Thursday, October 30, 2008

This Is Halloween

I've already written my definitive Halloween post, however, there's always something new to discuss, isn't there?

For example, this morning, I ran across this article about how " For 16 years, real horror overshadowed the make-believe terror of Halloween" in Oil City, PA. There's already something about Halloween that freaks people out, especially adults, in my opinion. There are varied reasons for this, I think, but underneath it all it seems to me that Halloween embraces things that are beyond our control. It's an excuse to cut loose from the laws of everyday society, to hide behind masks, to be what we aren't... and of course, there's the specter of death everywhere. So it didn't surprise me to read that Oil City had clamped down hard on Halloween for so many years in response to a horrible murder.

Warning: The following account of the murder disturbs me. Consider it at least a PG13 rating.

You see, on October 27th, 1992, 11 year old Shauna Howe was walking home from a Girl Scouts Halloween party. She was only two block from her house when she was abducted right off the sidewalk. Two days later her body was found in a dry creek bed underneath an abandoned railroad trestle. It was later determined that Shauna spent most of those two days in captivity, that she had been raped, and that she had still been alive when she was tossed from the 30 foot high railroad trestle.

As the article put it:
With the town gripped by fear that a child killer was on the loose, trick-or-treating the next day was held in daylight for the first time. Police watched from helicopters as parents led their children from house to house along quiet streets.

Residents also began locking their doors and driving their children to school. And every year afterward, the City Council voted to allow trick-or-treating in the afternoon only, a move duplicated around the same time by many other U.S. cities and towns worried about children's safety.
I won't say that Oil City overreacted, after all, the three arrests made in the case weren't until the middle of 2004, (This site seems to have the best info on how that all came about.) but I do wonder if the town would have had a similar reaction had it been, say, a 4th of July party, instead. Even granting that Oil City's reaction was appropriate, I will also say that if I were the parent of 10 year old Elizabeth Roess, I'd be very, very proud. There's something very powerful about the fact that it took a 5th Grader's petition drive and very simple arguements (Halloween decorations are best appreciated at night, and many people aren't home during the day to give out candy) to move Oil City into a less fearful place.

Still, Oil City plans to have twice as many police officers on duty, plus all of the school's security guards and crossing guards. And the local radio station has been running a public service announcement warning parents to accompany their children, examine all candy, and have their kids wear reflective material. And two out of three of those precautions are useful and necissary.

Halloween candy tampering is an urban legend. Despite some very well publicized accounts of alleged tamperings in the 60's and 70's, there is absolutely no record of a child being injured or killed by swallowing adulterated Trick or Treat booty. Period. This one gets my goat, I think, because I have clear memories of being sternly warned by a uniformed policeman to thoroughly check candy before eating it on Halloween. It put a real damper on the holiday, at least in my experience as a child. And there's enough real danger in the world without lending credence to a pretend one.

I guess if there's an underlying message to all of this, it is this: As in all things, there is a balance to be had here. There is darkness in the world. Sometimes there are rapists and murderers ready to take your children from you. Sometimes children get run down in the road. But there are appropriate and reasonable precautions to take. After that... just have fun, won't you?

Be safe
Be not afraid
Rev. Josh

No comments: