You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.
Halloween is just around the corner, and amid the make-believe witches, ghouls, and goblins, there are supposedly real-life villains who hope to harm on children October 31. News reports and scary stories on social media leave many parents concerned about protecting children from Halloween threats.
But are they real or myth? Here are five scary myths and legends about the spookiest holiday
1) Halloween is Satanic
While many people see Halloween as scary and harmless fun some people, including many fundamentalist Christians, believe that there is sinister side to the holiday. They believe that underneath the fantasy costumes and candy-dispensing traditions there lies an unseen spiritual struggle for the souls of the innocent.
Christian evangelist Phil Phillips and Joan Hake Robie, in their book “Halloween and Satanism,” explain that the seemingly harmless costumes (such as witches, zombies and vampires) put children’s spiritual lives at risk by interesting them in supernatural occult phenomena–and, ultimately, on the road to Satanic practices. Of course it’s not just Halloween that these groups are concerned about–they have in the past protested against role-playing games, heavy-metal music, and even Harry Potter books.
Historically, however, there is little or no actual connection between Satanism and Halloween; for one thing the early pagan traditions that many scholars believe became part of what we now call Halloween had no concept of Devil. The idea of a Christian Satan developed much later, and therefore Halloween could not have been rooted in Satanism.
2) Beware Tainted Halloween Candy
The most familiar Halloween scares involve contaminated candy, and every year, police and medical centers across the country X-ray candy collected by trick-or-treaters to check for razors, needles, or contaminants that might have been placed there by strangers intending to hurt or kill children. Scary news reports and warnings on social media claimed that dangerous candy had been found, raising fears among parents and children. Many medical centers across the country,including in Harrisburg, Penn., are offering free X-raying of candy this Halloween.
This threat is essentially an urban legend. There have been only two confirmed cases of children being killed by poisoned Halloween candy, and in both cases the children were killed not in a random act by strangers but intentional murder by one of their parents. The best-known, “original” case was that of Texan Ronald Clark O’Bryan, who killed his son by lacing his Pixie Stix with cyanide in 1974. In essence he used this myth to try to cover his crime.
Yet the fear continues. There have been a few instances of candy tampering over the years-and in most cases the “victim” turned out to be the culprit, children doing it as a prank or to draw attention. Last year there were a few news reports about suspected tainted candy, and police determined that the incidents were hoaxes. In Philadelphia an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy in who reported finding needles in their trick-or-treat candy admitted they made up the story for attention, and a 37-year-old father claimed to have found tainted candy in his kids’ loot; he later admitted it was a hoax and claimed that he put the needles in the candy to teach his kids a lesson about safety.
Fortunately, parents can rest easy: Despite the ubiquitous warnings on social media, there have been no confirmed reports of anyone actually being injured or harmed by contaminated Halloween candy from strangers.
3) Beware Halloween Terrorists
After the September 11, 2001, attacks, rumors circulated that mysterious Middle Eastern men were buying up huge quantities of candies just before Halloween. Many people were concerned that this might be part of a terrorist plot to attack America’s children, and the FBI looked into the case.Prompted by the public concern over potential terrorism, the FBI acknowledged that it was investigating the cash purchase of ‘large quantities’ of candy from Costco stores in New Jersey. A week before Halloween, on October 22, the FBI cleared up the rumors. It was one man, not two, who had bought $15,000 worth of candy, not $35,000. The man’s nationality was not revealed, so he may or may not have been Arab or dark-skinned or even had an ethnic name. As it turned out the man was a wholesaler who planned to resell the candy, and the purchase was a routine transaction that had nothing to do with terrorism.
4) Beware Sex Offenders on Halloween
Though the fears over poisoned candy (whether by malicious neighbors or foreign terrorists) never materialized, the reputed Halloween evil took a new form in the 1990s: sex offenders. This scare, even more than the candy panics, was fueled by alarmist news reports and police warnings. In many states, convicted sex offenders were required not to answer the door if trick-or-treaters came by, or to report to jail overnight. In many states including Texas and Arkansas offenders were required to report to courthouses on Halloween evening for a mandatory counseling session.
