On Halloween, people shed reality for a day and mark the holiday with costumes, decorations and parties.
Creepy legends and characters have evolved based on real, terrifying events. And a Halloween tradition of confronting the dead has led to legions of ghost stories – and hoaxes.
The legend: A man is thought to be dead and is buried. Scratch marks are later found on the coffin lid along with other desperate signs of escape.
The truth: Back in the day, this happened with alarming regularity. In the late 19th century, William Tebb compiled a list of premature burials from several medical sources. He managed to collect 219 cases of near-premature burial, 149 cases of actual premature burial and a dozen cases where dissection or embalming had begun on a not-yet-deceased body.
The funhouse mummy
The legend: It was discovered that a prop at a carnival wasn’t made of the usual combination of papier mache and spit, but human skin and bone. All the children at the haunted house had been poking and playing around with a real, mummified dead body.
The truth: Back in 1976, a camera crew who were filming an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man began to set up in the haunted house at the Nu-Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach, California. As they were moving aside a ‘hanging man’ prop, they accidentally knocked off its arm and discovered human bones inside. The body was actually that of criminal mastermind Elmer McCurdy, who was killed in a shootout after robbing a train in 1911.