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Halloween Urban Legends Examined

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Several urban legends and tall tales about Halloween have become a part of the public consciousness over the years. Some of these stories are laughable, but you might be surprised to find out that some of them are true. I’m going to examine some popular Halloween stories and shed some light on the truth. Now if you find yourself trapped in an awkward conversation at a Halloween party, you can have some excellent topical conversation fodder to fall back on.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the terrified family who call the police when a masked man with a chainsaw appears at their doorstep, only to realize that the man is simply at the wrong address for a party. This seems plausible enough; I have found myself lost plenty of times while searching for a party at a house I was unfamiliar with. Fortunately this has never happened to me when I was wearing a menacing outfit and appeared to be armed with a terrifying weapon.

In April 2008 the British press reported a familiar-sounding situation in which concerned citizens alerted police about a man with a chainsaw and mask walking down the street. Apparently British police take the threat of lone chainsaw-laden renegades seriously, because a full team of armed officers and even a helicopter – yes, a helicopter – responded to the call. It is worth noting that the chainsaw (which had the blades removed) wasn’t running, and the mask was resting on the man’s head and not covering his face. This Halloween urban legend can be qualified as true, thanks to some paranoid British residents and a wildly impetuous response from the local constables.

Another Halloween yarn of questionable origin has to do with the elaborate lengths some people will go to create a frightening atmosphere. Specifically, we’re talking about hanging a corpse from the rafters. Now personally, my family was never too big into decorating for Halloween. A simple pumpkin or two was about the extent of my childhood home’s Halloween décor. In my home town, however, there was always one house that went so far over the top with their Halloween decorations that I seriously questioned what sort of macabre residents must live there. I mean, did these people sit around in August and begin devising what dastardly decorations they could construct in order to optimize the terror inflicted upon their young candy-seeking targets?

Anyway, let’s get back to whether or not people have died in a quest for good Halloween decorations (just ruminate on that statement for a moment). Unfortunately, this tale is also rooted in truth. A few days before Halloween in 2005, a Delaware woman hung herself from a tree in a public part of town. Her body, suspended fifteen feet above the ground, was in clear view of passing vehicles. Despite this, many hours passed before authorities thought it might be a good idea to examine this incredibly realistic-looking decorative item. This is a case of someone deliberately hanging herself and being mistaken for adornment. Sadly, it isn’t the only documented case involving hanging and Halloween.

The year was 1990 and the place was Chicago for this utterly bizarre tale. A teenager was supposed to put a noose around his neck and fake-hang himself during a pre-Halloween hayride. What could possibly go wrong with such an expertly devised scheme? Surely no harm could come of this. Everything was going according to plan, until he actually hanged himself and died. In the newspaper story about the incident, James Holzapfel said the stunt had worked on other nights and there was no indication of foul play. I think this is funny because the name Holzapfel sort of reminds me of what probably happened that fateful night, in a very cryptic way. Stay with me here.

“Hold on, let me put on my noose around my windpipe. I’m quite certain nothing will go wrong which would lead to my death.”

ZAP! The rope goes taut; the boy’s neck is snapped and his windpipe is instantly constricted.

Finally, I can only imagine the responses his co-schemers made when he didn’t give the speech he normally made as the hayride passed (yes, that is actually how they discovered something was out of sorts). I imagine a teenager stumbling upon the scene dressed as Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves (remember, this occurred in 1990). After a few moments of awkward silence, I see the young John J. Dunbar impersonator suggesting that maybe their still-slowly-swinging friend just fell.

“FELL??? The noose wasn’t even supposed to TIGHTEN! Unbelievable!”

Look at the first three letters of the first word in each of the above three paragraphs (minus the third one, in which I had to set the scene). Hol-zap-fel. I have no idea why or what this says about me as a person, but that is most striking point that immediately leapt out at me as I read this story. I suppose the mere fact that a kid actually died in this manner is so patently ridiculous that I just subconsciously completely glossed over it and started focusing on the guy with the ironically apropos last name.

A final Halloween urban legend that has been making the rounds for many years is the haunted house walk-through that has never been successfully completed by anyone because it is just too terrifying. According to the story, brave souls are awarded a dollar amount for each floor completed, or a full refund upon exiting with their lives. This mythical haunted house has been said to exist in multiples states all across the US, and various versions of the story are now in circulation. The truth of the matter is that there is no such haunted house. This story is merely a gimmick, but for whatever reason it continues to be perpetuated by thrill-seekers and Halloween junkies.

So there you have it. Perhaps you were familiar with these stories already, or maybe you learned about them for the first time as you read this piece. Either way, hopefully now you are a little more knowledgeable about some of these Halloween stories. I want to give credit to Snopes.com, a masterful resource for all things urban legend. This Halloween, stay safe, dress creatively, and impress your friends with your newfound inside knowledge about some common Halloween lore!

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About Daniel Terracina

  • I love urban legends. Great article.

  • Meredith Morse

    I literally just snorted a spoonful of Blue Bell Ice Cream out of my nose in a fit of insatiable giggling when I read the part about Holzapfel. Were you aware that this feat is physically plausible? Seriously..

  • Caitlin Schudalla

    I also love urban legends…especially when they turn out to be true-ish. Clever observation with the last name – I don’t think I would’ve gone beyond noting it’s weird.

    Did you find any stories about corpses being hidden in the box springs of hotel beds? They weren’t discovered till guests complained about a bad smell. True story.

  • Interesting article, for certain. I enjoyed the Hol-zap-fel.

  • frannie

    There’s a pretty good piece on Halloween urban legends specific to Beverly Hills; not necessarily scary, but interesting.

  • Kerri

    I had heard the second story, except in that version a man hung from his balcony for weeks, so hours is slightly less disturbing. As for the first story, a friend of mine was recently frisked by the police because he was filming a movie for class that featured fake blood and a gun. People do scare easy!