Halloween Safety Recommendations in the ‘70s: Most Expected. Some Unusual.

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Curious about the greatest dangers of Halloween in the 70s? I was. So, to find out more, I reviewed the archives of my local newspaper. A few of the recommendations I found were a little unusual.

Safety recommendations were about preventing injuries from the following causes: 

1. Burns: Fire resistant clothes were not the standard and cotton costumes will burn quickly. If buying a costume, make sure it’s marked for flame retardancy.Or make your child’s costume flame retardant at home with a special mix of ingredients. The National Safety Council gave a recipe that included mixing specific amounts of warm water, borax, and boric acid together, soaking you child’s costume in it, letting it drip dry and then ironing it. This made it flame-retardant, but only until it was washed. 1 One fire risk mentioned was the candles in jack-o-lanterns that children may carry around. So, the advice was to put a flashlight inside the jack-o-lantern. Another warning was that children only use flashlights to see outside and not candles or torches.

I hadn’t heard of do-it-yourself flame retardant recipes before. I also never saw a flashlight in a jack-o-lantern, or a candle or torch used to see outside in the ‘70s.

2. Falls: Be sure costumes are not too long and that shoes fit properly (no high heel shoes or heavy boots), so children don’t injury themselves by either falling down or falling into the road and getting hit by a car. A child’s vision needs to be clear to prevent all falls. Specifically,no masks, no cloth covering the face, no whiskers, no wigs, no veils and no “hat trimmings” as they all obscure vision and are fire hazards. Makeup was recommended instead.2 No swords, knives, or sharp objects, in case children fall and hurt themselves or accidentally hurt others.

The suggestion of nothing on or near the face was not usually followed in the ‘70s. Most kids wore either the front masks with elastic on back or the rubber masks you pull over your head.

3. Getting hit by car: Your child’s costume needs to be easily seen in the dark by cars. The author of a 1971 article suggested sewing reflective tape on costumes (found in department stores or hardware stores). She even suggestedmaking doggie collars for children’s necks by sewing reflective strips together, then adding ribbons or elastic as fasteners. This could be converted to an arm band or leg band, if desired. Reflective tape “will make them light up like a neon sign as car headlights are turned on them,” said Myrtle F. Hodge, Extension Home Economist.3 In a 1977 article, a representative of the Hudson Valley Optometric Society said you could adhere retro-reflectors by sewing, ironing, or sticking them on all sides of the costumes.

I don’t remember seeing anyone wearing reflective dog collars or anything reflective on Halloween in the ‘70s.

“A Halloween costume should be visible to drivers traveling at speeds of 70 miles per hour,” the American Optometric Association stated. 5

Never one to trick-or-treat on highways, I was surprised that cars would be going this fast around kids.

4. Toxic treats: Objects embedded in candy/fruit (pins, razor) and pills disguised as candy were the concerns. Attorney General Louis J Lefkowitz stated that in the past “treats” have been dispensed that included “laxatives, apples spiked with concealed razor blades andchocolate-coated pep pills.”6 The general suggestions were: Parents should encourage kids to only go to homes of people they know, inspect all candy and cut open fruit to look for sharp objects. Also,make sure kids have a full meal before going trick-or-treating, so they won’t be tempted to eat the candy before they get home.

A sidenote on the fatal candy fears:

The National Confectioners Association (NCA) stated that reports of toxic treats had been over-blown. The NCA stated that in 1973, on Halloween over 95% of the 67 reports of tainted treats could not be substantiated after police investigated, with 26 incidents either hoaxes or “highly questionable.” For 38 reports, the NCA stated that police determined they did not warrant further investigation.7   In the same article, the American Pop Corn Co and National Safety Council recommended that children only accept commercially wrapped candy and not eat anything until parents inspect their treats.

I was surprised by the NCA’s statement, given that all the other agencies issuing safety recommendations said to be cautious with candy.

5. Roving bands of mischievous, older teens: To avoid being chased or hit with eggs or shaving cream, young children should be accompanied by adults and go out during the day or carry a flashlight and have a planned time to return home. Extra patrols by the law enforcement were mentioned each year and also volunteers from theMid-Hudson Amateur Radio Club helped by driving around and reporting any vandalism to police.8

Looking at news for the day after Halloween, I found that for most of the 70s, Halloween was described as being a quiet year for police. However, 1972 was not quiet in the Village of Wappingers. Police reported bands of 25 to 50 kids pelting cars with eggs, spraying windows with shaving cream and spraying parked cars with paint. Police reported collecting 21 dozen eggs and 25 cans of shaving lotion and estimated that up to 100 dozen eggs had been thrown. Volunteer firemen and ham radio operators were out in cars trying to stop them. Police set up a car wash in front of police headquarters and when they caught kids egging the cars, they made them wash the car.“I doubt if any car got through the village between 6 p.m. and 10:30 pm without being hit with eggs,” said Police Chief Joseph Costa. “The Village is a mess this morning.9

I learned a few things about safety recommendations that I didn’t know before. Did any of these quotes or safety recommendations surprise you?

1. “Goblins Can Be Avoided,” Poughkeepsie Journal, October 23 1972, 7.

2. “Trick or Treat Hints,” Poughkeepsie Journal, October 26 1976, 17.

3. Myrtle F Hodge, “Using Reflective Tape Can Prevent Accidents,” Poughkeepsie Journal, October 17, 1971, 7A.

4. “Halloween tips,” Poughkeepsie Journal, October 26, 1977, 21.

5. “Halloweeners Should Be Seen,” Poughkeepsie Journal, October 30 1973, 11.

6. “Lefkowitz Issues Warning for Halloween,” Poughkeepsie Journal, October 27, 1971, 49.

7.  LaClaire T. Wood, “Parents must make Halloween safe,” Poughkeepsie Journal, October 27, 1977, 15.

8. Larry Hughes, “On Patrol on Halloween: Pumpkins, Eggs and Toilet Paper,” Poughkeepsie Journal, November 1 1973, 35.

9. “Halloween Vandals Hit Wappingers,” Poughkeepsie Journal, November 1, 1972, 1.

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