Halloween is well-known for its mischievous overtones, but nothing on Halloween matches the chaos that used to be Devil's Night in Detroit, Michigan, when arsonists would light hundreds of fires around the city on the night before Halloween every year. It was such a phenomenon that even Hollywood took notice with the ill-fated hit The Crow starring the late Brandon Lee. But it started in a much more innocent time.
Devil's Night began as the "trick" before Halloween's "treat." Even as far back as the 18th Century in Europe, October 30th has been a night for kids to get into serious mischief. In the 1940s, this tradition grew in the Midwest, especially Detroit, with kids pulling all sorts of pranks, like egging and "toilet papering" houses or smashing jack-o-lanterns. It wasn't anything very destructive, just teenage pranks. That all changed in the 1970s when the destruction started ramping up. It also grew into a three-day period, beginning on the 29th and lasting through Halloween.
The tradition reached its terrifying pinnacle in 1984, when a reported 810 fires were sparked. It had been building since the early 70s when Detroit was in serious decline. The incredible decline in Detroit' population had left thousands of abandoned buildings in its wake and the arsonists started lighting them on fire on this night of mischief. Every year in the late 70s and 80s saw huge numbers of fires, in the hundreds, in the abandoned buildings and dumpsters. After the incredible amount of fires in 1984, the city got very serious, including setting up a curfew on Devil's night and bringing in thousands of firefighters from around the region. It worked, as the number of fires was reduced, but it didn't work completely, there were still hundreds of fires every year and it gained national attention in the 90s.
In 1994, the movie The Crow was released. The movie takes place on Devil's Night, with criminals not only lighting the fires, but also taking advantage of the cities resources being spread thin. Only Brandon Lee as a vigilante known as "The Crow" is there to throw a wrench in their plans, in his effort to avenge the death of himself and his fiance. Tragically, Lee was killed while filming the movie in an on-set accident, but the film was a hit. The Texas Hip Hop artist MC 900 Ft Jesus also had a hit with his song "The City Sleeps," written from the point of view of a serial arsonist. It was subsequently banned from Detroit radio. Possibly because of the attention, Devil's Night 1994 was especially destructive. Thankfully, there were usually very few injuries and very little destruction of inhabited property, but the people of the city demanded that things be brought under control. The people came together with the mayor and started a new tradition, Angel's Night.
In 1995, after a few years of neighborhood patrols and volunteers doing what they could to keep the fires down, the mayor and the citizen's teamed up and created "Angel's Night." As many as 50,000 citizens joined in the fight and patrolled the streets all night, along with the police and fire departments. The results were effective, and the number of fires was reduced dramatically. The tradition continues to this day and while there are still arsonists at work on Devil's Night, the Angel's Night volunteers, as well as the police officers and firefighters, have reduced the number to dozens, rather than the hundreds.
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