Tag Archives: Halloween costumes

Today in Halloween: Collegeville costumes and the Tylenol scare


How did a horrific health threat change Halloween as we know it?

We’ve noted before that Halloween has shifted from a holiday for kids when I was young to one for adults. It’s a billion-dollar industry now, with teens and 20-somethings – and older people too – vying to see who can wear the grisliest or sexiest costume.

Above is a detail from a 1981 costume catalog from Collegeville, a Pennsylvania company that started out in the early 1900s as a manufacturer of flags but ended up being second only to Ben Cooper as the store-bought costume supplier to generations of kids.

But a 1989 article in The New York Times profiling Collegeville put a twist on Halloween trends that I’ve near heard before.

That’s the year that someone tampered with Tylenol capsules, secreting cyanide in the over-the-counter medicine and causing the deaths of seven people.

The Times – this is in 1989, remember – theorizes that the resulting scare might have prompted parents to keep kids home from trick-or-treating, years after the first rumors of razor blades in Halloween apples couldn’t kill the holiday.

But The Times maintains it also sparked interest in at-home Halloween parties, which prompted interest in more elaborate costumes for kids, which led to more costumes for adults, who had to be on hand for the party.

Here’s how The Times reported it, back in 1989:

When people in the Halloween business explain why, they quickly get around to a key date – the fall of 1982. That was when the chilling news broke that seven people had died from Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. The infamous Tylenol scare almost completely destroyed Halloween. Some towns outlawed trick-or-treating that year, and parents everywhere kept their kids from venturing into the streets.

As a result, costume makers were devastated. But then some bizarre events began to unfold.

Children wanted to do something on Halloween. So if they couldn’t go asking strangers for bags of sweets, then they were going to party. Partying became much more popular. At the same time, parents got fussier about what their children wore. ”When they went door to door, the kids could wear a costume that you just get by with,” Mr. Cornish said. ”But when you went to a party with all your friends, you had to start dressing up a little more.”

As parents watched their children go to parties, they got envious. They wanted to dress up as the grim reaper or Yosemite Sam, too. So the morbid events of that year turned out, in the long run, to have been just about the best thing to happen to costume makers since Halloween was invented. As Bob Cooper, the president of Ben Cooper Inc., a Brooklyn-based costume maker, put it, ”There’s been a change in the way that the holiday is celebrated.”

I’m going to extrapolate here and suggest that since 1982, people have mostly gotten over their fear of tampered treats, so that’s no longer affecting Halloween.

But an entire generation of people born after the Tylenol tampering case are very accustomed to teen and adult Halloween parties now. They’ve been high school students, college students, members of the workforce and now, more than 30 years later, they’re parents.

And elaborate costumes for kids and adults, along with parties and trick-or-treating, are the norm for them.

So perhaps something fun and good came from something horrible.

(Image from plaidstallions.com)


Today in Halloween: Do-It-Yourself beard

hallow beard cap

It took me a while to figure out what I liked about this Halloween mask.

Then I realized it:

It was a Halloween character that I could have – and did – duplicate even without a mask when I was a kid.


watercolor paints

I used my tin of watercolor paints to paint a stubbly beard on my face.

Kids, I don’t recommend you try this at home, although the watercolors washed off with a little soap and effort and made for a pretty effective “stubbly” beard.

Today in Halloween: Skeletal monkeys on your back

hallow skeleton back

You know what we’re doing here, right? I haunt the Halloween stores and costume aisles at Big Box stores and take pics of interesting masks, costumes and decor with my iPhone. Then I post ’em here.

hallow devil on back

So what do you guys make of this one? It comes in two versions, skeleton and … uh, devil skeleton?

And … appendage?

Maybe they’re going for a “Basketcase” thing here.


Remember that crazy 1982 horror flick about the deformed twin surgically removed and carried around in a basket? Remind me to tell you about my “Basketcase” surgical mask sometime.

Wait, we were talking about ….

Today in Halloween: Collegeville costumes sign


During the month of October, you’ll find a few references to Collegeville and Ben Cooper Halloween costumes in this blog and many other spots on the Internet.

As much as I enjoy the wide array of Halloween costumes and decorations and makeup and … well, stuff in general that’s available today, none of it has the charm and nostalgia that most of us of a certain age feel for the two top Halloween costume makers for a half-century, Ben Cooper and Collegeville.

Here’s a sign, not unlike you’d find in a Woolworth or W.T. Grant or some other store, advertising Collegeville Halloween costumes.

Collegeville, operating out of Collegeville, PA, was maybe the lower-rent of the two companies. Ben Cooper costumes were officially licensed and featured characters from “Star Wars” and comics and TV shows.

Collegeville costumes were a little cheaper – still the standard rubber mask with a string, but a little more generic – but just as dear to our hearts.

Halloween wouldn’t have been the same without finding this sign at your neighborhood store, letting you know that the promise of finding the perfect costume for trick-or-treating was just down the aisle.

Today in Halloween: Cute lil Darth Vader

ben cooper darth vader

Who’s a cute Little Darth Vader? Who is? You are!

If you were the appropriate age to wear Ben Cooper Halloween costumes in 1980, and if you were a “Star Wars” fan, chances are good you wore this Darth Vader costume, offered by the company that year.

“The Empire Strikes Back” had come out that summer and Ben Cooper, the maker of half the nation’s Halloween costumes, had Darth Vader, just in time for you to tell the younger kid down the street who was dressed up like Luke Skywalker that you were his father.

Of course, the whole thing didn’t go off without a hitch.

hallow ben cooper darth vadar misspelling

Check out the spelling of Vader in the Cooper catalogue, here courtesy of plaidstallions.com.

Oh well. Not like it was the most popular movie series in history or anything.

Today in Halloween: Captain America goggles

hallow cap goggles

I think I might have to break down and get these.

Readers of this blog might know that Captain America is, in some ways, my favorite superhero.

avengers 4

My earliest comic-book experiences revolved around a copy of Avengers 4, the milestone silver age comic in which Cap returns from the dead, given to me by a neighbor.

Cap’s costume in the big-screen movies often includes some kind of cowl/mask but often features just helmet and goggles.

You can get Iron Man or Spider-Man versions of these goggles, but really, they only make absolute sense for Cap to wear.

Or Halloween-night versions of Cap.

If I could only find a set big enough for my big Roysdon-sized noggin.

Today in Halloween: Dystopian ape?

hallow animal farm ape costume

Today in Halloween revives that long-cherished tradition in which I take an iPhone photo of some odd Halloween decor or costume and share it here with you.

Today: When ¬†will the crass commercial exploitation of George Orwell’s dystopian and allegorical novel end? When, I ask you?

Oh. I guess the “Animal Farm” brand on this gorilla costume probably doesn’t really refer to George Orwell’s 1945 precursor to his classic “Nineteen Eighty Four.”

I personally can’t wait to see the “Brave New World” shark costumes.