. People drive in to our neighborhood from the country. This year was a little down, maybe 150-200 trick or treaters. I dressed up and did my part to scare the kids before they got their treat.

I believe strongly that Halloween should be spooky not cutesy. And it’s not just a kid holiday. It should be regarded in modernity as it was in the past as a night of transgression.


Here in rural South Texas things are different. People drive from town to town, hitting only the neighborhoods known for high candy concentration. The main street in my town, where all the big historic houses are, gets so crowded with pedestrians that you almost can’t walk. The crowds have gotten so big that some people have taken to surrounding their property with police tape to keep out the hordes; other neighborhoods have secret Halloweens several days in advance. (Jerks.) Where I live, two blocks off the main street, the kids ride around in pick-up truck beds and minivans instead of walking, usually five or ten to a vehicle. They’re of all ages, from preschool to high school. They don’t say trick-or-treat and they don’t say thank you — they just run up, open their bags, and run back. But I go on thinking that Halloween is awesome.


I think my mom probably knew, logically, on some level, that the razor blade in snickers was a pretty remote risk… but I also think she probably thought “hey, if the hospital will x-ray for free… an ounce of prevention, right?” Personally, I was just annoyed at the delayed gratification of sorting and eating my Halloween loot.

I agree about the ID running wild aspect of it. I think our culture’s id has leaked all over Halloween in other ways, too. Adult Sexy Halloween has turned into a de facto “Straight Pride celebration” and I think that’s a good thing. As Mean Girls put it, “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” I think that’s just as true of men now, too. It’s the adult version of letting the kid’s id go nuts and turn into whatever monster they want and run wild through the neighborhood.

It’s a trend that I really discovered in college in the late ‘90s. Take my favorite childhood holiday, add sexy women and alcohol? Yes, please. It just cemented my love of Halloween.

Now, if someone could just come up with a fun, id-freeing, sexy tradition for the spring equinox…

Oh, and NOLAbert… cutesy Halloween is fine during daylight hours… but once the sun goes down and the moon comes up, it’s spooky/sexy Halloween all the way. Another amazing part of Halloween!



The id-freeing aspects of Halloween has stuck with me. I’ve probably read it before, but never phrased quite like you did, and it got me thinking:

The id-freeing thing is probably a lot of why I love Halloween.

The id-freeing thing is probably a lot of why I love heroic fiction.

So in the Venn diagram of “lovers of Halloween” and “lovers of heroic fiction”, I’d guess there’s LOTS of overlap…

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