When a Long Island Housewife Handed Out Arsenic to Kids on Halloween

H/T Mental Floss.

The darkside of Halloween.

This Halloween procession in Massachusetts was poison-free.
This Halloween procession in Massachusetts was poison-free.
DOUGLAS DENATALE, LOWELL FOLKLIFE PROJECT COLLECTION, AMERICAN FOLKLIFE CENTER AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS // NO KNOWN RESTRICTIONS ON PUBLICATION

On October 31, 1964, 13-year-old Elsie Drucker and her 15-year-old sister Irene returned to their Long Island home after an evening of trick-or-treating and dumped their spoils onto the table. Among the assortment of bite-sized sweets were two items that looked like bottle caps and bore the warning: “Poison. Keep away from children and animals.”

It wasn’t an ill-conceived, Halloween-themed marketing ploy—the tablets were “ant buttons,” which contained arsenic and could help rid a house of insects and other pests. They could also seriously threaten the life of any small child who accidentally swallowed one.

Alarmed, the girls’ father called the police.

A CRIMINALLY BAD JOKE

The authorities notified the community, and people immediately began spreading the word and inspecting their own candy bags, unearthing another 19 ant buttons around town. Meanwhile, Elsie and Irene helped the police trace the toxic treats to 43 Salem Ridge Drive, where a 47-year-old housewife named Helen Pfeil lived with her husband and children.about:blank

Once other trick-or-treaters confirmed that Pfeil had indeed doled out the poison—and police discovered empty boxes of ant buttons in her kitchen—she was arrested. Fortunately, none of her would-be victims ingested any hazardous material, which meant that Pfeil was only charged with child endangerment. If convicted, however, she could still face prison time.

At her arraignment on November 2, Pfeil tried to explain to a baffled courtroom that she “didn’t mean it maliciously.” After having spent most of Halloween bestowing actual candy on costumed kids, Pfeil had started to feel like some of them should’ve already aged out of the activity.

“Aren’t you a little old to be trick-or-treating?” she had asked the Druckers, according to the New York Post.

So Pfeil had assembled unsavory packages of ant buttons, dog biscuits, and steel wool, and dropped those into the bags of anyone she deemed “a little old” to be trick-or-treating. She maintained that it was a joke, and her husband, Elmer, reiterated her claim to reporters at the courthouse. While she had been “terribly thoughtless and she may have used awfully bad judgment,” he said, she hadn’t planned to cause harm. Elmer himself wasn’t in on the scheme; at the time, he had been out trick-or-treating with their two sons—who, ironically, were both teenagers.

Her spouse may have been sympathetic, but Judge Victor Orgera was not. “It is hard for me to understand how any woman with sense or reason could give this to a child,” he said, and ordered her to spend 60 days in a psychiatric hospital.

DUMB, NOT DANGEROUS

The following April, Pfeil went on trial in Riverhead, New York, and switched her plea from “Not guilty” to “Guilty” when proceedings were already underway. With about two months until her sentencing date—and the possibility of up to two years in prison looming overhead—Pfeil’s neighbors got busy writing character references to send to the judge.

Though Judge Thomas M. Stark was just as bewildered by Pfeil’s indiscretion as everyone else, the letters convinced him that she was not a danger to society, and he suspended her sentence. “I don’t understand why she had done such a stupid thing as this,” Stark said, “but I feel incarceration is not the answer.”

So Pfeil got off with nothing more than a guilty conscience, and Long Island teenagers continued to pound the pavement for Halloweens to come. But the misguided ruse did scare at least one child into giving it up forever: Little Elsie Drucker never went trick-or-treating again.

12 Sweet-and-Chewy Facts About Tootsie Rolls

H/T Mental Floss.

Some Tootsie Rolls Trivia.

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LYNN FRIEDMAN VIA FLICKR // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

No Halloween candy haul is complete without them. Invented in 1896 by a Brooklyn food tinkerer, Tootsie Rolls have become one of the most ubiquitous sweet treats in the world, with tens of millions produced every day. Here, we unwrap a few choice facts about the storied brand.