The theory behind such laws is that Halloween provides a special opportunity for sex offenders to make contact with children, or to use costumes to conceal their identities. This has been the assumption among many local politicians and police for years. Yet there is no reason to think that sex offenders pose any more of a threat to children on Halloween than at any other time. In fact, there has not been a single case of any child being molested by a convicted sex offender while trick-or-treating.
A 2009 study confirmed that the public has little to fear from sex offenders on Halloween. The research, published in the September 2009 issue of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, examined 67,307 non-family sex offenses reported to law enforcement in 30 states over nine years. The researchers wanted to determine whether or not children are in fact at any greater risk for sexual assault around Halloween: “There does not appear to be a need for alarm concerning sexual abuse on these particular days. Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned.”
5) Beware Scary Clowns
In the wake of the recent scary clown panics across the country, several national stores including Target have removed scary clown masks from their shelves, and both kids and parents are asking children to both beware of people in clown costumes and to not wear scary clown masks. Several counties have banned scary clown costumes and masks this Halloween. As one writer noted, “A Kemper County, Mississippi’s Board of Supervisors voted recently to make it unlawful to wear a clown costume in public. The ban covers all ages and includes costumes, masks or makeup. The ban –which will expire the day after Halloween –comes at the request of the county sheriff… It comes after a series of reports from around the country and Alabama that spooky-looking clowns were threatening children and schools. Some of those reports were later debunked and a few led to arrests with concerns over the creepy clown phenomenon growing as Halloween approaches.”
Clown masks have also been banned from some New Jersey schools; as “USA Today” reported, “The West Milford Police Department has said there is no specific threat against the community. Still, there have been spotty and unsubstantiated reports on social media about people in scary clown masks lurking around township school yards in recent weeks.”
Fortunately so far there are no confirmed reports of children being seriously injured, abducted, or killed by anyone dressed in scary clown masks over the past few months. Most of the reports are hoaxes and copycats, usually by teenagers who have fun scaring people or seeing themselves on social media.
Halloween is scary enough on its own, between overpriced candy and sugar-sated kids. The real threats to children don’t involve tampered candy, Satanists, scary clowns, terrorists, or sex offenders; instead they include being hit by a car in the dark, or wearing a flammable costume, or injuring themselves while walking on curbs because they can’t see out of their masks. Most kids are very safe at Halloween, and the average child is far more likely to die of a heart attack or be hit by lightning than be harmed in some Halloween-related menace.
You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.
Tonight I will be giving a presentation to the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society titled “Contacting the Dead: Séances From the Victorian Era To Modern Times.” It is the same talk I gave to wide acclaim at this year’s packed Bubonicon conference:
“Though TV shows like Ghost Hunters have raised the profile of ghost hunting, there’s nothing new about seeking out spirits of the dead. For millennia people have tried to communicate with the deceased, using everything from chalkboards to Ouija boards to EVP (electronic voice phenomena). Focusing on the 1800s through today—including early mediums, the Spiritualist movement, and files from England’s Society for Psychical Research—writer and investigator Ben Radford discusses the theories and techniques behind attempts to speak to the dead. Fans of SF, fantasy, horror, and occult history will enjoy this informative and entertaining historical look at a century and a half of attempts to contact the afterlife.”
The event will be held at 7:30 at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 5301 Ponderosa Ave NE in Albuquerque, off of San Mateo. There’s a $2 fee for non-members. If you’re in the area, come on out for this fun and informative talk!
