October 30, 2013
A Michigander’s Memory Of Devil’s Night
My mom has been reading my blogs on superstition, and when she talked to me about them, she told me about Devil’s Night on October 30th every year. Both of my parents grew up in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, where Devil’s Night is a time-honored tradition. Or at least it was.
So what is Devil’s Night? According to Urban Dictionary, “A Detroit-area “tradition” originally centered around pranks like egging windows and cars, destroying property, or TP’ing houses; in the mid 1970s these relatively harmless but annoying acts were mostly replaced by widespread arson, peaking in the 1980s when up to 800 fires would be reported in a single night. More recently, the city has organized a so-called “Angel’s Night,” where volunteers patrol neighborhoods to prevent and report crimes. The effort has been somewhat effective, and is taken so seriously that news stations almost never use the original term anymore, in an attempt to show support for the volunteers.” So on October 30th, Detroit-area youngsters went about and created a little mischief. At first it was harmless, or at least not dangerous, fun, but eventually it evolved into something different.
To paraphrase my mom, she remembered that on October 30th, kids would go out and ring their neighbor’s doorbells then run and hide in the bushes, behind trees, or anywhere they could not be seen by the good-hearted neighbors who would come to their doors and try to find them. It was a game of sorts. The boys would be braver and soap the windows. The really bad kids would use, which was the worse because it would have to be scraped off and then cleaned. If they were caught soaping or waxing the windows, they would have to clean them. When the kids grew older, they would toilet paper (also known as TP’ing) the trees. Now my mom’s mom and dad did not like the TP’ing as it was very hard to clean up, so she did not participate in that part of Devil’s Night. Later on, the shenanigans grew in impact with kids starting fires. That is when “Angel’s Night” kicked into effect to help prevent serious and dangerous fires.
My mom emailed me to explain what she thought the origins were: “I do remember having a discussion with my dad on why we say trick or treat and we did the trick the day before Halloween. It never made sense to me.” For many Detroit youth, Devil’s Night was a time to go about and prank neighbors and give them the trick while Halloween was the day to receive treats. As my mom remembers, October 30th was innocent fun, but apparently that innocent fun grew into serious danger by the 1980s.
I had never heard of Devil’s Night like this before. Sure, I have heard people refer to one night or another as the Devil’s night, but never did I know that in Michigan kids went out and soaped windows, rang doorbells, and just generally made mischief. I certainly did not know that it had escalated to a night of arson. I was so interested to hear my mom’s story of something like this. I was also a bit surprised she had never told me before. And, frankly, I am shocked that my dad had not shared this part of his youth with me before he died. I am glad to know of it now, though.
The Detroit Free Press recently published an opinion article about one man’s memories of Devil’s Night, and they are currently running other readers’ memories now. So, in memory of my parent’s youth, I wish you a Happy Devil’s Night, but don’t start any fires.
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