How a Person Who Poisoned Bottles of Tylenol Almost Killed Halloween

Two days before Halloween in 1982, a 28-year-old Long Island resident named Frank Comunale reportedly sunk his teeth into a Cadbury Carmello candy bar and immediately felt a pinch. Pulling the candy out, he noticed that a straight pin had been inserted into it, cutting his cheek.

That same day, a group of schoolchildren in Somerdale, New Jersey were hospitalized after ingesting phencyclidine, also known as PCP or angel dust. It had been sprinkled over the Tootsie Rolls that were available at a school party.

In Nashua, New Hampshire, a man was arrested over suspicion that he had been trying to insert broken glass into an apple. In Ottawa, lye dust was reported in chewing gum. Local and national media blazed with reports over cities and communities in hysterics over what appeared to be an epidemic of product tampering.

In light of these threats—some real, many more imagined—parents and officials took drastic action. All across the country, trick-or-treating was being banned or severely restricted. Candy and costume sales plummeted. Conservative religious pundits seized the opportunity to rally against the holiday.

As some very disappointed children looked on, the adults were in the process of canceling Halloween.

There had long been fear on the part of parents and guardians over product tampering for trick-or-treating. Tradition called for them to trust strangers who deposited candy or apples into their child’s bag. Outside their immediate circle of trusted neighbors, there was suspicion that the odd or eccentric homeowner three blocks away might use Halloween as an opportunity to sicken solicitors.

In truth, there had been only a very few confirmed cases of Halloween candy poisoning, with the most infamous coming in 1974. That was the year a man named Ronald O’Bryan slipped poison into his own son’s candy, hoping to collect on an insurance payout by blaming some sinister stranger. To bolster his case, he even tried to poison the Pixy Stix of his daughter and their friends. They wound up not eating them; his son, Timothy, did. He died later that night.

O’Bryan was caught, tried, convicted, and eventually executed for the crime, lending credence to the idea that candy could be a source of victimization. But it wasn’t until seven people died in Chicago in late September 1982 that Halloween hysteria reached new heights.

In Chicago, packages of Tylenol found on store shelves had been opened and laced with cyanide. The tampering killed seven people and led to a national concern over whether the perpetrator would strike again or whether copycats would begin an effort to create even more panic.

The Tylenol tragedy’s proximity to Halloween proved to be devastating. Stores across the country reported sales of Halloween candy were dropping by 20 to 50 percent. Sales of cheap plastic costumes by manufacturers like Ben Cooper experienced similar crashes. The economy of spooky was taking a hit.

Although several incidents appeared to be true poisoning attempts, others were fueled by the paranoia started by the Tylenol incident. In Illinois, a 9-year-old boy bit into a candy and grew fearful when he noticed a metal shard embedded in it. Closer examination revealed it was one of the boy's fillings. In Los Angeles, a stadium of high school football attendees seemed to fall ill at almost precisely the same time, with 126 shuttled to an area hospital. Only three were physically sick, leading authorities to call it a case of mass hysteria.

City officials in Vineland, New Jersey weren’t taking chances. Mayor Patrick Fiorilli canceled Halloween outright, prohibiting anyone from soliciting candy door-to-door on October 31. Suburban areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Massachusetts followed suit. Those that didn’t encouraged hospitals to provide X-ray equipment so parents could screen candy for metal objects. In Chicago, the epicenter of the panic, a million leaflets were distributed with a list of Halloween safety tips.

As one 9-year-old boy told his father, as reported by the United Press International: “I'm not going trick-or-treating this year because they're putting cyanide in the candy.”

thepeachmartini via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

No one was ever charged with the 1982 murders. And as the Tylenol story began to fade from view, outright prohibitions on celebrating Halloween disappeared. But through the 1980s, the holiday had never quite regained its sense of fun or popularity. Costume makers specializing in cheap goods went out of business, putting an end to the kind of sharp plastic masks and baggy coveralls that once dotted city streets.