1. THEY’RE NAMED AFTER THE INVENTOR’S DAUGHTER.

The official story goes that the inventor of Tootsie Rolls, Leo Hirschfield, sold them out of his Brooklyn candy shop before signing over his creation to (and taking a job with) candy manufacturer Stern & Saalberg Co. There’s evidencethat shows the candy store story may have been just that—a story—and that Hirschfield was actually an employee of Stern & Saalberg all along. In any case, Hirschfield named his individually wrapped treats in honor of his 5-year-old daughter Clara, whose nickname was “Tootsie.”

2. HIRSCHFIELD ALSO INVENTED AN EARLY FORM OF JELL-O.

Hirschfield is also credited with inventing Bromangelon, the first commercially successful gelatin dessert. Boxes of the powder sold for around 10 cents, and came in flavors like raspberry, cherry and orange.

3. TOOTSIE ROLLS WERE IN EVERY WORLD WAR II SOLDIER’S RATIONS.

The U.S. military valued them a source of “quick energy,” and because they wouldn’t melt in hot weather or go bad over time. In at least one instance they proved to be life-saving: A pilot whose plane was shot down over the Sahara sustained himself on Tootsie Rolls for three days.

4. THE POPULAR TOOTSIE POP ‘SHOOTING STAR’ GIVEAWAY IS A MYTH.

Shortly after the invention of the Tootsie Pop in 1931, a rumor began to spread that wrappers featuring a drawing of an Indian shooting an arrow at a star could be redeemed for a free Tootsie Pop. Apparently some stores honored the giveaway, allowing the notion to persist for decades despite the fact Tootsie Roll Industries never sanctioned it. The company, which says that roughly one out of every five wrappers has the drawing, has refuted the rumor, and even came up with a “Legend of the Indian Wrapper” story to entertain customers. And yet the company still receives letters every week from people demanding free Tootsie Pops.

5. THEY FUELED A GREAT ESCAPE DURING THE KOREAN WAR.

Surrounded by Chinese and North Korean forces at the Chosin Reservoirin 1950, the 15,000-man First Marine Division radioed for an airdrop of “Tootsie Rolls”—the Marine codename for mortar shells. What they got instead were boxes of the real thing. Turns out, though, that the candy boosted morale and kept the Marines going through the subzero temperatures. It also provided one other critical function: Soldiers discovered that chewed-up Tootsie Rolls could patch the holes in their vehicles’ fuel lines, allowing the division to leave their vulnerable position.

6. THEY WERE FRANK SINATRA’S FAVORITE CANDY.

According to dead-celebrity expert Alan Petrucelli, Ol’ Blue Eyes is buried with them along with a few other choice effects, including cigarettes, a lighter, and a bottle of Jack Daniels.

7. THE COMPANY’S CURRENT PRESIDENT WAS IN AN AD FROM 1950.

Ellen Gordon, 83, who now runs the company after her husband, Melvin, passed away earlier this year, was featured inLife magazine ad when she was 18. Her father, William Rubin, was CEO of the company at the time.

8. THERE WAS A CAPTAIN TOOTSIE COMIC STRIP.

Truly one of the more cringe-worthy superheroes of American comics, Captain Tootsie was a buff blonde lad who undertook odd adventures with kids (like killing bears and punching out bank-robbing cavemen), all while toting around a yellow man-bag full of Tootsie Rolls. First published in 1943, the comics ran as standalone issues and in newspapers for nearly a decade.

9. HOW MANY LICKS? SCIENTISTS MAY HAVE THE ANSWER.

Tootsie Roll Industry’s iconic ad, which first ran in 1970, asked, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” For years, fans have responded with their own assessments, typically in the high hundreds. Researchers at Purdue University and the University of Michigan, meanwhile, took a more scientific approach. Using special licking machines modeled after the human tongue, both teams entered into a Big 10 showdown. The Purdue bunch came up with 364, while Michigan put up 411. So is the true answer somewhere between those numbers? The world may never know.

10. 64 MILLION TOOTSIE ROLLS GET MADE EVERY DAY.

That’s more than 44,440 per minute, or roughly 740 per second.

11. THE COMPANY OWNS A VERITABLE CANDY STORE OF BRANDS.

Under Melvin Gordon’s leadership beginning in 1962, Tootsie Roll Industries gobbled up a slew of competitors like Dots, Crows, Charms, Sugar Daddy, Junior Mints and Charleston Chew. In 2000, they bought Andes Mints, and in 2004 Tootsie bought Concord Confections, makers of Dubble Bubble.

