Texas Myth #107:
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HALLOWEEN IS THE SAME AS THE DAY OF THE DEAD.
Make no bones about it: Both are celebrated in Texas, but the two holidays are a world apart. El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), November 2, is a respectful yet playful Mexican celebration that involves tidying family plots at the cemetery, creating home altars in memory of loved ones, and making special foods such as skull-shaped bread and candy; October 31, Halloween, is nowadays a secular and semi-scary Anglo tradition devoted to dressing up and scoring gobs of candy.
Q: A friend of mine won’t let her children go trick-or-treating because she’s still afraid of a Houston murderer she remembers called the Candy Man. Was there really such a person?
A: In fact there were two, but only one had anything to do with Halloween. In 1973 Dean Corll, who used to help his mother run a candymaking business in the Heights neighborhood, was shot to death by a teenager who claimed that the 33-year-old man had raped and killed several young men. Police eventually dug up 27 bodies, many buried in a boat shed rented by Corll; the discoveries made him, at that time, the nation’s most prolific serial killer. A year later, after an eight-year-old boy died in severe pain on Halloween night, authorities determined that his father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, had insured him for $20,000, then mixed potassium cyanide with the powder in a Giant Pixy Stix. This second “Candy Man” is the one your friend recalls; he was also known as “the man who killed Halloween” because his crime had a dampening effect on trick-or-treating nationwide. Tell her not to worry anymore: O’Bryan was executed twenty years ago.
Q: I participated in a Texas party game, and no one had a clue about the answer to this question: “If you take the long way across, there are seven dips on a Texas trip. Name them.”
A: I would hate to leave you up a creek without a canoe, so here goes: I suspect the “seven dips” are the major rivers that a traveler would spot going the “long way” across the state—that is, the 875 miles from the top of the Panhandle to the tip of the Valley (Texas is only 828 miles from east to west). Lord knows why you’d take that route, but if you did, you’d come across the Red, Brazos, Colorado, Guadalupe, San Antonio, Nueces, and Rio Grande rivers. You’d also see smaller creeks, sure, but those seven would be the biggest “dips” you’d encounter—not counting hot sauce and chile con queso.
Q: Why do pronghorn antelope duck under fences instead of jumping over them?
A: Because while the antelope is Texas’s fastest land animal, it hasn’t quite caught up with the times. “Antelopes don’t jump fences,” says John Young, a mammal biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, “because they didn’t evolve with fences.” Indeed, it’s not a matter of natural ability: A pronghorn can race along at 60 miles an hour and nail a 25-foot-long jump, so in theory it could sail easily over a 3- or 4-foot fence. But having still not figured out barbed wire, which first crisscrossed Texas some 125 years ago, pronghorn instead choose to wriggle under the bottom strand or travel for miles to find an opening. Occasionally, migrating or hungry pronghorn will pile up against the wire and die en masse. Still, despite Texans’ fondness for fencing, the species is thriving.