10 Historic Things That Happened on Halloween

DON EMMERT, AFP/Getty Images
DON EMMERT, AFP/Getty Images

According to the ancient pagans (not to mention contemporary Wicca observers), Halloween is when the “veil” between the living and spirit worlds is at its thinnest, meaning the day is ripe for supernatural occurrences, haunting encounters, and tragic events. Here are 10 Halloween happenings that show October 31 isn't just a spooky holiday.


How’s this for a nightmare: 34 days of Election Day.

No matter how horrifying our presidential politics get in 2016, at least the nation can look forward to the end of the campaign season once the polls close on November 8. This wasn’t always the case in America. Before the 1848 election, states were allowed to hold their voting at any time over several weeks. Back then—when news traveled slowly and the nation’s harvesting patterns had an even stronger influence on the political schedule—federal law gave states 34 days to conduct the election before the Electoral College got together on the first Wednesday of December.

Voting in those early contests obviously tended to kick off in late October or early November, but only two—1800 and 1828—saw polls open on All Hallows’ Eve. The latter, 1828, was a particularly nasty (not to mention historically significant) election that saw the populist outsider candidate, Andrew Jackson, knock out the incumbent East Coast elite, John Quincy Adams. In some ways, this rematch of the 1824 presidential election cast the die for the politics we have today.

The nation was still young, but the 1828 contest firmly established the two party system and saw the debut of deeply personal attacks and concerted rumormongering—Adams supporters labeled Jackson, the eventual winner, a war criminal, and called his wife Rachel an “adulteress." Fueling the increase in vitriol was the proliferation of party-affiliated press organs, which relied heavily on innuendo and conspiracy. These were not newspapers, but rather the 19th century equivalent of Facebook groups that share memes.


With strict propriety of language, we might call the awful catastrophe about to be particularized, a massacre, a wholesale assassination, or anything else but an accident.
Lloyd's Steamboat Directory, And Disasters on the Western Waters (1856)

The situation was already dire for the 700 or so members of the Creek tribe crammed onto the Monmouth on a very dark October 31, 1837. After most of the Creek had been forcibly deported from their homeland in the Southern United States following the “Creek Indian War of 1836,” a few had been allowed to stay behind while their families were helping fight the Seminoles in Florida. After the fighters returned, the remaining Creek were put on boats to take them up the Mississippi, including one called the Monmouth.

As the overcrowded Monmouth steamed north of Baton Rouge, it crashed into another steamship, the Warren, which was towing another boat called the Trenton. According to Lloyd’s Steamboat Disasters, “such was the violence of the concussion, that the Monmouth immediately sunk.” It is estimated that at least half of the Monmouth’s passengers perished in the catastrophe, though records are scarce because no government agencies ever investigated the incident.


For obvious reasons, the states that left the Union during the American Civil War tend to get more attention than the ones that joined the United States during the conflict. Nevada is one of only two—West Virginia is the other—to attain statehood while the North and South were fighting. (Thus Nevada’s claim as the “battle born” state.)

One common explanation is Abraham Lincoln and the Union needed the Silver State’s mineral wealth. Not exactly. Nevada was already a Union territory, so Abe had the silver. Besides, by late 1864, the war was nearly won. What Lincoln actually needed was Nevada’s votes—both in the upcoming 1864 Presidential Election and for the push to end slavery with ratification of the 13th Amendment.


One of the Great War’s lesser known clashes, the Battle of Beersheba is particularly revered by cavalry enthusiasts and Australian World War I buffs. That’s because, as the sun set on a day of fierce skirmishes in the Negev Desert, a brigade of Aussie light horsemen staged what’s remembered as the “Last Great Cavalry Charge” and helped secure a pivotal victory for the Allied Powers.

After three years of bloody stalemate and fruitless conflict across Europe, the Allied Powers had almost nothing to show for it. The recent introduction of American troops had failed to break the deadlock on the continent, and in fall of 1917, it looked like another year of fighting with no measurable gain. But the offensive at Beersheba, just 50 miles south of Ottoman-controlled Jerusalem, ended the stalemate in the Middle Eastern theatre and breathed new life into the British war effort.

After the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force—comprised of troops from England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, and India—broke the Turkish lines at Beersheba, the British pushed deeper into Palestine and eventually captured Jerusalem in December. Lloyd George, the Prime Minister at the time, called it “a Christmas present for the British people.”


With a worldwide death toll of up to 50 million people, the Spanish Influenza is remembered as the most devastating pandemic in human history. In the United States, where an estimated 675,000 Americans perished during the plague, no single month was more deadly than October 1918. No one knows exactly what caused the so-called Death Spike, but nearly 200,000 people died during that gruesome October. One compelling explanation: high dosages of aspirin.


First, a bit of housekeeping: Benito Mussolini, notorious tough guy that he was, did not march anywhere. No, while a band of 20,000 or so Blackshirts did actually hoof it to the Italian capital, Il Duce took an overnight train from Milan. By the time his followers reached the Eternal City, Mussolini was already in control. On October 29, King Victor Emmanuel III summoned the 39-year-old to Rome to form a government. Ostensibly the head of a coalition government, the empowered Mussolini set about consolidating his power and building his own personal mythology. On October 31, to showcase the growing strength of his Fascist Party, the newly appointed premier conducted a parade of Blackshirts through the streets of Rome.


It’s the gut-punch known round the world. In late October 1926, Harry Houdini visited McGill University in Montreal and gave a lecture on fraudulent spiritualism to students and faculty. On Friday, October 22, Houdini invited several McGill students to his dressing room at the Princess Theater, and while eyewitness accounts differ on the matter of what came next, this much is clear: A student named Joselyn Gordon Whitehead delivered several heavy body blows to the famed magician’s midsection. A little over a week later, the 52-year-old Houdini was dead.

The official cause of death was diffuse peritonitis, an abdominal infection associated with a ruptured appendix, and at first, the doctors blamed the punch for Houdini’s sudden demise. Later researchers generally agree that, at worst, it prevented Houdini from going to the hospital for his stomach pains, and it was largely a case of bad timing.


Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James
Manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame?
She flew the Stars and Stripes of the land of the free
But tonight she's in her grave at the bottom of the sea.
Woody Guthrie, 1942

In almost every way, the USS Reuben James was an unremarkable destroyer assigned to protect supply shipments on the Atlantic after the start of World War II. Sure, the 22-year-old warship had sailed the seven seas, but mostly in the form of peacetime patrols and low stakes operations. Nothing flashy or fraught. So how exactly did it end up in Woody Guthrie's song?

On October 31, 1941, just over a month before the Pearl Harbor attack and America’s formal entry into World War II, the Reuben James became the first U.S. Navy ship sunk during the conflict. Of the nearly 150 crewmen aboard, only 44 survived the attack.


Slingin’ Sammy Baugh did it all on the gridiron. And in 1943, he did it all better than anyone had ever done it before—leading the league in passing, punting, and interceptions—as part of a campaign football historians consider the single greatest individual season in the history of the sport. The Redskins' Baugh registered some incredible performances that season—his four touchdown/four interception game against Detroit was remarkable for its gaudy symmetry—but none demonstrated his dominance as a passer more than his massive day against the Brooklyn Dodgers on Halloween 1943.

The final score at Ebbets Field that day was 48-10, with Baugh producing an NFL-record 376 yards and six touchdown passes—the first time in pro football history that a quarterback threw six TDs in a single game. Baugh and Washington would go on to win the NFL’s Eastern Division before losing to Sid Luckman and the Chicago Bears in the title game. Incredibly, Luckman would also go on to edge out Baugh for the 1943 MVP award, too.