12. SALES ARE ANYTHING BUT SWEET THESE DAYS.

Tootsie Roll Industries saw tremendous growth throughout most of Gordon’s tenure. But sales have slid in recent years as the candy industry has evolved, and lately the company has been acting a bit too old fashioned for investors’ liking. This has prompted many investors and analysts to wonder how many more licks it can take before selling.

15 Spooky Halloween Traditions, and Their Origins

H/T Mental Floss.

Some more Halloween trivia.

EEI_Tony/iStock via Getty Images
 
EEI_TONY/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

Trick-or-treating, Jack-O’-Lanterns, and creepy costumes are some of the best traditions of Halloween. Share these sweet facts with friends as you sort through your candy haul.

1. CARVING HALLOWEEN JACK-O’-LANTERNS

 

KIEFERPIX/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

Jack-O’-Lanterns, which originated in Ireland using turnips instead of pumpkins, are supposedly based on a legend about a man name Stingy Jack who repeatedly trapped the Devil and only let him go on the condition that Jack would never go to Hell. When he died, however, Jack learned that Heaven didn’t really want his soul either, so he was condemned to wander the Earth as a ghost for all eternity. The Devil gave Jack a lump of burning coal in a carved-out turnip to light his way. Eventually, locals began carving frightening faces into their own gourds to scare off evil spirits.

2. SEEING GHOSTS

Celtic people believed that during the festival Samhain, which marked the transition to the new year at the end of the harvest and beginning of the winter, spirits walked the Earth. Later, the introduction of All Souls Day on November 2 by Christian missionaries perpetuated the idea of a mingling between the living and the dead around the same time of year.

3. WEARING SCARY COSTUMES

With all these ghosts wandering around the Earth during Samhain, the Celts had to get creative to avoid being terrorized by evil spirits. To fake out the ghosts, people would don disguises so they would be mistaken for spirits themselves and left alone.

4. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE PAGAN WAY

 

CHRISTINLOLA/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

There is a lot of debate around the origins of trick-or-treating. One theory proposes that during Samhain, Celtic people would leave out food to placate the souls and ghosts and spirits traveling the Earth that night. Eventually, people began dressing up as these otherworldly beings in exchange for similar offerings of food and drink.

5. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE SCOTTISH WAY

Other researchers speculate that the candy bonanza stems from the Scottish practice of guising, itself a secular version of souling. In the Middle Ages, soulers, usually children and poor adults, would go to local homes and collect food or money in return for prayers said for the dead on All Souls’ Day. Guisers ditched the prayers in favor of non-religious performances like jokes, songs, or other “tricks.”

6. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE AMERICAN WAY

Some sources argue that our modern trick-or-treating stems from belsnickling, a tradition in German-American communities where children would dress in costume and then call on their neighbors to see if the adults could guess the identities of the disguised guests. In one version of the practice, the children were rewarded with food or other treats if no one could identify them.

7. GETTING SPOOKED BY BLACK CATS

 

FROMTHEWINTERGARDEN/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

The association of black cats and spookiness actually dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, when these dark kitties were considered a symbol of the Devil. It didn’t help the felines’ reputations when, centuries later, accused witches were often found to have cats, especially black ones, as companions. People started believing that the cats were a witch’s “familiar”—animals that gave them an assist with their dark magic—and the two have been linked ever since.

8. BOBBING FOR APPLES

This game traces its origins to a courting ritual that was part of a Roman festival honoring Pomona, the goddess of agriculture and abundance. Multiple variations existed, but the gist was that young men and women would be able to foretell their future relationships based on the game. When the Romans conquered the British Isles, the Pomona festival was blended with the similarly timed Samhain, a precursor to Halloween.

9. DECORATING WITH BLACK AND ORANGE

The classic Halloween colors can also trace their origins back to the Celtic festival Samhain. Black represented the “death” of summer while orange is emblematic of the autumn harvest season.

10. PLAYING PRANKS

As a phenomenon that often varies by region, the pre-Halloween tradition, also known as “Devil’s Night”, is credited with a different origin depending on whom you ask. Some sources say that pranks were originally part of May Day celebrations. But Samhain, and eventually All Souls Day, seem to have included good-natured mischief. When Scottish and Irish immigrants came to America, they brought along the tradition of celebrating Mischief Night as part of Halloween, which was great for candy-fueled pranksters.

