If you’ve ever had your house egged or toilet paper laced through the trees on your lawn, you’re probably well aware of Mischief Night. Traditionally, kids have taken the occasion of the night before Halloween to stir up a bit of deviltry.
The tradition dates back to the 1790s in parts of England, Canada and the United States. In Philadelphia, Mischief Night antics have at times veered toward destruction more than mischief.
Mischief Night has long been a time for petty pranks. In some Northeastern cities, it’s known as Cabbage Night because kids throw vegetables. In Philadelphia, “Soaps Night” occurs the night before Mischief Night as young people soap up cars and windows.
Francis Ryan, director of American Studies at La Salle University, said the descendants of European immigrants continued Mischief Night for many years in Philadelphia neighborhoods.
The grandson of an Irish immigrant, Ryan remembers his father’s tales of inventing noise makers out of thread spools in the early days of the 20th century. Ryan himself remembers ringing doorbells and running away.
“Some of the older kids would actually throw eggs at houses, and or cars, and or people,” Ryan said. “In fact there was a custom, in certain of the smaller grocery stores, in the Harrowgate/ Kensington neighborhoods that they would specifically, a week before Halloween, refuse to sell eggs to kids.”
Ryan says Mischief Night took a destructive turn during the 1980s when teens used spray paint and lit fires instead of throwing eggs. In 1991, more than 100 fires broke out in Camden.
As new immigrant and ethnic groups have moved into Philadelphia, the tradition seems to be waning.