A half century after it first debuted, “Monster Mash” remains the undisputed anthem of the spooky season. (Very close second: “Thriller.”) We may take it for granted these days, but there was a time when the “graveyard smash” wasn’t on repeat at every Halloween party in the land. Originally released in August 1962, this now evergreen holiday hit was actually the product of two early-1960s fads: Twist-style dance records and the movie monster craze. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on October 20 and stayed there for two weeks.

15 Scientific Ways to Relax for National Relaxation Day

iStock/anyaberkut via Getty Images
iStock/anyaberkut via Getty Images

Today is National Relaxation Day, so you have a great excuse to take it easy. Here’s how science can help you have the most laid-back day of the year.

1. Get a house or office plant.

Spending time in nature improves your overall wellbeing, but it turns out even just a little greenery is great for your health. Studies have shown patients in hospital rooms with plants report lower stress. Even just stepping into a lush space can reduce your heart rate. Plus, plants are effective at increasing oxygen and clearing out toxins, which should help you breathe easier—literally.

2. Avoid screens before bedtime.

Artificial light from TV and computer screens affects melatonin production and throws off circadian rhythms, which messes with your sleep. Studies have found that young adults were more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, high stress and even depression if they reported intensive use of cell phones and computers at night.

3. Eat a banana.

Potassium helps your body regulate blood pressure. Keeping that under control should help you bounce back more quickly from what’s got you stressed.

4. Indulge in some citrus.

Still hungry after that chocolate and banana? Try citrus. Recent studies show that vitamin C helps to alleviate the physical and psychological effects of stress.

5. Listen to classical music.

Portrait of a beautiful young woman lying on sofa with headphones on and closed eyes, relaxing
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

Any music you enjoy is bound to make you feel better, but classical music, in particular, has been shown to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and even decrease levels of stress hormones.

6. Drink green tea sweetened with honey.

Green tea contains L-theanine, which reduces stress, and honey—unlike cane sugar—has been shown to counteract free radicals and reduce inflammation, which is sometimes linked to depression.

7. Give yourself a hand massage.

Especially if you spend all day typing, hands can get really tense. A quick massage should be doable at your desk and if you incorporate some lavender-scented lotion, you’ll get extra relaxation benefits.

8. Lock lips with someone.

Romance is relaxing! Kissing releases oxytocin, a chemical that is shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

9. Chew some gum.

No matter what flavor it is, the act of chewing gum has been proven to lower cortisol and improve reported mood.

10. Blow up a balloon.

Young woman blowing up a blue balloon against a yellow background
Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images

Reacting to stress with short, shallow breaths will only exacerbate the problem—your body needs more oxygen, not less, to relax. Blowing up a balloon will help you refocus on your breathing. No balloons around? Just concentrate on taking a few deep breaths.

11. Mow the lawn.

Research shows that a chemical released by a mowed lawn—that fresh-cut grass smell—makes people feel happy and relaxed. Plus, knocking it off your to-do list will give you one less thing to stress about.

12. Find something to make you laugh.

Watching a funny video online does more than just brighten your afternoon, it physically helps to relax you by increasing the endorphins released by your brain.

13. Grab some chocolate.

What’s also good at releasing endorphins? Chocolate. Studies show that even just 40 grams of dark chocolate a day can help you de-stress.

14. Focus on relaxing all of your muscles.

Take a break from whatever you’re doing and, starting at your toes and working upwards, spend a few moments slowly tensing, and then releasing, the muscles of each part of your body.

15. Take a mental vacation.

Man takes a break from work to meditate at his laptop
AaronAmat/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, take a moment to close your eyes and picture a particularly relaxing scene. It may sound cheesy, but numerous studies show that just a few minutes of disengaging from your stressors rejuvenates your ability to tackle the work.

5 Fascinating Facts About Middle Children

francisgonsa/iStock via Getty Images
francisgonsa/iStock via Getty Images

Full House's perpetually neglected Stephanie Tanner, The Brady Bunch's embittered Jan Brady, Downton Abbey's tragedy-prone Lady Edith Crawley: For many people, these are the images that pop into their heads when thinking of the stereotypical middle child. In TV shows and movies, they’re often used as comic relief, always stuck in the shadow of their other, seemingly more important siblings. But the reality is far more generous to middle children.