11. LIGHTING CANDLES AND BONFIRES

 

JAMES MAHAN/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

These days, candles are more likely than towering traditional bonfires, but for much of the early history of Halloween, open flames were integral in lighting the way for souls seeking the afterlife.

12. EATING CANDY APPLES

People have been coating fruit in sugar syrups as a means of preservation for centuries. Since the development of the Roman festival of Pomona, the goddess often represented by and associated with apples, the fruit has had a place in harvest celebrations. But the first mention of candy apples being given out at Halloween didn’t occur until the 1950s.

13. SPOTTING BATS

It’s likely that bats were present at the earliest celebrations of proto-Halloween, not just symbolically but literally. As part of Samhain, the Celts lit large bonfires, which attracted insects. The insects, in turn, attracted bats, which soon became associated with the festival. Medieval folklore expanded upon the spooky connotation of bats with a number of superstitions built around the idea that bats were the harbingers of death.

14. GORGING ON CANDY

 

VESELOVAELENA/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

The act of going door-to-door for handouts has long been a part of Halloween celebrations. But until the middle of the 20th century, the “treats” kids received were not necessarily candy. Toys, coins, fruit, and nuts were just as likely to be given out. The rise in the popularity of trick-or-treating in the 1950s inspired candy companies to make a marketing push with small, individually wrapped confections. People obliged out of convenience, but candy didn’t dominate at the exclusion of all other treats until parents started fearing anything unwrapped in the 1970s.

15. MUNCHING ON CANDY CORN

According to some stories, a candymaker at the Wunderlee Candy Company in Philadelphia invented the revolutionary tri-color candy in the 1880s. The treats didn’t become a widespread phenomenon until another company brought the candy to the masses in 1898. At the time, candy corn was called Chicken Feed and sold in boxes with the slogan “Something worth crowing for.” Originally just autumnal candy because of corn’s association with harvest time, candy corn became Halloween-specific when trick-or-treating rose to prominence in the U.S. in the 1950s.

America’s Least-Popular Halloween Candy Will Never Go Away

H/T Atlas Obscura.

Candy corn either you love it or you hate it but it is here to stay.

The waxy little treat continues to sell by the billions.

How Donald Duck and, Peanuts Saved, Trick-or-Treating

H/T History.com.

A little Halloween trivia.

 

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, 1966. (Credit: CBS/AF Archive/Alamy Stock Photo)

Today, it’s hard to imagine a Halloween not filled with doorbells, costumes, and treats. In 2016 Americans spent $8.4 billion on the holiday. But while trick-or-treating is many children’s favorite pastime, it hasn’t been a pastime for all that long. The tradition didn’t make its way to North America until the 1920s and 30s, first taking root in the West. Almost as quickly as the tradition started, it was nearly derailed. It took the combined efforts of cartoons, comics and candy manufacturers to resurrect trick-or-treating after World War II and make it what it is today.

Not only did World War II bring unspeakable death and destruction to the world, it also affected the goods and services available to civilians at home. In an effort to help alleviate hoarding, price hikes—and angry citizens—the Office of Price Administration printed War Ration Books with stamps that were used in exchange for goods. Sugar was the first consumer commodity to be rationed, as one-third of American sugar imports came from the Japanese occupied Philippines. War Ration Book Number One—nicknamed the “Sugar Book”—was handed out on May 4, 1942. With deep cuts to sugar allowances (half a pound a week, 50 percent less than pre-war consumption levels), it came as no surprise that children’s Halloween celebrations had to be adjusted.

In an effort to ration sugar, coupons from the War Ration Books assured a just distribution of the nation's sugar supply to all, July 1942. (Credit: Anthony Potter Collection/Getty Images)
In an effort to ration sugar, coupons from the War Ration Books assured a just distribution of the nation’s sugar supply to all, July 1942. (Credit: Anthony Potter Collection/Getty Images)

When sugar rationing finally came to an end in June 1947, the commercialization of Halloween took off. Candy companies like Curtiss and Brach wasted no time in launching their Halloween advertising campaigns. But it wasn’t just candy companies that had stock in the reemergence of these festive celebrations. As early as fall 1947, the children’s magazines Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities both featured trick-or-treating in their October issues.

