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A Halloween Story: Back Then…The Unofficial History Of NJ 101.5

In 1991, on the night before Halloween, which is traditionally known as, “Mischief Night,” the city of Camden experienced some of the worst vandalism anyone has seen around here.

Keren Su, Getty Images

By my recollection, about 135 fires were deliberately set in this poor, sad city that has had more than its share of bad news and crime over the past 50 years.

The night was so bad back then, Camden’s fire department had to summon help from nearby Philadelphia and Cherry Hill to quench some of the many, many blazes that night. It rivaled Detroit’s infamous, “Hell night,” which, back in the early 90′s was the name given to the night before Halloween in that town that became famous for vandalism and destruction.

So in response to the rampant violence, Camden’s city fathers conspired with police and town watch groups on Mischief night the following year, 1992, the curb the previous year’s trouble.

Yours truly found himself in Camden on Mischief night 1992 back then, along with scores of other local and national media, to see what would happen after the previous trouble the year before.

I went out with some police and town watch people that night. We walked and drove around, but it was more than a little obvious that citizens and police had conspired to prevent a repeat of 1991′s disastrous evening. I reported that evening from Camden, both on on New Jersey 101.5 and for the Associated Press. But nothing really happened.

But we didn’t know it was going to be quiet early that evening back then. And you know, reporters show up at the scene of a potential story sometimes to see what will happen. That’s what we do.

So long-story-short, after hanging around in the neighborhoods for awhile with no fires set, I wound up at Camden police headquarters, hanging out with a whole army of other media. We stood in the lobby…and waited…and waited…for reports of anything newsworthy that night. But it seems Camden got it together and there was no real trouble.

But early in the evening, about 7pm back then, we are all standing there in the lobby of headquarters, when police come through the front door with a young boy in tow…12, maybe 13 years of age. This immediately attracted everyone’s attention because, a) there wasn’t anything else going on, and b) it seemed police had caught this kid doing, well, mischief.

But police were mum and told us nothing about this kid, mainly because he was a juvenile and he had not been formally charged. But it was obvious that he had been swept up in the big net out on the streets that mischief night that was looking for any and everything.

The boy was spirited inside police HQ rather quickly back then, leaving all of us to speculate about why. As the assembled multitude was standing there, about 20 minutes later, this woman comes steaming through the front door, looking for all of the world like a very angry mother. The woman was quickly let inside the police offices. No one dared to ask her anything. She had that look, “out of my way…I am an angry mother.”

Well, a short time later, the woman emerges from inside police offices with the aforementioned young man in tow. The boy is lamely pleading his innocence with mom about how he didn’t do anything and he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Meanwhile, mom has that, “wait till I get you home” manner that only a mother can muster.

For what might have been a grim Mischief night in Camden, given the previous year’s problems, it provided some comic relief, and many of us standing there in the lobby of police headquarters were left quietly chuckling.

You can summon a heavy police presence. You can coordinate citizen involvement and cooperation to deal with a potentially bad situation. All of that was obviously in play on that night in Camden in October of 1992.

But there is nothing like the wrath and retribution of an angry mom when she catches you messing up!

Check out of all of Joe’s stories, by visiting the “Back Then…” archive.

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