It’s Mischief Night (Which Is What We Call It Here)

Tonight is Mischief Night — which is only what people in this area call it. It has been 23 years since more than 100 fires were set in Camden this night.

When I was in eighth grade, the principal at St. Martha’s grade school came over the loudspeaker on October 30th. “Now, tonight is Mischief Night,” she said. “We want to urge all students to not commit any acts of vandalism tonight.”

Everyone in my class laughed. “It’s Mischief Night?” someone said. “I’d completely forgotten!”

Yes, the principal accidentally reminded us it was Mischief Night. I guess by eighth grade, no one I knew was throwing eggs at any houses the night before Halloween. And now I’m reminding you that it’s Mischief Night — but I have a reason.

You see, the term “Mischief Night” is a very Philadelphia thing.

Check out the chart below from a Harvard dialect survey.

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Yes, some people call the night before Halloween “Cabbage Night.” And, yes, “Mischief Night” is a very Northeast U.S. term. Most people in the country — 70 percent, in the Harvard survey — have no term for this day at all. In those places, supermarkets will probably even sell eggs to kids on October 30th!

Some local towns even have restrictive curfews. Brick, New Jersey, bans those under 18 from being out after 8 p.m. on Mischief Night and Halloween. Other towns are increasing patrols tonight.

The most infamous Mischief Night in history happened just across the river in Camden in 1991. So many fires were set it was the busiest single day in the history of the Camden Fire Department. There were 133 reported fires.

fire-alarms

Fortunately, things calmed down after the 1991 fires. The constant fires had ceased by 1994, the third consecutive calm night before Halloween.

My suggestion: If you’re planning on any mischief tonight, don’t set any fires or throw any eggs. Do what they say in Vermont and make it “Cabbage Night.” Just leave a cabbage on someone’s doorstep.