'Angels' Night' name to end in Detroit

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
City leaders announced the ending of 'Angels' Night' in Detroit on Nov. 1, 2017.

Detroit — Three-and-a-half decades after Detroit became a cautionary tale due to 800-plus fires on Devil's Night 1984, the city is ready to turn the page on the bad old days by distancing itself even from the sanitized "Angels' Night" moniker adopted in 1997.

Instead, the days leading up to Halloween will be used as a "celebration," city leaders said Wednesday at a press conference.

"Next year, let's give Halloween back to the kids," said Detroit Fire Chief Eric Jones.

"Angels' Days, Angels' Nights, are over," said Detroit Police Chief James Craig. He and Jones recommended to Mayor Mike Duggan that the Angels' Night moniker, and the patrols that go with it, be put to an end. Next year, Craig echoed, will be "three days of Halloween."

Duggan accepted their recommendation, in an announcement made at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters Wednesday morning. 

"After three years of Angels' Night not being any different than any other day, it's time," Duggan said. 

In 2013 — Craig's first year as police chief — Detroit detained 126 juveniles on Devil's Night. In 2014, 24; 2015, 15; 2016, 8. This year the number dropped to just six.

"No more detentions," Craig said. "Let's make Halloween about the kids."

The city has tried to get rid of the Angels' Night name before.  But pronouncements that the Devil's Night tradition of arson had ended proved to be premature. 

In 1994, the year after a relatively quiet Devil's Night, city officials attempted to rebrand it as "Halloween Eve." That Halloween Eve, there were 182 fires set, the highest number since 215 in 1986, and three times the 1993 total.

One of the fires killed an 18-month-old girl named Destiny Wilson. There were 354 fires in the days surrounding Devil's Night in 1994.

Said then-executive fire commissioner Harold Watkins Sr. of Devil's Night 1994: "The citizens didn't come out. They felt we had it under control."

In 1997, then-Mayor Dennis Archer rebranded Devil's Night as Angels' Night, which civic stakeholders had encouraged since the days when Coleman Young was mayor. 

That year, The Washington Post declared victory in a headline that read "Detroit Exorcises a Grim Halloween Tradition," with only 142 fires over the three-day period before Halloween. Some 35,000 volunteers showed up to help. For the city's seeming success in moving past the bad old days, Archer was awarded a City Livability Award in 1999 by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

What's changed since 2010, the last time there were 100 or more fires in the days before Halloween? 

Part of it, Jones said, is that 13,000 homes have been demolished since 2014. Another 3,000 have been renovated and occupied, said Alexis Wiley, chief of staff for Duggan.

The future will look more like the city's recent past, city officials say, where recreation centers, police stations, fire departments and city parks are opened and events are programmed to allow for fun in safe settings.

"We've made Detroit look good in the eyes of the world," said Charlie Beckham, Detroit’s director of neighborhoods. "Now it's Halloween in the D."

Asked if that name, Halloween in the D, would be the new name, Duggan joked that "Charlie isn't normally our marketing director."