The iconic comic trip Peanuts joined in on the fun four years later when they ran three Halloween-themed strips from October 29 – October 31, 1951. Charles Schulz drew his iconic characters in ghost costumes, preparing for “Halloween ghosting.” Patty even used Charlie Brown as the model for her jack-o’-lantern carving. These comic strips helped spread the popularity of Halloween.

VIDEO: Donald Duck – Trick or Treat (Credit: Laser Time & Disney)

The following year, Disney also re-popularized trick-or-treating with an eight-minute short film that showed youngsters exactly how it was done. The short, Donald Duck – Trick or Treat, opens on Witch Hazel flying on a broomstick named Beelzebub. She watches as Huey, Dewey and Louie trot up to their Uncle Donald Duck’s house, all wearing costumes and carrying bags to collect the apple-of-their-eye, candy. Uncle Donald, however, is more interested in tricks than the treats, and places firecrackers in each of his nephew’s bags, which explode. Witch Hazel witnesses the whole event and decides to help the kids. The rest of the cartoon shows a battle between Witch Hazel and the nephews versus Donald Duck, as each tries to out trick the other. Kids worldwide could now see exactly how to trick AND treat.

By 1952, the tradition of trick-or-treating was firmly established, and grew in size every year since. In addition to television and magazines, schools began reinforcing the trick-or-treat tradition, when the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) launched a national campaign to raise money for children in 1950. They handed out cardboard boxes for kids to take with them while trick-or-treating. The kids were told to ask for any spare coins when collecting their candy, a tradition that has proved quite lucrative, raising more than $175 million for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

The History of Candy Corn: Halloween’s Most Iconic and Reviled Treat

H/T Atlas Obscura.

A history of candy corn.

Candy corn either you like it or hate it.

 

article-image
Pure terror. (photograph by Fred Rockwood)

Halloween provides a cavalcade of whimsical scares for children and adults alike, but nothing chills the bones quite as much as the piles of candy corn left at the bottom of pumpkins and pillowcases across America.

A 2010 market research survey found that candy corn was in fact the least popular Halloween candy of all those polled. Despite being the consolation prize of confections, candy corn is a ubiquitous part of Halloween and continues to sell billions of kernels each year. The waxy little treat may not be loved, but its relentless domination of an otherwise pleasant night of ghouls and sexy nurses is over one hundred years in the making.

article-image
No one is sure who invented candy corn, but it may have started like this. (photograph by Anna Fox)

The true creator of candy corn is a mystery lost to time, but the first reports of the multi-colored sugar drops began in the 1880s when the candy began appearing during the Halloween season. Soon after the candy’s sporadic appearance throughout the states, the Wunderle Candy Company began mass-producing the treat under the name, “Chicken Feed.”

In 1898, the homespun recipe for the candy had been adopted by the Goelitz Candy Company who quickly eclipsed Wunderle as the primary purveyor of the faux corn. Despite the sudden adoption by large candy conglomerates, the process for creating candy corn remained remarkably labor intensive. After mixing a cavity cocktail of sugar, corn syrup, fondant, marshmallow, and water, the slurry would be dyed one of the three candy corn hues: orange, yellow, or white. Laborers would then take 45-pound buckets of the hot liquid candy and pour it into long rows of trays of kernel forms, making three passes, one for each color of the corn. Once this back-breaking work was complete, the molds would cool and candy corn was unleashed upon an autumnal population.

article-image
This candy corn factory burnt down in 1950 when the slurry vat burst into flames. (via nj.com)

The agrarian America of the late 19th century embraced the sweet little treats that recalled the season’s harvest time roots and farm-fed lifestyle. In fact, candy corn became so popular during the candy season that confectioners even experimented with other vegetable-formed candies such as candy pumpkins and turnips (the horror…). Due to the slow, laborious candy creation process of the time, treats such as candy corn were only made from March to November, so the tide of candy corn would only wash across the nation around the time of Halloween, hence the inextricable link between the holiday and the candy.

article-image
A candy corn ad from 1951. (via The Free-Lance Star)

Candy corn remained a stalwart product for companies through the 20th century as candy trends came and went. The simple recipe for the candy has been unchanged throughout, although the strongmen with the buckets of sugar were eventually replaced by industrial machines which now heartlessly crank out “All Hallows’ Tears” year-round. Breaking its bond to Halloween, candy corn is now produced for a number of holidays in a rainbow of abominations such as the red and green “reindeer corn,” or the pastel “rabbit corn.” But no matter the coloration, the recipe remains the same, and the chalky sweetness of its frontier roots will continue to haunt candy bowls long after all other treats have gone.

