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.

40 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate in April

Get ready to celebrate Talk Like Shakespeare Day on April 23rd.
Get ready to celebrate Talk Like Shakespeare Day on April 23rd.
YaleShutter/iStock via Getty Images

Spring is in the air, as is the promise of several offbeat holidays—even if you don’t like pranks or chocolate bunnies. Here are 40 of them.

April 2: National Ferret Day

A ferret hanging out on a log
jhayes44/iStock via Getty Images

We'll definitely be celebrating these furry little guys.

April 2: International Children's Book Day

Celebrated since 1967, this holiday takes place on Hans Christian Andersen's birthday.

April 3: Tweed Day

Summer is coming, so dust off your favorite tweed clothing item and get in one last wear before it's crop top and linen season.

April 4: National Tell-A-Lie Day

Honesty is generally the best policy, according to one of our founding fathers. But today, you have carte blanche to fib your heart out.

April 4: International Pillow Fight Day

Have a pillow fight!

April 5: National Deep Dish Pizza Day

Deep fish pizza with candles in it

A day to appreciate sky-high pies, or argue over the best pizza in all the land.

April 5: Read a Road Map Day

There was a time not so long ago when we had to consult large, folded pieces of paper to figure out directions from point A to point B. Thanks to GPS and Google Maps, this is now practically a holiday of antiquity. But you can’t use a Sharpie to draw a route on your smartphone, so score one for the road map.

April 6: Tartan Day

Show off your Scottish heritage, and grab your kilt while you're at it.

April 6: Sorry Charlie Day

This holiday was inspired by Charlie the Tuna—the cartoon mascot for StarKist and the subject of an advertising campaign that ran until the 1980s. In the spots, Charlie purports to have good taste, and wants to be recruited by the company, but is perpetually rejected via a sign on a fish hook that reads, "Sorry, Charlie." (As the narrator explains, they're interested in tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste.) The ads spawned a national catchphrase, and this holiday seeks to recognize all those who have lived through rejection and still retain their spunk.

April 7: International Beaver Day

Ferrets aren't the only small mammals we love here at Mental Floss: International Beaver Day will warrant its own party, too.

April 7: National Beer Day

A group of friends celebrating with beer

On March 22, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Cullen–Harrison Act, legalizing the sale of beer (as long as it was 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or less) after many years of Prohibition. The thirsty public had to wait two long weeks before they could legally imbibe again, and on April 7, the law finally went into effect. Beer drinkers around the country rejoiced, and celebrated with a nice cold one, presumably.

April 10: National Siblings Day

Celebrate the brothers and sisters who drive you mad and keep you sane—often all at the same time.

April 11: Barbershop Quartet Day

Consider a musical ode to these fearsome foursomes on their special day of the year.

April 11: International “Louie Louie” Day

"Louie Louie" is, by some accounts, the most recorded rock song in history. (The most famous version was recorded by The Kingsmen in 1963.) This year, celebrate this offbeat holiday by finally figuring out the lyrics.

April 12: National Licorice Day

A pile of black and red licorice

This offbeat holiday—designed to celebrate black licorice specifically—will surely be a contentious commemoration. For those of you who cringed, please enjoy your Twizzlers.

April 12: Drop Everything and Read Day

Also known as D.E.A.R. Day, this holiday encourages you to abandon all prior commitments for the comfort of a good book. It also coincides with the birthday of children’s book author Beverly Cleary, who is a spokesperson for the event. Though marketed toward children, the celebration is open to everyone.

April 12: Walk On Your Wild Side Day

Whatever “wild” means to you, today's the day to do it.

April 13: National Scrabble Day

A Scrabble game board
AnthonyRosenberg/iStock via Getty Images

Created by Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938, Scrabble did not become a national phenomenon until the 1950s. It has since inspired less mobility-impaired games like Bananagrams and Words With Friends. But to honor the holiday, use a classic board and show off your robust vocabulary.

April 13: Dyngus Day

According to Buffalo’s official holiday website, “Historically a Polish-American tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the often restrictive observance of Lent and the joy of Easter.” Some celebratory activities include men chasing around women to drench them with water, and hitting them with pussy willow branches. So basically, Dyngus Day is spring break.

April 14: National Reach as High as You Can Day

National Reach as High as You Can Day is really about grounding yourself in reality. Don’t reach for the stars if you can’t actually touch them—know your limitations. Set attainable goals, and take pleasure in being just good enough.

April 15: National That Sucks Day

It's Tax Day and the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, so yeah, kind of sucky.

April 16: National Stress Awareness Day

Stressed out young woman pulling her hair out in front of a yellow background

Founded on the very cute notion that you are not aware of your stress.

April 16: National High Five Day

Make 'em count today, and don't forget to keep an eye on the elbow.

April 17: National Haiku Poetry Day

Celebrate with your
Own haiku that is likely
Much better than mine.

April 19: National Hanging Out Day

Sadly, this is not a day to kick back and relax with some friends. Rather, it's a holiday encouraging people to hang out their laundry—and cut down on energy consumption by doing so.

