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Is Devil’s Night in Detroit Finally Fading into Nightmarish Memory?

A Look Back at the History of Pre-Halloween Festivities and Obsessions Around it in Detroit


Devil’s Night. Doorbell Night, Trick Night, Corn Night, Tick Tack Night, Goosey Night—whatever you do, just don’t call the night before Halloween, Halloween Eve, like Mayor Dennis Archer, did in 1994 and was called out in the New York Times for making light of a serious situation.

The serious situation being the night before Halloween. Yes, technically Halloween, but in Detroit, this is Devil’s Night and, as those who have spent any significant time in Detroit know, has historically been far more than the pre-party for a night of trick or treating.

Until recently, Devil’s Night was, to put it bluntly, a night of widespread arson that, for many, has marked a night of terror and fear. While most of these fires targeted abandoned property, the nature of fire is to spread, and many inhabited homes had been lost to flames.

It’s such a thing that Minnie Driver’s character Debbie in the 1997 film Grosse Pointe Blank moves in with her father after her apartment catches fire on Devil’s Night.

Clearly, Detroiters have taken pre-holiday activities to an extreme. But, the tradition of kicking off Halloween with a night naughty revelry, or tricks proceeding the night of treats, is by no means our invention.

The general term for this night is Mischief Night, and in most places, it’s marked by innocent pranks like toilet-papering houses and more elaborate ones such as dropping a bag of poop on someone’s porch, lighting it on fire, then ringing the doorbell and running away—or hiding in the bushes to watch the homeowner’s reaction.

In Baltimore, they call it “Moving Night,” and it’s marked by moving strangers porch furniture around in the middle of the night. In Vermont and New Hampshire, it’s traditionally been called Cabbage Night and celebrated with people throwing cabbages against a wall—Wtf?! New Jersey, New Orleans and a handful of other U.S. states stick with the generic moniker, Mischief Night.

While most Mischief Night activities can be chalked up to fun and games, Detroit is not the only city to have caught the “firebug.” In 1991 Camden New Jersey hit its peak Mischief Night arson rate with 133 reported fire calls.

And that’s just the U.S. Mischief Night is alive and well in Canada. In Manitoba, they call it Gate Night.

Perhaps you recall the 1994 movie The Crow? The one where Brandon Lee dresses up like a crow to take revenge on the men who tortured and killed his wife. That was based on UK’s Mischief Night, which actually may be the root of all Mischief Nights and is somehow related to Guy Fawkes Day

Back to Detroit, in 1984, Devil’s Night hit its peak with over 800 fires reported in the city. When the New York Times reported on the situation again a decade later, it was still critical, and the City of Detroit established Angels’ Night the following year.

Angel’s Night sought to end arson by enforcing a curfew for minors and mobilizing citizen watch groups to work with a stretched thin fire department to look out for fire and suspicious activity. The time between its inception in 1995 to today is as complicated and long as the city’s story at large, but we’re going to say the heavenly transformation was a success.

In 2017, The Detroit News reported 21 fires on October 30st, and last year the city officially replaced Angels’ Night with “Halloween in the D.”

As for Devil’s Night, is this where the story ends? One can only hope.

Secret Detroit is a weekly series exploring Detroit‘s lesser-known, or lesser talked about gems both historic and current.