Studies have shown that middle children are exceedingly independent and creative, with certain leadership qualities that their firstborn and last-born counterparts can’t match. Some of our most important world leaders, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs occupy this oft-mocked middle spot, but from most accounts, it’s a breeding ground for success. Here are five fascinating facts about middle children.

1. Middle children may be endangered.

There was a time during the first half of the 20th century when having three to four children was seen as the ideal number for parents, with 35 percent of moms between 40 and 44 having four children or more. Those numbers have been reversing for several decades—and now, the average American family consists of 3.14 people. On top of that, only 12 percent of women in their early forties have four children or more.

More people are going to college, taking longer to become financially settled, have easier access to birth control, and are embarking on demanding careers that put family life on the back burner. In addition to having children later in life, the average cost of raising a child has increased dramatically over the generations, so one or two kids might be all some couples can afford. These factors all add up to create smaller families, which means we’ll likely see fewer middle children throughout the country in future decades if these trends continue. And without them, we’ll lose out on all of the remarkable traits seen below.

2. Middle children can have first-rate negotiation skills.

Despite the common perception of middle children being resentful of their siblings and never getting enough attention from their parents, Katrin Schumann, co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children, has done extensive research on the subject that found the plight of middle children may actually be a positive thing later in life. One such trait is their ability to negotiate.

“Middles are used to not getting their own way, and so they become savvy, skillful manipulators,” Schumann told Psychology Today. “They can see all sides of a question and are empathetic and judge reactions well. They are more willing to compromise, and so they can argue successfully. Since they often have to wait around as kids, they’re more patient.”

3. Their low self-esteem might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Yes, the middle child may suffer from low self-esteem when compared to their siblings, due to their “their lack of uniqueness and attention at home,” according to Schumann. However, this doesn’t have to be a negative thing as it helps keep their ego in check.

“Also, self-esteem is not as critical as our society believes,” Schumann explained. “Having an accurate sense of your self-esteem is more important than having high self-esteem. Surprisingly, new studies show that high self-esteem does not correlate with better grades in school or greater success in life. It can actually lead to a lack of perseverance in the face of difficulties.”

4. Middle children tend to be faithful in their relationships.

Dr. Catherine Salmon, Schumann's co-author on The Secret Power of Middle Children, found that 80 percent of middle children claimed they have never cheated on their partner. This is compared to 65 percent of firstborns and 53 percent of last-borns who said they were never unfaithful to their long-term partner or spouse. This, of course, led to separate studies confirming that middle children, and their spouses, were happiest in marriage when compared to other birth orders.

There is a catch, however: Schumann said that while middle children may be the happiest and make for satisfied partners, two middle children might not make an ideal match: "An Israeli marital happiness survey shows that middles are the happiest and most satisfied in relationships, and that they partner well with firsts or lasts—but less well with other middles, because they may both avoid conflict."

5. Some of history's most important leaders were middle children.

Though the conventional numbers have established that most U.S. presidents are firstborns, Schumann contends that half of our Commanders-in-Chief are actually middle children. In an interview with NPR, she revealed that the connection between the presidency and middle children was obscured for years because of one strange quirk: firstborn girls weren’t traditionally counted as older siblings. Instead, firstborns were only taken into consideration when it came to males.

In general, it's difficult to nail down certain presidential birth orders, as the middle child blog SmackDab puts it: "George Washington’s father had four children with his first wife before the first President was born. Washington was the first of six children from his father’s second marriage. So was he the first born or the fifth born?" Still, if we're to take conventional wisdom and a loose definition of what a middle child is (basically anyone not the oldest or the youngest), then it turns out that 52 percent of presidents were born in the middle, including Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln.

It's JFK in particular, Schumann concluded, who displayed many of the traits typical of a middle child during his years in office, citing his ability to communicate and negotiate even under the most stressful of conditions.