Top 10 Halloween Facts

I’ve been meaning to do this post all month and I’ve only just now had time to sit down and do it, so let’s see if I can whammy this out before trick-or-treaters start showing up in… (checks invisible watch) …about three hours. Yeah, that should be plenty of time.

I hope.

1. The Origin of Boo

According to Wiktionary, which I love, the word “boo” comes from the Latin boō, which means to cry aloud, roar, shout”. I’ve heard from another source, I don’t remember which exactly anymore that it also means “I cry”. Now I really want to track down the first ghost story where “boo” appeared.

2. The Bride of Frankenstein’s Hair

Possibly one of my favorite random film trivia things is that the Bride of Frankenstein’s hair was actually red. It had to be red in order to show up as such a dark, saturated black on black and white film. The same is true of the Monster’s skin tone, which had to be green in order to show up as that pasty gray we all recognize. Elsa Lanchester, the actress who played the Bride (and also appeared in Mary Poppins as Katie Nanna) was a natural redhead.

3. The Addams Family House

Tangentially related to the last fact, is the color of the original Addams Family house. The Addams Family series premiered in 1964 and color television didn’t really start to become a thing until 1965. The technology was there, but it was expensive. In order to make that drab gothic interior show up correctly on black and white film, some of the interiors of the Addams Family house had to be pink. In color, it’s a little more Rococo than Gothic, isn’t it?

4. Death by Halloween Candy

We’ve all heard the urban legends about Halloween candy being laced with everything from illicit drugs to razor blades, but what’s the origin of this legend? It seems to have started in the early 1970s with a pair of big news stories. In 1970, a 5-year-old boy named Kevin Toston ate Halloween candy laced with heroin. It was later discovered that the heroin belonged to his uncle, and somehow got mixed in with the boy’s candy. Oops. In 1974 an 8-year-old boy named Timothy O’Bryan died from cyanide poisoning after eating laced candy. His sister also became ill, though survived. After an investigation, it was discovered that their father had taken out $20,000 life insurance policies on his children and had poisoned them in an attempt to cash in. The documentary Killer Legends goes into more detail on these cases and other urban legends.

5. The Most Divisive Candy Ever

Whether you love it or hate it (and personally, I love it), candy corn is a huge staple of the Halloween season.Over 35 million pounds of candy corn are produced every year – that’s 9 billion pieces! Americans alone account for about 20 million pounds of that. But what exactly is candy corn and why does it even exist? Candy corn was created in 1898 by the Herman Goelitz Confectionary Company (now the Jelly Belly Candy Company) and was originally called “chicken feed”, which is even less appetizing than its current name. It’s made of sugar, corn syrup, palm wax, and water, which is then mixed with marshmallow and fondant – you know fondant, that stuff they use to cover fancy cakes instead of icing. However, the process of making candy corn is so expensive and labor-intensive that it’s only produced a few months out of the year.

6. The World’s Longest Haunted House

I went to a really fun local haunted trail last night, and while I’m not sure exactly how long it was (it took us about fifteen minutes to get through), I have no doubt that it was far smaller than the Haunted Cave in Lewisburg, Ohio. Located eighty feet below ground in an abandoned mine and boasting 30,000 live bats, the Haunted Cave runs 3,564 feet long. That’s just over half a mile (or just over a kilometer for those on metric)! It currently holds the Guinness world record for the longest walk-through haunted house. I’m not sure how I feel about the live bats, but I think I could brave the half-mile of spooks and horrors.

7. Carve Away!

Speaking of world records, the current world record holder for fastest jack-o-lantern carving is Stephen Clarke, who can carve a traditional jack-o-lantern (two eyes, nose, and a mouth) in 24.03 seconds. He previously held the record for carving at 54.72 seconds. And I’m sure he makes just as much of a mess with the pumpkin guts as the rest of us do.

8. Too Old For Trick-or-Treating?

I hate to call this one a “favorite” fact, but the conversation about how old is too old for this Halloween tradition has come up a lot in recent conversations. Several cities have issued bans on children over a certain age going out for trick-or-treating. In one city – Belleville, Illinois – anyone over 12 being caught going door-to-door looking for candy can be fined anywhere between $100 and $1000. These age limits go back to the 1970s in areas of Virginia. While a lot of people think that children should stop trick-or-treating at 12 or 13 (73% of 2,000 readers on a Today.com poll), I’ve always been of the opinion that you’re never too old to get dressed up and get candy. Kids of all ages have always been welcome at my house – as long as they wear a costume, or at least a funny shirt.

