Will you check your kids trick or treat candy for poison in candy bars, or maybe razor blades stuffed inside of apples tonight? If so, you are participating in what is probably the most widely believed urban legend in American history.
"I have researched claims of Halloween candy poisoning back to the 1950s," Joel Best, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Delaware and the nation's leading expert on the poisoned candy myth tells 1200 WOAI news. "I can't find any evidence that any child has ever been killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up by trick or treating. This is basically a contemporary legend."
Best and the urban legend debunking site Snopes.com say there are scattered incidents over the decades of children being injured or being killed in conjunction with Halloween. Probably the most famous happened in Houston in 1974, when a ten year old boy died after eating Pixie Stix that he had gotten while trick or treating which had been laced with cyanide. But police quickly determined that the boy's father had poisoned the candy in an attempt to kill his son and collect on a life insurance policy. The father, who was later convicted and executed, also poisoned other trick or treat candy he had distributed to try to throw police off the track, but none of the other kids ate the candy.
There have also been cases of people passing out illegal drugs to trick or treaters, but not a single confirmed incident of an evil person randomly distributing poisoned or tainted candy to trick or treaters.
Best thinks the story got legs in 1982, when bottles of Tylenol on grocery store shelves in the Chicago area were found to poisoned right before Halloween.
"That led a lot of commentators to speculate that there would be a wave of copy cat poisonings after that," he said. "There was no such wave."
Best and other officials say there is nothing wrong with protecting your children, and checking out the Halloween candy they get tonight would probably be a good idea. But he says the fact that so many Americans believe the 'poisoned candy legend' says a lot about American culture and the power of rumor and suggestion.
"Halloween is supposed to be a scary holiday," he said. "We don't believe in ghosts and goblins any more, we believe in criminals."