Halloween survived by evolving. Candy makers that once used tiny air holes in packaging began making sealed bags. As parents fretted over strangers, they began to host private parties in greater numbers. With costumes seen up close, demand grew for more durable and elaborate outfits. Adults who got a disguise in order to host kid parties began to have a desire to host one for adults, too. In the early part of the decade, adult costumes made up only 10 percent of the market. By 1989, the number was up to approximately 50 percent. Costume makers who had nearly gone out of business were now enjoying record profits by catering to a brand-new demographic. While the tampering had nearly destroyed Halloween, it was also indirectly responsible for reviving it.

Banner image courtesy of iStock.

Why Mother's Day Founder Anna Jarvis Later Fought to Have the Holiday Abolished

A portrait of Mother's Day founder Anna Jarvis.
A portrait of Mother's Day founder Anna Jarvis.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Years after she founded Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis was dining at the Tea Room at Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia. She saw they were offering a "Mother’s Day Salad." She ordered the salad and when it was served, she stood up, dumped it on the floor, left the money to pay for it, and walked out in a huff. Jarvis had lost control of the holiday she helped create, and she was crushed by her belief that commercialism was destroying Mother’s Day.

During the Civil War, Anna's mother, Ann Jarvis, cared for the wounded on both sides of the conflict. She also tried to orchestrate peace between Union and Confederate moms by forming a Mother's Friendship Day. When the elder Jarvis passed away in 1905, her daughter was devastated. She would read the sympathy cards and letters over and over, taking the time to underline all the words that praised and complimented her mother. Jarvis found an outlet to memorialize her mother by working to promote a day that would honor all mothers.

On May 10, 1908, Mother's Day events were held at the church where Ann Jarvis taught Sunday School in Grafton, West Virginia, and at the Wanamaker’s department store auditorium in Philadelphia. Anna did not attend the event in Grafton, but she sent 500 white carnations—her mother’s favorite flower. The carnations were to be worn by sons and daughters in honor of their own mothers, and to represent the purity of a mother’s love.

Spreading the Word

Mother’s Day quickly caught on because of Anna Jarvis’s zealous letter-writing and promotional campaigns across the country and the world. She was assisted by well-heeled backers like John Wanamaker and H.J. Heinz, and she soon devoted herself full-time to the promotion of Mother’s Day.

In 1909 several senators mocked the very idea of a Mother’s Day holiday. Senator Henry Moore Teller (D-CO) scorned the resolution as "puerile," "absolutely absurd," and "trifling." He announced, "Every day with me is a mother's day." Senator Jacob Gallinger (R-NH) judged the very idea of Mother's Day to be an insult, as though his memory of his late mother "could only be kept green by some outward demonstration on Sunday, May 10."

A pile of white carnations

The backlash didn't deter Jarvis. She enlisted the help of organizations like the World’s Sunday School Association, and the holiday sailed through Congress with little opposition in 1914.

The floral industry wisely supported Jarvis’s Mother’s Day movement. She accepted their donations and spoke at their conventions. With each subsequent Mother’s Day, the wearing of carnations became a must-have item. Florists across the country quickly sold out of white carnations around Mother’s Day; newspapers reported stories of carnation hoarding and profiteering. The floral industry later came up with an idea to diversify sales by promoting the practice of wearing red or bright flowers in honor of living mothers, and white flowers for deceased moms.

"Sentiment, Not Profit"

Jarvis soon soured on the commercial interests associated with the day. She wanted Mother’s Day “to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” Beginning around 1920, she urged people to stop buying flowers and other gifts for their mothers, and she turned against her former commercial supporters. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers, and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest, and truest movements and celebrations.”

In response to the floral industry, she had thousands of celluloid buttons made featuring the white carnation, which she sent free of charge to women’s, school, and church groups. She attempted to stop the floral industry by threatening to file lawsuits and by applying to trademark the carnation together with the words “Mother’s Day” (though she was denied the trademark). In response to her legal threats, the Florist Telegraph Delivery (FTD) association offered her a commission on the sales of Mother’s Day carnations, but this only further enraged her.

Jarvis’s attempts to stop the florists’ promotion of Mother’s Day with carnations continued. In 1934, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Mother’s Day. They used a painting colloquially known as Whistler’s Mother for the image, by artist James Whistler. Jarvis was livid after she saw the resulting stamp because she believed the addition of the vase of carnations was an advertisement for the floral industry.

