The night before Halloween, October 30th, has traditionally been a night of pranks and mischief in much of the Midwest and some of the northeastern United States, as well as some parts of Canada. Devil's Night in Detroit can probably be traced back to mid-1880s Ireland, where the night of mischief was originally attributed to fairies and goblins. In the United States, the holiday morphed into a night of soaping windows and toilet papering (a verb) trees. In other words, October 30th was the “trick” to Halloween’s “treat” and gave suburban kids a night of rebellion and anarchy.
Mischief on October 30th
Region to region, the night has different names, but the activities remain very much the same: ringing doorbells, egging cars, dumping rotten produce and setting a bag of poop on fire. Camden, New Jersey calls the holiday Mischief Night, while other parts of New Jersey call it Cabbage Night. Cincinnati, Ohio calls it Damage Night, while other parts of Ohio call it Beggar’s Night. In other regions of the United States, it is known as Doorbell Night, Trick Night, Corn Night, Tick-Tack Night and Goosey Night. In Canada, it is known as either Gate Night or Matt Night.
Southwestern United States Doesn't Celebrate
As wide spread as the phenomenon seems to be, many parts of the United States, most notably states in the south and west, never heard of it and apparently reserve all their mischievous hijinks for Halloween.
Devil's Night in Detroit
In Detroit and much of Michigan, the night is known infamously as Devil’s Night, a moniker now eternally linked with widespread arson. Devil’s Night was once, however, just a different name for more of the same: mischief. In spite of the notoriety of Devil’s Night, Detroit is not the only region to experience an escalation from pranks to arson on October, 30th. Camden, New Jersey had its own period of Mischief-Night-related arson in the 1990s that easily rivaled Detroit’s.
While Detroit ended the arson, as well as the more innocent mischief, through neighborhood patrols and simply changing the name from Devil’s Night to Angel’s Night, much of the United States still celebrates some type of prank-riddled night on October 30th. Miss the innocent side to the holiday in Detroit? Maybe a few local kids can help you out by decorating your yard with a few rolls of Charmin Spring Bounty toilet paper.
- 2009 Michigan Halloween Guide
- Mischief Night / Wikipedia.org
- Camden Braces for Mischief Night Fires by Jerry Gray / The New York Times (10/25/92)
- Cabbage Night antics lessen but still prevail in late October by Andrea VanValkenburg / PressRepublican.com (10/29/07)
- The Word Detective (11/23/04)