April 20: Lima Bean Respect Day

Much like Rodney Dangerfield, the lima bean doesn’t get any respect. Well not today! Did you know lima beans are an excellent source of fiber? They also help balance your blood sugar and lower cholesterol. So give this bean a break and try extolling its more admirable qualities for the day.

April 21: National Library Workers Day

A day to honor the hardworking shushers and Dewey Decimal devotees who help us all on our reading journeys.

April 21: National Bulldogs Are Beautiful Day

A pair of bulldogs pose for a portrait
iStock.com/Luka Lajst

If you didn't already know this, you can see yourself out.

April 22: National Jelly Bean Day

When you grab a handful to celebrate this year, just make sure you don't get "BeanBoozled."

April 23: Talk Like Shakespeare Day

We have of late, but wherefore we know not, lost all our mirth. What a perfect day to get it back! In honor of the Bard’s birthday, drop some thous and thees, master iambic pentameter, and cast people away by exclaiming “get thee to a nunnery!” Talk Like Shakespeare Day is the one time of year you can express yourself in rhyming couplets; wethinks thou oughtest useth the opportunity.

April 23: World Book Night

On Shakespeare's birthday passionate volunteers hand out books in the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Germany.

April 24: National Hairball Awareness Day

Don't become a statistic.

April 25: World Penguin Day

Antarctica gentoo penguins fighting

Seriously, all the animal holidays are fine with us.

April 25: International DNA Day

Unlike many holidays in the Offbeat Family, DNA Day has formal U.S. Congressional recognition. On this day in 1953, scientists first published papers in Nature on the structural makeup of DNA [PDF]. In 2003, the Human Genome Project was declared to be nearly complete; the National Human Genome Research Institute has since developed activities and celebrations to honor the holiday.

April 25: National Go Birding Day

Build bird feeders, bring your binoculars for a walk in the woods, or, if you live in the city, take a little extra time to notice all the pigeons.

April 26: Hug An Australian Day

It does not say they have to be human. Also: Learn some Australian slang while you’re at it.

April 26: National Pretzel Day

The beer is optional.

April 27: Morse Code Day

Wartime Morse Code Communications

Break out your best dots and dashes, it’s the birthday of Samuel Morse—co-inventor of the eponymous Morse Code. These days any Joe Schmoe can try his hand at transmitting lights, clicks, and tones to send a secret message. But this system of communication used to be a highly specialized field that required a license and a proclivity for spying on communists.

April 30: National Honesty Day

Remember when you celebrated National Tell-A-Lie Day a few weeks ago? Today, do the opposite.

April 30: International Jazz Day

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is responsible for this holiday. Schools, communities, and even government organizations around the world will host programs to highlight the diplomatic role of jazz in bringing people together.

America’s 10 Most Hated Easter Candies

Peeps are all out of cluck when it comes to confectionery popularity contests.
Peeps are all out of cluck when it comes to confectionery popularity contests.
William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Whether you celebrate Easter as a religious holiday or not, it’s an opportune time to welcome the sunny, flora-filled season of spring with a basket or two of your favorite candy. And when it comes to deciding which Easter-themed confections belong in that basket, people have pretty strong opinions.

This year, CandyStore.com surveyed more than 19,000 customers to find out which sugary treats are widely considered the worst. If you’re a traditionalist, this may come as a shock: Cadbury Creme Eggs, Peeps, and solid chocolate bunnies are the top three on the list, and generic jelly beans landed in the ninth spot. While Peeps have long been polarizing, it’s a little surprising that the other three classics have so few supporters. Based on some comments left by participants, it seems like people are just really particular about the distinctions between certain types of candy.

Generic jelly beans, for example, were deemed old and bland, but people adore gourmet jelly beans, which were the fifth most popular Easter candy. Similarly, people thought Cadbury Creme Eggs were messy and low-quality, while Cadbury Mini Eggs—which topped the list of best candies—were considered inexplicably delicious and even “addictive.” And many candy lovers prefer hollow chocolate bunnies to solid ones, which people explained were simply “too much.” One participant even likened solid bunnies to bricks.

candystore.com's worst easter candies
The pretty pastel shades of bunny corn don't seem to be fooling the large contingent of candy corn haters.

If there’s one undeniable takeaway from the list of worst candies, it’s that a large portion of the population isn’t keen on chewy marshmallow treats in general. The eighth spot went to Hot Tamales Peeps, and Brach’s Marshmallow Chicks & Rabbits—which one person christened “the zombie bunny catacomb statue candy”—sits at number six.

Take a look at the full list below, and read more enlightening (and entertaining) survey comments here.

  1. Cadbury Creme Eggs
  1. Peeps
  1. Solid chocolate bunnies
  1. Bunny Corn
  1. Marshmallow Chicks & Rabbits
  1. Chocolate crosses
  1. Twix Eggs
  1. Hot Tamales Peeps
  1. Generic jelly beans
  1. Fluffy Stuff Cotton Tails

[h/t CandyStore.com]