By Gloria Hoffner, BA, ADC, AC-BC, CDP
Fall is the season when the amount of daylight shortens and Halloween celebrations abound. In the U.S., Halloween is the second highest consumer spending holiday after Christmas. A nation of immigrants, American Halloween mysteries and traditions come from around the world. Here are some facts about the science behind the fun.
1) What is fall? Answer – The Earth is tilted about 23.5 degrees as it orbits the Earth. Thus, the amount of sunlight varies throughout the year causing the seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter. By meteorological definition in North America fall begins September 1 and ends November 30.
2) Who invented Halloween? Answer – The Irish. It has it’s beginning in the Celtic pagan holiday of Samhain celebrated in three ways: 1) a bonfire started on October 31st and continued through the night and into the next day; 2) gathering the crops into the barns; and 3) it was the end of their calendar year when they believed souls of the good depart for the otherworld while evil souls became visible.
3) What is the Day of the Dead? Answer – This Mexican and Latin American holiday is celebrated on November 1st as a day to remember family and friends who have died. The celebration includes visits to the cemetery and a home display of candles, favorite food and images of the person who is being remembered.
4) How did the Roman’s contribute to our Halloween celebration? Answer – The Roman Empire celebrated the festival Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees, on November 1. This is believed to be the reason we bob for apples at Halloween parties.
5) How did we arrive at October 31st as Halloween? Answer – Roman Catholic Pope Boniface wanted to move away from the Roman Empire pagan celebration to a Christian celebration of the fall. He proclaimed November 1st the holy day of All Saints Day. Thus, the night before, October 31st, became All Hallows’ Eve now called Halloween.
6) Was there a real Dr. Frankenstein? Answer – The story of Frankenstein is based on a real medical research project. In the late 1700s Luigi Galvani, an Italian doctor, discovered he could make a dead frog’s leg jump by applying electricity to the frog’s leg. In 1803 his nephew Giovani Aldini tried the same experiment with other animals. He then tested the theory on a condemned murderer believing a human brain would recognize the electricity and return to life. It didn’t work, but the news of his experiments became the basis of Mary Shelly’s story of a dead human who returns to life as a monster.
7) Are there real vampires? Answer – Vampire bats are real creatures that live in Mexico and Argentina. These creatures feed off the blood of cattle and were the idea behind the story of Dracula.
8) Why do we enjoy being scared? Answer – Medical research has said this is due to our brains producing the chemical dopamine which sends a powerful chemical rush that some people enjoy and others do not. Studies found people who enjoy being scared at the movies say they are always aware it is just a movie.
9) What was a 1960s scary TV creature? Answer – Thing from the Addams Family was a creature that was only a hand. The hand lived in a box in the family home. Actor Ted Cassidy played both Thing and the family butler Lurch.
10) What 1958 movie monster was filmed in a Pennsylvania dinner? Answer – The Blob was filmed in part at the Colonial Theater and the Downingtown Diner in Phoenixville, PA. The movie was based on the 1957 launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite and the idea that it would attract monsters from outer space to come to Earth.
Experiment: Create an artificial, Thing, the creature from The Addams Family tv show.
Materials: Plastic glove, baking soda, plastic cup and vinegar.
Process: Pour one inch of vinegar into the cup. Pour backing soda into the tips of the glove. Place the edge of the glove securely over the rim of the cup. Hold the glove up so the baking soda falls into the vinegar.
Result: The baking soda combines with the vinegar to form carbon dioxide gas. This gas causes the glove to inflate.
Experiment: Create The Blob from the 1958 movie of the same name.
Materials: Empty 20-ounce bottle, dish soap, cookie sheet, red food coloring, tablespoon of yeast, warm water and ½ cup of hydrogen peroxide.
Process: Pour hydrogen peroxide into the bottle and add ten drops of red food coloring, cap full of dish soap and mix together by gently shaking the bottle. Add cup of warm water and yeast. Gently shake the bottle to mix the ingredients and place on the cookie sheet.
Result: The Blob will rise and slowly spill onto the cookie sheet just as the monster in the movie. The mixture attracts dish soap to oxygen and creates the form that allows the monster to rise.
Gloria Hoffner is the owner of Science for Seniors and can be reached at: Science4seniors@gmail.com