Devil’s Night is a longstanding tradition predating World War II, with anecdotal incidents occurring as early as the 1930s. Traditionally, youths in the Detroit area engaged in a night of criminal behavior, which usually consisted of acts of vandalism (such as egging the homes of neighbors) in retaliation for real or perceived wrongs, or simply for the sake of the crime itself. In the early 1970s, the vandalism escalated to more severe acts such as setting vacant houses on fire. As these activities increased and the tradition gained notoriety, individuals including Detroit-area business owners, purportedly took advantage of Devil’s Night vandalism to collect on insurance policies by committing arson on their properties (i.e., setting fire to their own cars and/or businesses). These incidents were blamed on Devil’s Night hooligans and added to the notoriety of the night.
Beginning in the 1970s, the crimes became more destructive in Detroit’s inner-city neighborhoods, and included hundreds of acts of arson and vandalism every year. The destruction reached a peak in the mid- to late-1980s, with more than 800 fires set in 1984, and 500 to 800 fires in the three days and nights before Halloween in a typical year.
In 1995, Detroit city officials organized and created Angel’s Night on and around October 30. Each year as many as 40,000 volunteers gather to patrol neighborhoods. Additionally, youth curfews as early as 6 p.m. are instituted on the days before Halloween. Since then, there has been a decline to 20 fires per day in the days around Halloween.
Devil’s Night was chronicled in sociologist Ze’ev Chafets’ 1991 book “Devil’s Night and Other True Tales of Detroit,” and fictionalized in the 1994 movie The Crow. The burning of an abandoned house featured in the movie “8 Mile,” which starred Eminem and was set in his hometown of Detroit, and his rap group D12 named their first album after the night. While the term is still well-known by Michigan residents, the news media in Detroit currently refer to the event as Angel’s Night to promote the efforts of the volunteers.
Devil’s Night is now becoming popular in Ireland (where it is more commonly called Mischief Night), where youths are out of school for the week around Halloween. Many of the nights running up to October 31 are used by youths to commit acts of vandalism.
The name Devil’s Night or Mischief Night is used by criminals in the eastern U.S. and Canada, although the acts are generally less destructive and violent than those committed in Detroit. A survey done in the United States shows the comparative popularity of various names for this night around the country.