Bed, Bath & Beyond Removes Black Jack-O’-Lanterns After Backlash- ‘Extreme Lack of Sensitivity

Nobody in their right mind looks at a black pumpkin and see anything more than a  black pumpkin.

If there are two colors that you associate with Halloween, they’re orange and black. Given this, you would think that a black jack-o’-lantern wouldn’t spark that much controversy.

However, Bed, Bath & Beyond has taken black decorative pumpkins off of its shelves after two of them sparked a controversy in Nyack, New York.

According to News 12, the pumpkins — which have white lips, eyes and noses — first became an issue when they were put out on the front porch of a law firm in the New York village.

The pumpkins had the names of the partners in the law firm on them. Here they are (well, were) at the law offices of Feerick Nugent MacCartney:

News12WC

@News12WC

The store says it took action after News 12 reached out but would not say if it had received any other complaints – http://westchester.news12.com/story/41211141/bed-bath-and-beyond-pulls-black-jackolanterns-after-complaints-in-nyack 

Bed Bath & Beyond pulls black jack-o’-lanterns after complaints in Nyack

Bed Bath & Beyond has removed black jack-o’-lanterns from sale after a News 12 investigation that stemmed from complaints in Nyack about the product.

westchester.news12.com

143 people are talking about this

The law firm began to receive complaints that the pumpkins looked like they were in blackface. Not only that, but the local NAACP chapter got involved, too.

Displaying the pumpkins “shows an extreme lack of sensitivity,” according to NAACP regional director Wilbur Aldridge.

“By now I would believe everyone [would] know that anything in Black face is offensive,” Aldridge said.

“Equally as offensive is that a retail store would have such an item in [their] inventory for general purchase.”

Well, no longer — Bed, Bath & Beyond has taken them off of its shelves.

Bed Bath & Beyond pulls black jack-o’-lanterns after complaints in Nyack

In a statement, the store said that they had removed the jack-o’-lanterns from their inventory once they were contacted by News 12.

“We have immediately removed the item from sale,” the company said via a statement.

“This is a sensitive area and, though unintentional, we apologize for any offense caused.”

The store added that it had meant no offense by the product — obviously, considering they had stocked it as part of their Halloween merchandise — although they neglected to say whether they had received any other complaints.

The law firm is also apologizing.

15 Spooky Halloween Traditions and Their Origins

H/T Mental Floss.

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought a little trivia was in order.

EEI_Tony/iStock via Getty Images
EEI_TONY/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

Trick-or-treating, Jack-O’-Lanterns, and creepy costumes are some of the best traditions of Halloween. Share these sweet facts with friends as you sort through your candy haul.

1. CARVING HALLOWEEN JACK-O’-LANTERNS

Jack-o-lantern

KIEFERPIX/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

Jack-O’-Lanterns, which originated in Ireland using turnips instead of pumpkins, are supposedly based on a legend about a man name Stingy Jack who repeatedly trapped the Devil and only let him go on the condition that Jack would never go to Hell. When he died, however, Jack learned that Heaven didn’t really want his soul either, so he was condemned to wander the Earth as a ghost for all eternity. The Devil gave Jack a lump of burning coal in a carved-out turnip to light his way. Eventually, locals began carving frightening faces into their own gourds to scare off evil spirits.

2. SEEING GHOSTS

Celtic people believed that during the festival Samhain, which marked the transition to the new year at the end of the harvest and beginning of the winter, spirits walked the Earth. Later, the introduction of All Souls Day on November 2 by Christian missionaries perpetuated the idea of a mingling between the living and the dead around the same time of year.

3. WEARING SCARY COSTUMES

With all these ghosts wandering around the Earth during Samhain, the Celts had to get creative to avoid being terrorized by evil spirits. To fake out the ghosts, people would don disguises so they would be mistaken for spirits themselves and left alone.

4. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE PAGAN WAY

Trick-or-treaters

CHRISTINLOLA/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

There is a lot of debate around the origins of trick-or-treating. One theory proposes that during Samhain, Celtic people would leave out food to placate the souls and ghosts and spirits traveling the Earth that night. Eventually, people began dressing up as these otherworldly beings in exchange for similar offerings of food and drink.

5. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE SCOTTISH WAY

Other researchers speculate that the candy bonanza stems from the Scottish practice of guising, itself a secular version of souling. In the Middle Ages, soulers, usually children and poor adults, would go to local homes and collect food or money in return for prayers said for the dead on All Souls’ Day. Guisers ditched the prayers in favor of non-religious performances like jokes, songs, or other “tricks.”

6. GOING TRICK-OR-TREATING, THE AMERICAN WAY

Some sources argue that our modern trick-or-treating stems from belsnickling, a tradition in German-American communities where children would dress in costume and then call on their neighbors to see if the adults could guess the identities of the disguised guests. In one version of the practice, the children were rewarded with food or other treats if no one could identify them.

7. GETTING SPOOKED BY BLACK CATS

Black cat in autumn leaves

FROMTHEWINTERGARDEN/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

The association of black cats and spookiness actually dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, when these dark kitties were considered a symbol of the Devil. It didn’t help the felines’ reputations when, centuries later, accused witches were often found to have cats, especially black ones, as companions. People started believing that the cats were a witch’s “familiar”—animals that gave them an assist with their dark magic—and the two have been linked ever since.

8. BOBBING FOR APPLES

This game traces its origins to a courting ritual that was part of a Roman festival honoring Pomona, the goddess of agriculture and abundance. Multiple variations existed, but the gist was that young men and women would be able to foretell their future relationships based on the game. When the Romans conquered the British Isles, the Pomona festival was blended with the similarly timed Samhain, a precursor to Halloween.

9. DECORATING WITH BLACK AND ORANGE

The classic Halloween colors can also trace their origins back to the Celtic festival Samhain. Black represented the “death” of summer while orange is emblematic of the autumn harvest season.

10. PLAYING PRANKS

As a phenomenon that often varies by region, the pre-Halloween tradition, also known as “Devil’s Night”, is credited with a different origin depending on whom you ask. Some sources say that pranks were originally part of May Day celebrations. But Samhain, and eventually All Souls Day, seem to have included good-natured mischief. When Scottish and Irish immigrants came to America, they brought along the tradition of celebrating Mischief Night as part of Halloween, which was great for candy-fueled pranksters.

11. LIGHTING CANDLES AND BONFIRES

Campfire in the woods

JAMES MAHAN/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

These days, candles are more likely than towering traditional bonfires, but for much of the early history of Halloween, open flames were integral in lighting the way for souls seeking the afterlife.

12. EATING CANDY APPLES

People have been coating fruit in sugar syrups as a means of preservation for centuries. Since the development of the Roman festival of Pomona, the goddess often represented by and associated with apples, the fruit has had a place in harvest celebrations. But the first mention of candy apples being given out at Halloween didn’t occur until the 1950s.

13. SPOTTING BATS

It’s likely that bats were present at the earliest celebrations of proto-Halloween, not just symbolically but literally. As part of Samhain, the Celts lit large bonfires, which attracted insects. The insects, in turn, attracted bats, which soon became associated with the festival. Medieval folklore expanded upon the spooky connotation of bats with a number of superstitions built around the idea that bats were the harbingers of death.

14. GORGING ON CANDY

Halloween candy and brownies

VESELOVAELENA/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

The act of going door-to-door for handouts has long been a part of Halloween celebrations. But until the middle of the 20th century, the “treats” kids received were not necessarily candy. Toys, coins, fruit, and nuts were just as likely to be given out. The rise in the popularity of trick-or-treating in the 1950s inspired candy companies to make a marketing push with small, individually wrapped confections. People obliged out of convenience, but candy didn’t dominate at the exclusion of all other treats until parents started fearing anything unwrapped in the 1970s.

15. MUNCHING ON CANDY CORN

According to some stories, a candymaker at the Wunderlee Candy Company in Philadelphia invented the revolutionary tri-color candy in the 1880s. The treats didn’t become a widespread phenomenon until another company brought the candy to the masses in 1898. At the time, candy corn was called Chicken Feed and sold in boxes with the slogan “Something worth crowing for.” Originally just autumnal candy because of corn’s association with harvest time, candy corn became Halloween-specific when trick-or-treating rose to prominence in the U.S. in the 1950s.