For many people, tonight is just Wednesday, Hump Day, October 30th, or another 12-hour hurdle that stands in the way of a weekend. But for some inexplicable reason or another, there are pockets of America where tonight isn't just those things, but "devil's night, "mischief night", or "cabbage night." And as this map points out of those phrases shouldn't ring a bell unless you live in Michigan, New Jersey, Vermont:
That's a map of data compiled by Joshua Katz from North Carolina State University, and it visualizes who calls tonight anything other than Wednesday night. And notice how much of the country is wallowing in the deep red "I have no word of this" answer. According to the 10,640 respondents, only 10 percent or so called tonight "mischief night", 11 percent called it "devil's night", and a measly two percent call it "cabbage night." Seventy percent of Americans rightfully answered nothing. So what's the difference?
As you can see from the map, the people who think tonight is mischief night come from the state of New Jersey, tiny pockets of Pennsylvania, and mere villages in Delaware and Connecticut. The earlier record of "Mischief Night" actually goes back to 1790 and England. The Guardian reports:
Records go back to 1790, when fellows of St John's College, Oxford, studied a headmaster who had encouraged a school play which ended in "an Ode to Fun which praises children's tricks on Mischief Night in most approving terms".
Since that headmaster's urging, the night has become popular in places where Irish and Scottish immigration was popular. That has devolved into a time where young people do things like egg and paintball cars, rub soap on windows, ding-dong-ditch people, and TP houses. But as LiveScience explains, the vandalism and timing of it may have something to do with The Great Depression ("Black Tuesday" was on October 29) and threats of war.
In parts of New Jersey, mischief night has gotten so bad that police have instituted zero-tolerance policies for celebrants. "Children leaving the home dressed in dark clothing and/or in possession of items such as eggs, shaving cream and other malicious items are historically a formula for trouble," New Jersey's Star Ledger reports, explaining that the town of Sayreville won't be afraid to punish kids tonight.
Cabbage Night belongs to the sturdy people of Vermont. Just like in New Jersey, young people in Vermont use October 30th as a night to vandalize things. The AP reports that police in the town of Brattleboro are putting warning out to parents to keep their teens on short leashes during "cabbage night." But what gives? How does cabbage fit into the vandalism equation?
Cabbage actually goes back to the idea of children finding rotten vegetables (like cabbage) and then leaving it on doorsteps, smearing it on windows, and vandalizing things with it, LiveScience reports. According to the widely-respected anthropological publication Urban Dictionary, these rotten vegetable-collecting vandals used these rotten veggies as a means of class warfare to give the rich and prominent their just desserts.
Nowadays, the vandalism occurs with or without the rotten veggies, prompting some police forces in the state to enforce a curfew.
You kinda get the picture now: here's a date, possibly sparked and stoked by The Great Depression and war, which kids do dumb things and goes by different names. Devil's Night is sort of the same thing. But in Detroit, it takes on a particular and depressing tone because of the cities ties to gang culture and arson. LiveScience reported:
In 1984, more than 800 fires were set there on Devil's Night, leading to a serious crackdown and an Oct. 30 curfew for minors that persists to this day. This year, the mayor of Detroit has recruited an army of more than 30,000 volunteers to patrol their neighborhoods to prevent any similar mayhem.
So yes, people are calling tonight many things — mischief, cabbage, devil. They're obviously wrong, but now you know why.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.