9. All Your Halloween Movie Cliches Are Wrong

Okay, maybe not all of them, but there’s one big Halloween movie cliche that is wrong. The full moon. It’s actually super rare to see a full moon on Halloween, as it only happens about once every nineteen years (though there are some twenty-seven-year gaps in there as well). The last one was in 2001 and the next one will be in 2020. Here’s a neat breakdown in case you want to fact-check whether your favorite movie got it right or not (spoiler alert: Hocus Pocus did not).

10. Ready For a Real Haunting?

If haunted houses and spooky costumes aren’t enough for you, then you might want to pay a visit to the Bell Witch Cave in Adams, Tennessee. It’s considered America’s most active haunted location. The Bell Witch story is one of my personal favorite ghost stories, and visiting the Cave is right at the top of my bucket list. If getting there in person isn’t a possibility for you right now, you can check out the film An American Haunting, starring Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, and Rachel Hurd-Wood; or Cursed: The Bell Witch, a miniseries that premiered on A&E in November 2015 and is currently available to stream on the A&E website. I know what I’m watching tonight.

Gruß vom Krampus!

In the last couple of years, there has been a sudden resurgence in interest in Krampus – a Germanic companion of Saint Nicholas who punishes naughty children at Christmastime. From Christmas ornaments and ugly sweaters to illustrated novels and horror films, it seems that Krampus is everywhere these days. But this is hardly a new tradition.

Krampus is most commonly portrayed as a demonic figure covered in dark hair, with goat legs, and one human foot. He has horns, a long red tongue, and occasionally a trail. Krampus carries a birch switch to swat naughty children as well as a tub, basket, or sack, which he uses to carry the particularly bad ones away. Some depictions also feature him carrying heavy lengths of rusted chain, or with his hands chained, and bells.

The name Krampus is said to be derived from a Germanic word meaning “claws”, and if so that’s a very good pun on Santa Claus. And rightfully so too, since Krampus is considered the dark side of Old Saint Nick. The real Saint Nicholas was a Greek bishop present at the First Council of Nicaea, where he was arrested for assaulting a fellow bishop who dared doubt the authenticity of the Holy Trinity. So maybe it’s not a far leap between the jolly old man we know for giving gifts to children and a darker figure who punishes those who have done wrong.

Christianity, and with it Saint Nicholas, became popular in the region in the 11th century, while the tradition of masked devils running amok appeared around the 16th century – most commonly in Medieval church plays. By the 17th century, Krampus was forever paired alongside Saint Nicholas and the tradition began to spread into Austria and other neighboring countries.

Some sources suggest that Krampus has a pre-Christian origin, though there’s little substantial evidence of this. If he did appear before Christian conversion of the Alpine region and the resulting syncretization, it seems likely that he came from a Slavic region where figures like Krampus are common. While Germanic paganism doesn’t have any known figures similar to Krampus, the Slavs have one. Chort is described as a demon covered in black fur, with goat-like hooves and horns, a tail, and a long red tongue featured in many depictions of Krampus. Chort is also known for carrying off babies and small children. However, there is no more evidence for this correlation than there is for any other, but it’s one that I like the best.

Krampusnacht is traditionally celebrated on the 4th of December, the eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day. In the Krampuslauf, young men dress up in furs and hand-carved wooden masks resembling Krampus and stalk through the streets in parade dancing, singing, and making mischief. As with all good celebrations, there also tends to be a lot of drinking involved, as it is customary to offer Krampus schnapps.

A more modern Krampus tradition is that of the Krampuskarten, greeting cards which sprung into popularity in the 1800s. There are two types of Krampuskarten – the first, which feature Krampus looming over naughty children, and the second, which feature a more sexual and lascivious Krampus, usually trying to woo a pretty woman.

The tradition of Krampus didn’t make it over the pond until very recently, but it seems to have taken a hold on a specific audience. Whether it’s the disillusionment with how commercial the holiday has gotten or a wish to spice things up during the holidays, I think it’s safe to say that Krampus is here to stay.

You watch out, you better not pout, you better not cry, because Krampus is coming