Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Detroit’s Devil’s Night but Were Afraid to Ask

Thursday, October 30, 2003
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Tonight is none other than Devil’s Night here in Detroit. The night before Halloween. Being Detroit born-and-raised, people ask me about Devil’s Night all the time. They are fascinated that such a thing exists. Do people really burn down the city for fun, they ask me. Why do they do that, they want to know.

Well, first things first. Remember the Ze’Ev Chafets book Devil’s Night: And Other True Tales of Detroit? It’s a good read, though not as fact-loaded as it should be. The book needed to be done with more powerful evidence and contemplation of the facts.

However, those that refuse to see the truth of America’s cities too easily dismiss this book as being biased or too negative. Detroit is indeed deserving of all the negativity, especially for those who have experienced the years of decay and trauma that have erupted from within city limits.

Chafets cleverly uses Detroit’s famous “Devil’s Night” as a moniker, a night when the city folk actually burn down their own neighborhoods for fun. I grew up going through many a Devil’s Nights, so I have seen firsthand the level of sickness inherent in this ritual. Chavets does some interesting interviews, though his thoroughness is lacking, and I see that he really doesn’t get a good grip on the root of the city’s problems, that being corruption, affirmative action, divisiveness toward the suburbs, and tax policies that drive away those that might otherwise be Detroit residents.

Detroit is a poster child for the effects upon a spontaneous order at the hand of racially divisive power grabs and coercive political machinations, but I wouldn’t count on Chavets to give a scholarly and accurate view of that. The book is interesting, slightly sensationalized, and never scholarly, but overall, it is a decent overview on the problems of Detroit. It’s worth reading, keeping in mind it’s sensationalist purpose.

As to Devil’s Night, yes it’s true. Devil’s Night is a Detroit-area thing only. In the ‘burbs, the practice was soaping windows; ringing doorbells; toilet paper stuff; or the occasional bag of dog poop in a bag, set on fire with lighter fluid, then one rang the doorbell, and the “Devils” then ran, leaving the homeowner to come out, see the fire, and stomp on that bag of doggie doo. And there was the occasional house or car egging. Egging was usually considered a stretch. After all, have you ever seen what eggs do to car paint after it has dried?

But in the city, things were different. Houses burned and crimes were rampant. Refuse containers and cars were also favored targets. People stood on their porches, with every light on, defending their homes from the torchbearers. During the reign of Communist Mayor Coleman A. Young, this was a field day for the psycho-freaks. In my ten years living in the city, where I moved shortly after I graduated high school, I didn’t go anywhere on Devil’s Night, of course. You had to sit up all night, for fear that your house would be next. Abandoned homes and stores were the favored targets for fires, but that was not always the case. Plus, there were eggings, windows being shot out, car windows being smashed, and so on. It was a scary time.

The number of fires was 297 in 1985. That was a low number compared to previous years. 1984 was the banner year, with 800+ fires in the city! I was living right in the middle of the hell that year, and stood in the front room with a loaded rifle all night. The previous five years years saw 500 – 800 fires per Devil’s Night season (meaning the 3-day period).

Here are some nice graphs depicting this strange, Detroit madness.

In 1994, there were 180 fires in the city. In 1995, Mayor Dennis Archer attacked back. He called on volunteers to help patrol the city, and the city fathers called this new wave “Angel’s Night.” They put hundreds of volunteers on the streets to patrol them. 1995 saw 61 fires, almost a third as the previous year.

In 2000, the city of Detroit accounted for 167 fires between Devil’s Night, the day before, and Halloween, the day after. So it’s still alive and well to some degree.

It is important to now the role that Coleman Young played in the destruction of the city of Detroit. There is much more to be said there, but Devil’s Night spoke quite loudly on its own. I never, ever am in the business of praising same-old, same-old politicians, but Mayor Dennis Archer was truly a Godsend to this city. He gets all of the credit for rebuilding old bridges that had long been burned by that bastard Coleman Young. He was truly a breath of fresh air after two-and-a-half suffocating decades ‘neath the foot of his predecessor.

But now Archer is gone, and his replacement, Kwame Kilpatrick, is not only a loser and a thug of immense proportions, but he isn’t even nearly as smart and political and ideological as was Mayor Young. Kilpatrick is just a nothing, a man usurping power for the sheer joy of it. In his first year, Kilpatrick unleashed scandal after scandal, and problem after problem. He is raping the Mayoral office to suck on its specially-granted powers, and gives any observer the picture of a man who will bring much more divisiveness and trouble to the city of Detroit in years to come.

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