An excerpt from my upcoming book on ghost investigation:
“The quantity and variety of alleged spirit images has exploded over the years, but the quality of the evidence remains as disappointingly ambiguous as ever. Some are shadowy, human-like figures; others are flash reflections of light appearing as round white spots dubbed “orbs”. Some ghosts are reported to look and act exactly like living, real people, with their true nature only being revealed when they suddenly vanish or walk through a wall. If those accounts are to be credited, then logically and theoretically there could be tens of millions of ghost photos that are not recognized as such—strangers in crowds or backgrounds in public areas could presumably include ghosts. If these spirits are visually indistinguishable from ordinary people as some eyewitnesses claim, then any photo which contains one or more people whose identity (and therefore status as alive or dead) is not conclusively known could include a ghost. I’m not suggesting this is the case, of course, but merely noting the practical complications that this view of ghosts implies…”
You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.
This is cool.. I was recently mentioned in a Forbes article on ghost hunting science and pseudoscience:
There’s no shortage of retailers to provide for your spooky-seeking needs. Products marketed as “Deluxe Ghost Hunting Kit” and “Ghost Hunting Spirit Box” can be found on Amazon and Ebay…Benjamin Radford, Deputy Editor the Skeptical Inquirer, said using “ghost hunting” equipment in general might be the field’s fatal flaw, “Ghost hunters go after whatever they think is weird. There’s no way of testing for a weird feeling.” Science… life’s wet blanket.
You can read the whole story HERE.
For those who didn’t see it, I recently wrote a piece about a fascinating 1880s-era scientist/educator/feminist/ghostbuster named Eleanor Sidgwick…
The long-awaited “Ghostbusters” remake is out… While vampire slaying has often been portrayed as a female-dominated profession (at least on television), ghost hunting seems more male-centered, at least as depicted on reality TV shows such as SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters,” now in its eleventh season of not finding ghosts.
The new “Ghostbusters” film has an all-female lead cast, but if you’re looking for a real-life pioneering female ghostbuster, you couldn’t do much better than Eleanor Sidgwick.
You can read the rest of the story HERE.
My new article on a viral ghost photo claimed to show an accident victim’s soul leaving his body is now out:
A photo taken at the scene of a fatal motorcycle crash in Kentucky has gone viral, with many claiming they can see the accident victim’s spirit leaving his body. The image, showing what seems to be a gray or white vertical form in the air above two ambulances, was photographed and shared on social media by Kentucky resident Saul Vazquez….
You can read the whole piece HERE.
The new horror film The Conjuring 2 is, like its predecessor, supposedly based on the “true case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren,” a real-life married pair of self-styled demonologists involved (however peripherally) in several high-profile haunted house reports, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s. It reunites writer/director James Wan with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, reprising their roles as Ed and Lorraine Warren, respectively.
The first Conjuring film was set at a rural Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971, but this new film begins with a wholly unrelated–and far more famous–case, that of murderer Butch DeFeo who killed his family in their Amityville, New York, home. The killings really happened, and DeFeo’s defense lawyer famously tried to claim that DeFeo should be found not guilty because ghosts made him do it. The jury saw right through this flimsiest of Devil-made-me-do-it defenses but the Warrens did not, taking Butch DeFeo at his word that some unseen evil lurked in the house and compelled him to kill. The heavily fictionalized story was later made into a novel by Jay Anson and spawned a popular horror film franchise…. You can read the rest at my CFI blog HERE.
For those who didn’t see it last month, I’m quoted in a news article explaining a new viral “ghost photo,” supposedly of Queen Isabella in a castle… You can read it HERE.
Ghost hunters at a 12th-century English castle snapped a photo of a milky white image of a woman in a dress and, a year later, it’s scaring up a lot of interest in British tabloids….
The mystery of a Christmas tree in a vacant New Orleans building window has been solved–and provides lessons to skeptics on psychological priming, eyewitness expectations, and why people see things that aren’t there. You can read the story HERE.
Haven’t got any hate mail or death threats so far this year, so here’s a nice one recently: “Hi! I am doing a semester project on the Rose Hall Plantation. I have looked at a total of eleven (11) sites to try and unmask the mystery surrounding Annie Palmer. I read your article debunking everything the legend stands for. The article was published to ‘centerforinquiry.net’. I just want to talk to someone who has such an understanding and history in the paranormal world. I am only a sophomore in high school, but I so badly want to learn. I know I have no standing or importance to you in your every day life, but I hope you take the time to educate a young woman from South Dakota in the paranormal myths and facts that surround Annie Palmer and the Rose Hall Plantation Great House. I look forward to hearing from you!”
