A tradition in Detroit on the night before Halloween, which entails fires, crime, and other such mischief. No one that I have talked to can tell me the origin of this, but I suspect most people don't care anymore, and just use it as an excuse to go crazy.

Here is the story I heard about how the arson fires on devil’s night started in Detroit. (Or at least the only one I’ve heard of.)

After the riots in the 60’s and a vast majority of whites migrated from downtown to the suburbs. (Note that even cities 40+ miles away from Detroit are considered a “suburb of Detroit”) There were a large number of abandon buildings that were falling apart and became a popular hang out for drug dealers/addicts and other criminal activity.

The people living downtown didn’t like the effect that the buildings were having on the neighborhood and decided that they needed to be removed. The citizens went to the city government and requested that the buildings be demolished, and after finding that their request had fell on deaf ears; Some of the citizens deiced to take maters into their own hands and burn down the buildings. They decided to do this on the night before Halloween. Why this date was picked, I’m not sure. Maybe it was in an effort to clean the streets for the kids before Halloween?

After this started to be a sort of strange tradition, many firebugs took it upon themselves to keep it alive. This went on for the next 20 years until “angel’s night” was started. The idea behind angel’s night was to send a group of volunteers from the city to patrol the streets and try to keep arson down on that night. To date this has been a huge success. There are still a number of fires on devil’s night but no where near the amount from say 5 years ago.

I have no idea if this story is true or not.

The general idea of this was taking from the book “Devil’s Night, And Other True Tales Of Detroit” by Ze’ev Chafets. Anyone interested in some of the odd quirks of the city should look for this book.

My theory is that Hell Night, or Devil's Night, exists for the same reason as Halloween -- that is, a calendrical glitch. At one time, goes the story, the Irish civil year ended at the same time as the grain harvest, and started up again on All Saints' Day. This meant that there was an overlap of years in some years (when grain was harvested later) and a shortfall in others, when it was neither one year nor the next. Crimes committed during that time would be hard to prosecute in a court of law, therefore it was a good time to engage in any illegal or semi-legal activity, including petty revenge, fortune-telling, witchcraft, and the like, while in the public mind, the very idea of time grew nebulous -- if it wasn't last year or next year, wouldn't it be no-time-at-all, and dead folks and the like able to walk around as if they were alive? (My thanks to P.L. Travers, who pointed this out.) Most people just stayed home, with lights in the windows, and anyone walking after dark tried hard to disguise themselves, no matter what the reason.

FWIW, the tradition of shady tricks at night is older than the relatively recent one of "trick or treat", which was invented out of whole cloth by the Boy Scouts in the 1930's as a "safe and sane" alternative to the hijinks -- only later did it become associated with mourning rituals of the Ancient Greeks. Sigh.

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