8 Horror Myths Debunked (or Confirmed!)

At my house, Halloween is like Christmas. So, you'll notice a larger-than-usual number of my posts this month will be focused on the creepy and macabre. Today, we turn to Snopes to help us debunk (or validate!) a bunch of horror myths.

1. Crazy people put razorblades in apples and needles in Halloween candy. Sadly, that's true. There have been specific, documented cases about kids being pricked by needles hidden inside of Halloween candy. More than 80 cases have been recorded since 1959, but only 10 resulted in even a minor injury. The worst case was when one woman required a couple of stitches. In most cases, Snopes says, it's usually because siblings or friends were trying to freak each other out. In 2000, though, a man in Minneapolis did put needles in Snickers bars and handed them out to kids he didn't even know. One boy did get stuck, but not enough to require medical attention. The man responsible was charged with intent to cause death, harm or illness.

2. Crazy people poison Halloween candy. This one is NOT true. At least, not in the way you think. Most people would assume that someone like the above guy in Minneapolis would poison candy and hand it out to any little kid that shows up at his doorstep. Nope, no documented proof of that. But in 1974, Texan Ronald O'Bryan killed his own son and tried to make it look like he was given poisoned Halloween candy. He poisoned four Pixie Stix and gave one to his son and one to three other children "“ but not as the act of a random madman. He was just trying to make it appear random so he could blame this urban legend for his son's untimely death. None of the other children ate their Pixie Stix, but Timothy O'Bryan did and was pronounced dead at 10 p.m. on October 31, 1974.

3. Bad guys hide under women's cars in parking lots and slash their Achilles' Tendons. We've all gotten that e-mail, right? This scary story has been lurking around since the 1950s and has seen a resurgence in recent years with e-mail chain letters. Snopes says that yes, people have definitely been attacked in shopping mall parking lots. But none of attackers were ever lying underneath the car, and there are no documented cases of them slashing the victims' ankles.

4. We all know that The Amityville Horror was based on a true story"¦ except it wasn't.

amityvilleYes, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., did kill his entire family in that house, but no demons were involved. The family that bought the house after the DeFeos didn't experience anything supernatural. William Weber, Ronald Jr.'s lawyer, admitted that he and the Lutzes completely fabricated the entire "haunted" story over a lot of wine. The author of the book, Jay Anson, built upon their tall tale and wrote the book.

5. A "bug bite" on a woman's cheek ends up erupting with baby spiders "“ turns out a spider laid eggs under her skin. Nope. Not possible. There's a short story about this legend (involving a kiss from the devil) that dates all the way back to 1849, so it's an oldie. Apparently in 1998, a doctor in Mexico did tell a man that a bulge on his thigh could possibly be where a spider laid eggs, but no baby spiders ever erupted from it.

ohio6. That song "Love Rollercoaster" originally done by the Ohio Players and later covered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers incorporates the scream of a woman being murdered. Not true. Some rumors say that they killed a woman in the studio to get the scream; one said that microphones picked inadvertently picked up a murder next door; others said the band just used a 911 recording. Nope. Visit Snopes for a sound clip and you can listen for yourself to see if you think it sounds like someone being killed. The band kept mum on the rumors for a while to sell more records, but eventually admitted it was a just one of the singers reaching a high pitch. Not a murder.

7. People posing as the hanging victim at a haunted house have actually died"¦ and the whole night passed before they were discovered. Yep, that's true. It's happened on multiple occasions, actually, and suicides have been mistaken for Halloween pranks as well. One such occasion happened on October 26, 2005. A 42-year-old woman committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree on a busy road, but no one reported it for hours because they assumed it was just a Halloween decoration.

kidney8. People are drugged and then relieved of their kidneys, which are then sold on the black market for $10,000 each. That's a negatory. And you're thinking, "But wait, they're also left in a bathtub full of ice." Well, that's only been added to the story since the mid "˜90s. The victim used to just be left along the side of a building or something. A Turkish man claimed that this exact thing happened to him in 1989, but it turned out that he willingly participated in the "surgery."

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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