Hit flick The Purge asked what U.S. citizens might do during a 12-hour span in which all actions are legal. But a similar – albeit illegal – event occurs annually in cities across the world. Detroit plays home to the largest concentration of chaos on the night before Halloween, an evening known as Devil's Night.
Devil's Night in Detroit
On Devil's Night, individuals can get a little crazy. As a communal mischievous side comes out, the “trick” behind trick-or-treating of Halloween is cultivated, often with disastrous results.
The devious nature of the evening before Halloween has evolved over the decades, with the night known for playful eggings and pranks in the '60s and '70s before acts of arson and cemetery vandalism in larger cities during the 1980s and 1990s became synonymous with October 30th. Occult and satanic connections are often made to the events of the night, giving religious groups one more reason to protest the Halloween season.
Detroit is a city disproportionally afflicted by the events of Devil's Night, with well over 150 counts of arson occurring each year in the city on October 30th.
In an effort to reduce illegal acts on Devil's Night, the city of Detroit enacted a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for all individuals under the age of 18.
At the local level, volunteers living amidst vacant houses "adopt" the buildings in the days before Devil's Night. The neighbors do so to make the edifices look occupied in hopes of swaying arsonists away from potential targets.
Celebrating the Night in Europe
In England, October 30th is much less violent and destructive and known by a different name — Mischief Night. The evening itself is separated from Halloween, coinciding with the Guy Fawkes Day celebrations held following week within the United Kingdom.
A similar event known as Walpurgis Night takes place on April 30th in Germany, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. Walpurgis Night is an intentional precursor to May Day, a celebration held to ward off evil spirits.
Not every city in the United States teeters on the edge of criminal insanity the night before Halloween. Citizens in other cities across the United States take part in a more restrained form of mild mischief on October 30th - mischief that leaves yards and trees covered in rolls of toilet paper, windows studded with the remains of unfertilized chicken eggs, and welcome mats pilfered.
Parts of the Northeastern United States refer to this prank filled night by the benign names of Cabbage Night and Mischief Night. The original radio broadcast of Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds aired on October 30th, 1938 as a Cabbage Night prank. While the broadcast unintentionally provoked mass hysteria, it's a far cry from the building burnings and violence that occur in modern Detroit on Devil's Night.