A young girl gives her mom a handmade Mother's Day card

Jarvis’s ideal observance of Mother’s Day would be a visit home or writing a long letter to your mother. She couldn’t stand those who sold and used greeting cards: “A maudlin, insincere printed card or ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.”

She added: “Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card.”

Going Rogue

Jarvis fought against charities that used Mother’s Day for fundraising. She was dragged screaming out of a meeting of the American War Mothers by police and arrested for disturbing the peace in her attempts to stop the sale of carnations. She even wrote screeds against Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise money (for charities that worked to combat high maternal and infant mortality rates, the very type of work Jarvis’s mother did during her lifetime).

In one of her last appearances in public, Jarvis was seen going door-to-door in Philadelphia, asking for signatures on a petition to rescind Mother’s Day. In her twilight years, she became a recluse and a hoarder.

Jarvis spent her last days deeply in debt and living in the Marshall Square Sanitarium, a now-closed mental asylum in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She died on November 24, 1948. Jarvis was never told that her bill for her time at the asylum was partly paid for by a group of grateful florists.

This story originally appeared in 2012.

7 Mother's Day Sales to Take Advantage of Before the Holiday

Still trying to figure out what to buy your mom for Mother's Day this year? Before May 12 rolls around, check out these sales that will help you get mom the perfect gift for less. And if you've already bought your mom a gift, well, there's no harm in getting yourself one, too.

1. Sur La Table

If your mom loves to cook and host, head to Sur La Table. The kitchen store is offering 20 percent off Staub cast iron cookware until May 13. It's also got longer-running sales as well—until May 20, you can get up to 70 percent off Sur La Table private label cookware and up to 40 percent off Nordic Ware bakeware. Nothing says Mother's Day like a new set of cake pans or a cast iron cocotte. (Don't be afraid to pick up a new set of dishes for yourself, too—we're sure your mom wouldn't mind.)

Find it: Sur La Table


In advance of Mother's Day, is offering discounts on watches, jewelry, footwear, and more with mom in mind. Personally, we'd like to gift our mothers one of these amazingly whimsical cat watches, but for moms with more highbrow taste, there are plenty of other elegant options on deep discount. 

Find it:

3. Today Is Art Day

For moms who love art, science, and history, Today Is Art Day's collectible figurines offer a way to show off her favorite icons. She can prop the likenesses of Frida Kahlo, Gustav Klimt, Marie Curie, and more on her desk, or grab the brand's art-museum-themed board game for some family fun. You can get 15 percent off your purchase using the code MOTHER until May 12.

Find it: Today Is Art Day

4. Macy's

Macy's wellness-focused Goodfull brand has a lot of mom-worthy items on sale right now, including cookware, knives, kitchen appliances (we can't resist a KitchenAid stand mixer), plate sets, bed and bath products, and more. We are especially tempted by the Aerogarden countertop herb garden kit, which features automatic LED lighting and watering reminders. It's $110 off through May 12. You can also get an extra 10 to 20 percent off select sale items with the code MOM.

Find it: Macy's

5. Coach

If your mom is a fashion maven, Coach is offering significant discounts on bags, shoes, and other fashionable goods for the holiday. (While we don't exactly recommend spending more than $100 buying your mom a luxury leather keychain in the shape of a weiner dog, we also wouldn't hate it.) Use the code MOM19 to get up to 30 percent off.

Find it: Coach

6. Amazon

Whether your mom is an Alexa acolyte or a smart home skeptic, Amazon's probably got a device on sale for her. The rarely-on-sale, wildly popular Kindle Paperwhite is $40 off right now (just $90 for the most basic version). The regular Kindle (which has a lower-resolution screen and no backlight) is also on sale starting at $70. Amazon is also offering deals on Kindle Fire tablets, Ring Alarm systems, Echo smart speakers, and more.

Find it: Amazon


Whether your mom is a weekend warrior or just likes to take the occasional group ride, you can get great deals on cycling gear and equipment from With bikes, apparel, and accessories targeted at road cyclists, mountain bikers, and triathlon athletes, there's plenty to choose from. Get mom some waterproof apparel for her spring rides, invest in some nice sunglasses for her summer workouts, or go ahead and help her upgrade to her dream bike. Use the code 21VERONA for 21 percent off full-price items from now until June 2.

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