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Halloween From A to Z

The Artvoice guide to Halloween From A to Z: 26 little known tidbits about the dark day.


Urban legends have long existed of apples laced with pins, razor blades, and other stomach-mangling shrapnel being handed out to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. Prior to 2000, you would have been branded an idiot for believing anything so blatantly paranoid. That was before Joseph James Smith was charged with altering a substance with intent to cause harm for giving Snickers bars packed with needles to Minneapolis children. Luckily, in this case no one was seriously injured. As for apples, the real threat is probably to the homeowner himself for giving out fruit to sugar-dependent children on a night wrought with wanton mischief. Hope your siding is egg-proof.


A lot of white guys out there are going to think they can pull off the Obama or Kanye West costume this year. Inevitably some will even go as far as to color their skin to achieve the desired effect. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Seriously. That shit will be posted on Facebook and you will look like a titanic jackass to all your friends and acquaintances. If you’re worried about looking like just another white guy in a business suit, wear a freakin’ name tag.


A very real and actually quite common disorder entailing a fear of clowns. You could blame the horror world for distorting a once-innocent children’s icon into a malevolent monster (Stephen King, we’re looking in your direction), or you could look at the real world. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy, above, a twisted sadist who murdered 33 men during the 1970s, entertained at neighborhood parties under the moniker “Pogo the Clown.” Can’t sleep. Clown will eat me.

Devil’s Night

The night before Halloween was once known as a lighthearted time for pranks and general mischief. Sometime during the late 1970s, however, tricksters in Detroit graduated from petty vandalism to full-blown arson. Since then, every year hundreds of the estimated 70,000 vacant homes in the Dirty D have lit up the night sky. Despite citywide curfews and the efforts of thousands of volunteers and police to stem the torchings, last year 136 fires were reported on Halloween. Albeit, this remains a far cry from 1984, the peak year for fires, when 810 were reported over a three-day period.

Egyptair Flight 990

While carrying 203 passengers and 14 crew members nonstop from New York to Cairo, this flight mysteriously crashed off the Massachusetts shore on Halloween Day in 1999, killing all on board. Investigators dispute the cause of the crash, with Egyptian officials claiming mechanical failure and Americans blaming an act of pilot suicide. According to cockpit voice recordings, when the pilot left the cabin to use the bathroom, the co-pilot took the plane off autopilot and began to recite “I rely on God” as he initiated a steep descent and shut off the engines. When the pilot returned, a struggle for control ensued and the stress of the resulting maneuvers led to the left wing shearing off, dooming the accursed 767 to the bottom of the seas.

Forest Lawn

The largest and most famous cemetery in Buffalo also happens to be the final resting place of one Alfred P. Southwick, who is credited with inventing the electric chair. A dentist by trade, Southwick combined his knowledge of working with people in chairs with his desire to swiftly eliminate undesirables from society in what he thought was the most painless way possible. On August 6, 1890, William Kemmler, convicted of murdering his wife with a hatchet, became the first person to receive Southwick’s brand of electric justice. The execution at Auburn State Prison in New York was far from routine, however, requiring two separate bursts of juice and, according to reports, setting Kemmler on fire. Newspapers of the era referred to Southwick as the “daddy” of the deed. He took great pride in his accomplishment, describing it as “one of the grandest successes of the age.”


Just like those pseudo-science entertainers peddling that “Ghost Hunters” crap (who by the way, have never come up with a shred of credible evidence confirming the existence of the paranormal), almost half of Americans agree that something is out there waiting to be found. According to a 2005 CBS News poll, 48 percent of us believed in the existence of ghosts and another 22 percent claimed to have actually seen one. Women were more likely than men to profess a belief in ghosts with 56 percent claiming so and 39 percent having seen one.

Harry Houdini

History’s most famous magician, known for death-defying escapes and crowd-pleasing tricks…I’m sorry, illusions…Houdini is probably the most notable person to die on Halloween. During a 1926 performance in Detroit that would prove to be his last, Houdini, suffering from a 104-degree fever and severe case of appendicitis, passed out. Undeterred, having cheated death and won so many times before, he revived and finished the show. The next day his appendix ruptured and he was hospitalized. Death caught up to him six days later, proving that you can only tempt the reaper so many times before he takes his toll.


