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A timeline of Halloween history

  • 1974: Poisoned candy mythology spreads after boy’s death in Texas

    In 1974, a Texan named Ronald Clark O’Bryan fatally poisoned his 8-year-old son by lacing Halloween candy with cyanide. He also handed out poisoned candy to a few other neighborhood children, though none died. The case prompted widespread fear about poisoned candy from strangers even though experts say it’s never actually been a problem. “I can't find any evidence that any child has ever been injured by a contaminated treat picked up on Halloween," University of Delaware criminologist Joel Best told The Independent. "I can't say for certain that it hasn't happened, because it's impossible to prove a negative. But this seems to be an urban myth.”

  • 1978: First 'Halloween' movie is released and costumes turn gory

    Halloween costumes took a major turn toward the macabre in the late 1970s and 1980s after the release of the first “Halloween” movie in 1978. Before that, costumes had been scary but not gruesome. "It was always spooky, and it was always otherworldly and weird, but it wasn't bloody and violent until John Carpenter's 'Halloween' cracked it open," Halloween expert Lesley Bannatyne told Insider.

  • 2000s: Halloween costumes become sexy

    If the 1980s were a time for gory Halloween costumes, the new millennium was the time for sexy costumes. Rather than dressing up as bloody serial killers from slasher films, people went out as sexy witches and nurses. “In the '80s and '90s, people would always ask me 'Why is Halloween so violent?' Nowadays, they ask ' Why is Halloween so sexy?'" Halloween expert Lesley Bannatyne explained to Insider.

  • 2010s: Cultural appropriation debate over costumes begins growing

    In the past five to 10 years, awareness has increased about culturally sensitive Halloween costumes and there’s been increasing media attention around issues of cultural appropriation. Celebrities who’ve been criticized for their costumes include Nicky Hilton (who dressed as Pocahontas), Heidi Klum (who went as the Hindu goddess Kali), and Julianne Hough (who donned blackface to be Crazy Eyes from “Orange Is The New Black”).

    [Pictured: Heidi Klum dressed as the goddess Kali.]

  • Present day: Americans spend $9 billion on Halloween

    Today, Halloween has become a thoroughly commercial affair. Last year, Americans spent almost $9 billion on the holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. Of that, about $2.6 billion went to candy, $2.7 billion to decorations, and $3.2 billion to costumes. Spending is expected to decrease somewhat because COVID-19 pandemic, to $8.05 billion, down from $8.78 billion in 2019.

    You may also like: 34 spooky dessert recipes for this Halloween

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