I wrote back to her and gave her the info she was looking for, happy to help out!
I was interviewed for a HuffPo piece on ghost hunter Joshua Warren’s claim that he discovered an amazing photo of Abraham Lincoln in the White House: “Radford is surprised that anyone would consider what Warren calls “the world’s most credible and amazing ghost photo” to be serious evidence of the supernatural. “If this really is the best photographic evidence for ghosts — if a published expert on ghosts can’t tell the difference between an ordinary long exposure and a ghost — then the quality of ghost evidence is in far worse shape than I imagined,” Radford said.” You can read the piece HERE.
I was recently asked by the Huffington Post to look into the case of a big-breasted ghost apparently caught on film, and perhaps even moving artifacts in a museum. The article, with my commentary and analysis, is HERE.
In reviewing my shelf of ghost hunting books for a book chapter I’m writing I noted that the author of two 2011 books on ghosts and ghost hunting writes that she “is new to the paranormal community, having entered field investigation in 2008.” Doing a bit of math and knowing the lead time it takes for a book to be edited and published, I realized that she could not have had more than three years of experience (and probably closer to two) before she felt like she knew enough about ghost hunting to proclaim herself an expert and write two books on the topic. I needed at least five years to become an expert on the chupacabra, which is a far narrower subject. Ghost hunting books are rife with self-proclaimed experts whose experience is watching TV and taking ghost tours…
Recently a supposed British ghost photo went viral on news and social media (including “Good Morning America”). I investigated the case and believe I solved this mystery… you can read about it HERE.
My research and investigation into the famous “White Witch of Rose Hall” in Montego Bay, Jamaica (the topic of chapter 12 in my book Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries) appears on the April 25 season premiere of the Travel Channel TV show “The Dead Files.” Check your local listings, and you can see a sneak preview HERE.
One of the most difficult aspects of being a skeptical ghost investigator is trying to help people who sincerely believe they’re experiencing a haunting; it’s the subject of my new article “Playing Witch Doctor: Hidden Ethics in Skeptical Ghost Investigation.” You can read it HERE.
For those who didn’t see it last month I solved the mystery of a “ghost” seen on a police security camera last weekend that went viral. My analysis is on Discovery News, you can see it HERE.
If you believe in ghosts, you’re not alone. Cultures all around the world believe in spirits that survive death to live in another realm. In fact, ghosts are among the most widely believed of paranormal phenomena: Millions of people are interested in ghosts, and a 2005 Gallup poll found that 37 percent of Americans believe in haunted houses — and nearly half believe in ghosts. You can read the story HERE.
The web site FastCompany did a recent profile of me and my work, you can read it HERE.
With Halloween rapidly approaching, reports of paranormal sightings will start toescalate as people get into the spirit of the spooky holiday. While most are obvioushoaxes, there are a few reported by people who genuinely believe they haveencountered a ghost or spirit. It is these perceptions that professional skeptic Benjamin Radford spends his time investigating and resolving, with logical explanations – so far, he has not failed!
You can read the whole story HERE.
On television and in films when paranormal investigators or ghost hunters are depicted, they often are seen using all sorts of high-tech gadgetry in the search for the unknown. HERE is a look at what’s in my investigation kit!
I recently heard a podcast where a ghost hunting group said their average “investigation” lasts 4-6 hours. I guess I’m doing it wrong, because mine often take days or weeks. Then again I actually solve the mystery instead of just settling for faint, ambiguous lights and sounds as evidence of anything. The harder you work and the more effort you put in, the more likely you are to find a plausible scientific explanation. If you only put in a few hours of work, no wonder you can’t figure it out. Maybe they’re so skilled they only need a few hours to get stumped…
I was recently guest on the Project: Archivist show, talking about some of my research and investigations… It’s a great show if you haven’t heard it. The episode will be out any time now; you can hear it HERE.