Birthplace of a celebration that would evolve into the holiday we known as Halloween. Two thousand years ago Celts living in Ireland, England, and Scotland traditionally celebrated the New Year on November 1. Marking the end of harvest and the coming of the season of death, they believed the night before, Samhain, was a day when the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. To commemorate the dead they set large bonfires and chose which livestock were healthy enough to survive the coming winter. Those that were not, were sacrificed and their bones cast into the flames.

Juvenile Diabetes

Sugar consumption is a major contributor to the fattening of America’s youth, and guess who is the greatest consumer of the estimated $2 billion spent on Halloween candy every year. Behind that sweetened sheen, a serious danger lurks. Scientists say obesity, which affects an estimated 32 percent of American children, is a risk factor that may trigger type-1 diabetes, a life-threatening autoimmune disorder. Maybe kids should be eating those shrapnel apples after all.


And the runaway winner for worst Halloween costume of all time goes to the three, count ’em, three, students who dressed as Klansmen in 2007. The 12th-graders (or Grade 12’s for our Canadian readers) at Cornwall Collegiate Vocational School near Ottawa dressed in white robes, pointy hoods, and carryied a noose. The most shocking part of this story was the lackadaisical response from school officials. Just a year earlier, a student was suspended for dressing as a Playboy bunny, a costume deemed to provocative for the school’s tastes. In this case however, the principal brushed off the racial affront as merely a lapse in judgment and a “joke” gone wrong.


Speaking of the Klan, in 2007 conservative wingnut Sean Hannity, below, of Fox News claimed that Halloween was in essence, a “liberal holiday” due to its advocacy of handouts. “Halloween is a liberal holiday, because we’re teaching our children to beg for something for free,” said a very serious Hannity as rational thought slipped further from his grasp. Even Focus on the Family, the evangelical right-wing policy group, endorses an occult-free Halloween as “harmless fun.” That places Hannity to the far right of a fundamentalist Christian organization on the celebration of a Pagan holiday.

Mostafa Mahmoud Zayed

The 75-year-old Marina Del Rey, California resident, who died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the eye on October 12, lay on his balcony for four days before concerned neighbors contacted police. Fellow condo dwellers believed his lifeless and decomposing body, slumped over a chair and in plain view, was merely a Halloween decoration.

North Carolina

There’s going to be one hell of a holy book barbeque down in North Carolina this Halloween. Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton is hosting a literary liquidation of works they deem “Satanic,” including any edition of the Bible except the King James Version. In addition to all the Bible burning, Pastor Marc Grizzard is also taking aim at the works of heretics such as Mother Theresa, the Pope, and Billy Graham. Even Southern gospel music and “contemporary” Christian music are not holy enough to escape the fires of justice. Ladies and gentlemen, the Christian Taliban is alive and well and residing in North Carolina.

Operation Gratitude

The nonprofit volunteer organization arranges a yearly candy buyback program with the help of hundreds of dentists nationwide. Candy is exchanged for cash (one pound of candy for $1, maximum $5) and then included in care packages sent to American troops serving overseas. Last year children donated over 10,000 pounds of candy, 98 percent of which we’ll bet was made up of Charleston Chews, Zagnut bars, and Good & Plenty. A noble gesture, but how about sending those troops some flak jackets or something instead?

Pixy Stix

While there is no documented evidence of a deranged sociopath handing out poisoned candy (as opposed to needled candy, above), this urban legend lives on thanks to an incident that occurred in 1974. Eight-year-old Timothy Mark O’Bryan of Houston died on Halloween night after eating Pixy Stix laced with cyanide. The culprit was far from a random sociopath, however, as the victim’s own father was charged with his death. No direct evidence tied the father to the lethal treat, but prosecutors managed to convince a jury that the boy’s hefty life insurance policy and his father’s recent purchase of cyanide were more than just coincidence. Texas justice being what it is, he was convicted and executed nine years later (although not on Halloween).


