Devil’s Night

Laura Bonnell/WWJ Newsradio 950

Halloween Nights of Serious Mischief

An initiative to combat Detroit’s Halloween nights of arson


In 1983, for reasons unknown and not understood, Detroit erupted into flame nights before and during Halloween.  Houses, abandoned buildings and unused factories burned to the ground.  There were more than 800 arson fires that lasted for 72 hours that year.  By 1986, October 30th had become known as Devil’s Night, the prelude to Halloween in Detroit.  Residents were frustrated and feared for life and property, demanding that the city do something to eliminate these fires before they escalated to occupied buildings.

As a response, the City of Detroit under Mayor Coleman A. Young, II started a community based initiative on Devil’s Night that brought community members together for activities to keep a watch on abandoned homes, turn on their porch lights and create an overall presence in the city. The initiative was renamed Angel’s Night by Mayor Archer in 1994.  Funding was procured from city businesses, and the program was administered on three nights leading up to Halloween to combat the many arson fires.  The community based activities remained — volunteer civilian patrols, campaigns to encourage residents to keep on porch lights and for residents to report suspicious behavior.  The city initiated curfews, and banned the dispensing of gas in portable containers.  Because of these efforts, by 2017, depending on the source, the number of fires decreased to somewhere between 21 and 38.  This decrease was also due to fewer vacant structures because of demolition or re-occupation.

Devil’s Night in Detroit can probably be traced back to mid-1880’s Ireland, where the night of mischief was originally attributed to fairies and goblins. In the United States, the holiday morphed into a night of soaping windows and toilet ​papering trees. In other words, October 30th was the “trick” to Halloween’s “treat”.

-Laura Sternberg, History of Devil’s Night in Detroit,  TripSavvy, May, 2019

Goals of City and Community

Challenges to Success

City Departments Involved to create change

Measurable Successes


  1. Why was addressing Devil’s Night the responsibility of the city?
  2. How did community involvement help address this issue?