Home LifestyleExpat Community In Detroit, the night before Halloween is called “Devil’s Night”

In Detroit, the night before Halloween is called “Devil’s Night”

by Yucatan Times
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Halloween, celebrated annually on Oct. 31, is a festive time in Detroit, Michigan, across America, and many other countries. 

It’s a time when children adorn creative costumes, attend themed events, or go house to house shouting “trick-or-treat,” code for asking for candy and other delights.  Even adults are caught up in the Halloween tradition, often attending parties or accompanying their children on “trick-or-treat” adventures, all dressed in ways that would be called “oddly strange” on any other day of the year.

In Detroit, for decades, the night before Halloween, called Devil’s Night, was also oddly strange when the Motor City became Fire City in reference to the vast number of fires set in the Detroit City Limits – and the world noticed, thanks to coverage by local, national, and international news crews.

According to credible published reports, in 1983, approximately 553 fires in the city were counted during the 72-hour period surrounding Halloween.  The following year, the number of fires blazed to a record 810.

“It was awful seeing the fires, smelling the smoke, and hearing from my outstate friends and relatives wanting to know the reasons people were setting their city on fire,” said Detroiter Willie R. Curven.   “I couldn’t tell them because I didn’t know myself.”

The tradition of Devil’s Night in America is believed to have started in the 1940s when many cities and towns celebrated the night before Halloween by doing harmless pranks such as egging houses, cars, or overturning garbage cans.  Yet, in the early 1980’s, a significant number of Detroiters – and some outsiders – chose to add fire to the mix.

By the mid-1980s, Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young had enough of what the city was experiencing on Devil’s Night.  He rolled out a strategy to combat the fires by ordering a dusk-to-dawn curfew for youth under 17 years old.  Young increased police and fire department patrols. The mayor ultimately mandated that city and community officials assemble approximately 10,000 people to patrol the streets in vehicles with flashing yellow lights on Devil’s Night and the ensuing 48 hours, looking for anything suspicious, such as people carrying gas cans.

The mayor also created an “Adopt a House” initiative, asking residents in the community to watch out for next-door houses and buildings on Devil’s Night, especially if abandoned.

Under Young’s plans, the number of fires in 1985 and the following years dropped substantially.  In 1988, 104 fires were reported, not much above a typical night in the city.  The number of fires set during the three-day period of Halloween continued to decrease throughout the rest of the ‘80s into the ‘90s.

Soon after Dennis Archer was sworn in as mayor in 1994, fires on consecutive Devil’s Nights and Halloween Nights escalated.

“We had not prepared for Devil’s Night as Mayor Young had prepared for Devil’s Night and Halloween Night,” Archer told the Michigan Chronicle during a recent interview.  “We had about 7,000 volunteers on patrol but should have had more.  I promised the people of Detroit after the embarrassment that it would never happen again as long as I was mayor.”

Archer said in 1996, his administration’s team amassed 35,000-plus volunteers to patrol and monitor the streets of Detroit on Devil’s Night, Halloween Night, and the night after.  According to Archer, the number of fires dipped far below the normal average.

In 1997, Archer rebranded Devil’s Night as “Angels’ Night” at the suggestion of John George, founder and CEO of Motor City Blight Busters.  George’s reasoning, said Archer, was to acknowledge the many police and fire officials, Detroiters, community, civic, and business stakeholders who were doing a great job at preventing fires during the Halloween season.

“I like to give credit where credit is due,” Archer said. “John George gave me the idea of changing the name and I implemented and promoted his idea from my position as mayor.”

In 2017, with Halloween-related fires no longer an issue in the city, Mayor Mike Duggan, sworn in as Detroit’s top elected official in 2014, announced Angels’ Night would be called Halloween in the D, a decision the mayor said didn’t sit well with some city residents, businesses, and other Motor City stakeholders.  Yet, Duggan stood by his decision.

“There wasn’t even any discussion this year about Angels’ Night,” the mayor said at the time.  “We haven’t given it any thought.  There is far more stability in the neighborhoods.  There’s a whole lot fewer targets and a lot more eyes in the neighborhoods.”

Ray Solomon II, Executive Director of the Departments of Neighborhoods since 2019, agreed with the decision, even though he chaired the citywide coordination of Angels’ Night volunteers on several occasions.

“As a youth growing up in Detroit, I remember the fires across the city the night before Halloween, which at that time was called Devil’s Night,” Solomon said.  “But once the city took control of curbing the destructive activities of that night and Halloween, I understood why the switch to Angels’ Night and then to Halloween in the D needed to happen.”

Solomon, who has worked for the City of Detroit for over 15 years, is excited about this year’s Halloween in the D, which will offer family-friendly events and activities at City Recreation Centers and selected parks to support kids having a fun and safe Halloween experience.

Detroit Fire Chief James C. Harris also supports the name Halloween in the D.

“Most of the kids today across the city don’t know anything about Devil’s Night, and we don’t use it in our vocabulary and no longer use the term Angels’ Night,” Harris told the Chronicle.  “We use Halloween in the D.”

Harris, a 26-year fire department veteran, said seven fire stations – one in each Council District – will pass out candy during Halloween in the D.   While Devil’s Night and Angels’ Night are in the city’s rearview mirror, Harris said his department stands ready for action.

“We are always prepared, so when that alarm goes off we are out the door immediately,” Harris said.  “It doesn’t matter what time of day or night it is; the men and women of the Detroit Fire Department are ready.”

In addition to the fire department and city recreation centers, Halloween in the D will include Trunk-or-Treat events hosted at all 11 Detroit Police precincts.  Family-friendly activities will also occur at the Halloween-themed transformed Clark Park on Saturday, Oct. 28, and Palmer Park on Sunday, Oct. 29.

“Halloween in the D is a tradition that families enjoy across the city, and this year, it’s going to be even better,” said Duggan. “Children growing up in Detroit are going to have memories of this fun annual citywide tradition that will last their lifetime.”

For times and locations of Halloween in the D activities at Detroit Fire Stations, Detroit Police Precincts, Recreation Centers, and two city parks, log on to http://halloweeninthed.org.

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