The holiday, which is essentially the Muslim version of Halloween, is celebrated primarily in Kuwait and several other Gulf states during the holy month of Ramadan. Children dress in traditional clothing and go door-to-door in the neighborhood collecting treats, dates, and nuts. So it’s basically just like Halloween minus the horror and occult themes and, you know, binge drinking.


A popular divining ritual and parlor game on Halloween in the late 19th and early 20th centuries involved an unmarried woman gazing into a mirror in the darkness in the hope of seeing her future husband’s face appear. It was said that if she were destined to die before she got married (which at that time meant sometime before her 16th or 17th birthday and most likely to a first cousin), she would see a skull instead. It’s too bad those clairvoyant mirrors weren’t powerful enough to show women their voting rights were still 20 to 30 years away.


Self-explanatory. It seems as though every year the costumes get skimpier. No complaints here.


The name jack-o-lantern derives from the old Irish tale of Stingy Jack. According to legend, Jack, a con artist, vagabond, and epic drunk, got a visit from the Devil when his time was up and bargained for one more drink before being dragged to hell. Jack convinced the Devil to shapeshift into a silver coin to pay his tab. He then placed the Devil into his pocket, which held a crucifix that rendered the Devil powerless. Before letting the Devil go, Jack negotiated for 10 more years of freedom. When those years were up, Jack promptly tricked the Devil again with a similar scheme, and this time won a promise from the Devil never to take his soul. When Jack’s earthly body finally succumbed to all that hard partying, his soul was denied entrance to Heaven for his deal with the Devil and cursed for all eternity. Okay, so what the hell does all this have to do with turnips, you ask? Well, that was Jack’s favorite food, and, according to legend, his ghost roams the Irish countryside carrying a hollowed-out turnip with a light inside representing his unrested soul. Long story short, they traditionally carve turnips in Ireland instead of pumpkins.

University Of Wisconsin

Located in Madison, the land between the lakes, this university and its students are known for hosting probably the most out-of-control Halloween party in existence. Crowds of approximately 100,000 show up for the pub crawl on State Street, where rowdiness, hundreds of arrests, and the occaisional riot are not uncommon occurrences.


Remember when vampires used to be cool? I mean, they were never really cool, but at least you could respect that palish goth girl sitting alone in the corner of the lunchroom reading Ann Rice for her brooding loner weirdness. She genuinely exuded an air of darkness. Thank Twilight for ruining all that. Now when you think about vampires, all you picture is lonely Mormon housewives and insecure teenage girls swooning over Edward and Bella’s perpetually sexless romance. Yeah, there are still some badass bloodsuckers out there (HBO’s True Blood and the Swedish film Let the Right One In), but professing an interest in vampires nowadays is like saying you enjoy unicorns and Lisa Frank stickers and holding hands.


Back in 2004, school officials at Maplewood Elementary in Puyallup, a small suburb outside of Tacoma, Washington, canceled Halloween festivities for reasons that included preventing insensitivity towards “real witches.” Halloween images such as flying brooms, spells, black cauldrons, and pointy hats might be considered offensive to practitioners of Wicca. Adherents of Wicca consider themselves to be witches and some even claim to have supernatural powers. The pseudo-pagan belief system, which centers around nature and the moon and harvest and stuff, is an officially recognized religion in the US and therefore susceptible to political over-correctness.

X We Got Nothing

There’s never anything good for X on these lists. If you demand a tidbit, how about an evil xylophone or something like that.


The overwhelming majority of serial killers throughout history have been male. Touché, ladies.

Zombies (Real Ones)

They exist. Well, sort of. And only allegedly. According to a book by ethnobiologist Dr. Wade Davis, voodoo priests in Haiti use a series of powerful drugs and hallucinogens to turn once-normal people into their zombie slaves. First the evil madmen use the powerful poison tetrodotoxin, which comes from the pufferfish, to place the victim in a near-death state. The comatose victims, whose hearts have stopped and blood pressure and temperature dramatically decreased, are declared dead and buried in the ground. Several hours later the near-zombie is dug up and revived with doses of datura weed, a powerful drug that causes memory loss, confusion and a catatonic state of delerium. Thanks to frequent doses of the datura, the zombie is now at his master’s command.

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