My new CFI blog examines some of the historical figures behind Woody Allen’s new film “Magic in the Moonlight.” You can read it HERE.
An interesting article in Skeptical Inquirer magazine about demonology… I’ve met several self-described demonologists, and this rings pretty true to me. You can read it HERE.
Sharon Hill’s recent “Sounds Sciencey” piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine looks at the guys at Strange Frequencies Radio show. An interesting look at skeptics, science and the paranormal! You can read it HERE.
A group of ghost hunters has been arrested for allegedly setting fire to a historic mansion near New Orleans. Perhaps inspired by the hit SyFy television series “Ghost Hunters” and its many imitators, the men climbed through a hole in a fence and broke into the LeBeau Plantation house near the Mississippi River on Nov. 21.
You can read my article about it HERE.
It is not hard to find sacred religious sites; churches, synagogues, shrines, mosques, and other such places dot the landscape, offering a place for followers of one religious faith or another to join with others and worship.
There is another kind of secular sacred site that also involves respect for the dead, or at the very least respect for tragedy. Though not necessarily a modern invention, it is, I would argue, very much a product of the Internet age and its associated social activism…. You can read more HERE.
I wrote this for Halloween, but it’s a classic urban legend year-round: The history and mystery of Bloody Mary!
You can read my Discovery News piece on it HERE.
Olivia Newton-John recently asked a priest to perform an exorcism on her home in Jupiter, Fla., in hopes of selling it. Following the suicide of a contractor in the home last month, the actress and singer is concerned about the social and spiritual stigma now associated with the residence, and the ceremony was an attempt to assure potential buyers that the place is not cursed or haunted.
My recent Discovery News article on home exorcisms and other realty-related magic rituals… You can read it HERE.
I’m sometimes asked for insight into how my articles and columns come about, what the process is for assembling them. HERE’s one recent example….
My overview on ghosts was recently published at LiveScience.com, drawing quite a bit of reaction from skeptics and believers alike!
“The evidence for ghosts is no better today than it was a year ago, a decade ago, or a century ago. There are two possible reasons for the failure of ghost hunters to find good evidence. The first is that ghosts don’t exist, and that reports of ghosts can be explained by psychology, misperceptions, mistakes and hoaxes. The second option is that ghosts do exist, but that ghost hunters are simply incompetent…”
You can read it HERE.
Yesterday at LiveScience.com I published an overview piece on ghosts and ghost hunting. As always, people are happy to read my work and tell me what garbage it is. I thought I’d share two of my favorite comments, followed by my responses:
1) from sandybeachguynw: “Benjamin Radford must not watch many Ghost hunting shows or he would know that they have proof of Ghost, Such as Video, Photos, Sound & Voice recordings. What I’d like to know is just how many Haunted places Benjamin Radford has ever been in and conducted any research for himself?”
Yes, clearly that’s my mistake: I need to watch more ghost hunting “reality” TV shows to really understand the science and logic of ghosts. And to answer the question, I’ve done about 25 or 30 major ghost investigations!
2) Richard Schroeder from the University of California, Irvine: “Yeah, the article was rather poorly written and not well thought out. For example, it isn’t a logical contradiction that ghosts can sometimes interact with matter and sometimes don’t interact with matter. It is an interesting question to put to ghost believers, but it isn’t logically impossible. After all, sometimes bullets ricochet off of matter and sometimes they pass right through matter. Maybe the author thinks bullets are logically impossible.”
Um, Richard, Bullets do not “pass right through matter,” they make a hole and go around it, the way you “pass right through matter” when you walk through a door…
I was interviewed on NPR about ghosts and ghost hunting around Halloween. The audio of that interview is now available:
Link to the Halloween recording: https://www.azpm.org/s/11359-
I was recently interviewed by a writer for TheVerge.com about ghost investigation, talking about the science and pseudoscience behind the claims. You can read the story HERE.