On Nov 2, 1970. 5-year-old Kevin Toston from Detroit died after eating what initial reports identified as heroin-laced Halloween candy. Few days later, police reports stated that Kevin stole a heroin capsule from his uncle and candy had nothing to do with it. But fears had set in.
4 years later, 8-year-old Timothy O’Bryan died on 31st Oct, 1974 after eating cyanide-laced Pixie Stix. But to everyone’s horror, his own father was convicted of poisoning him to take his insurance money. The father was given a death sentence and given a lethal injection in 1984. And the fears raged more.
These 2 cases created mass fear amongst Moms in the US. And they also became the biggest urban legends that candy makers used to sell billions of candies on a single day.
Halloween’s been around from the time of ancient Celtics who used honey and sugar to preserve their perishable food for winters. Eating sweets was believed to prepare the body better for the harsh cold ahead. End of October was always about sweets and supernatural. But the sugar candies boom had a different trigger.
These 2 urban legends made the candy companies directly talk to the Moms on their biggest fear: ‘If you buy the right factory-wrapped candy from us, your kids are safe and you won’t get tricked!’
Two of the most powerful genres in storytelling are those involving death and the safety of children.
$9bn sales of Halloween candy is a result of the deadly story combo of these two themes.
Candies sell best when it’s spooky.
You could spend the whole day today digging into the awesome material here on Halloween:
- First up, the spooky history of Halloween
- Then the story from Fast Company on how Halloween trick or treating got hijacked by Candies
- The story from Snopes on the spooky Urban Legends of Halloween