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"Cabbage Night" – Does it strike fear straight into your very marrow?

I’m the sort of person that can be found humming “This is Halloween, Halloween, HALLOWEEN” from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare before Christmas” long before it’s reasonable to associate it with the actual holiday. (“HALLOWEEN!”) I’m not going to make any claims towards being an expert on the holiday, but I can easily say that I’ve watched every movie in the “Halloween” series, including the ones directed by Rob Zombie and Halloween III: Season of the Witch, at least a half a dozen times. Growing up, the week leading up to Halloween was always a special one for me, entirely due to the fact that it was the one time each year when the major cable networks would play horror movies at something other than stupid-o-clock in the morning. For other people, however, twas the night before Halloween that had a special significance. 
What do you call the night before Halloween where you live? In some places, it’s “Mischief Night.” Kind of right to the point there. Maybe it’s “Devil’s Night?”  No? Try this one: “Cabbage Night.” Yes, “Cabbage Night.” Do the words “Cabbage Night” strike fear straight into your very marrow? Are you shaking at the thought of the return of “Cabbage Night?” I mean, I’ve watched some dreadful horror movies over the years but I can see why “Cabbage Night” never numbered among them. (And, if it did, it would be a Troma film. See “Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead” for details.) Despite my terribly extensive knowledge of all things horrible, I’d never heard the term “Cabbage Night” before I read “41042, A story about Florence, Ky., and the Florence Rotary Club” by William Conrad.

Conrad, W. (1989). 41042, a story about Florence, Ky., and the Florence Rotary Club. Florence, KY. (District 674, Florence 41042): The Club.

So what is “Cabbage Night?” “Speaking American” by John Katz says that the name is “a reference to the tradition of raiding nearby cabbage patches, uprooting the vegetables, and hurling them at neighbors’ front porches.” The book also locates the origin of the phrase to “both the New York and Vermont sides of Lake Champlain.” Curious. 
The book is based on the Dictionary of American Regional English, which requires a subscription, and the Harvard Dialect Survey, which does not. Question 110 in the survey was “What do you call the night before Halloween?” 

And there you have it, Cabbage Night, right at the border between Ohio and Kentucky. But keep reading.
 

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune Newspaper Archives October 31, 1911 Page 13. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://access.newspaperarchive.com/us/ohio/cincinnati/cincinnati-commercial-tribune/1911/10-31/page-13/kentucky?pep=cabbage-night&psb=relevance

 
 
 
 

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune Newspaper Archives October 31, 1924 Page 10. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://access.newspaperarchive.com/us/ohio/cincinnati/cincinnati-commercial-tribune/1924/10-31/page-10/kentucky?pep=cabbage-night&psb=relevance

If you read these carefully, you’ll notice that they all have one thing very much in common. Did you see it? Need some help?  There’s outhouse tipping and the redistribution of gates but a complete absence of  a certain leafy vegetable, namely cabbage, other than the date being called “Cabbage Night.” Curiouser. 
Which brings us to 1987. 

Corbin Times Tribune Newspaper Archives October 23, 1987 Page 27. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://access.newspaperarchive.com/us/kentucky/corbin/corbin-times-tribune/1987/10-23/page-27/kentucky?pep=cabbage-night&psb=relevance

 
Yes, you too can have your genuine Polaroid picture taken with a “Wizzard.” Is this also a prank? A distraction to keep the public occupied with grab bags while their gate was stolen at home? Sadly, my investigative efforts were for naught and I’m fairly certain this was a real thing. By 1987, a night of mischief was reduced to a day of to-go bags and clowns. Perhaps at least they were scary clowns? One can hope. 
 
All of which brings me back to, why “Cabbage Night?” And what happened to it? At the suggestion of my supervisor, I’ve emailed Josh Katz, of the New York Times, Greg Hand, of Cincinnati Curiosities, and Dann Woellert, the Food Etymologist, to see if they have any answers. 
 
More to come as this story (that hasn’t been relevant in decades) continues. 
Kevin Wadlow is 100% a real human being and definitely not a murder of crows wearing a person suit. He is an avid reader of horror, tabletop gamer, and drinker of coffee who enjoys drawing things of strangeness along the way. When the zombie apocalypse comes, he will probably be eaten first after saying something about how he fully expected to go out like this.

4 Comments

  1. D, a concerned citizen

    Seeing as clown visits are possible, I would like to petition that Cabbage Night be banned.

  2. Melanie Sperling

    I grew up across the river in Clermont County. We called it Damage Night. It was the night where kids wrote mean things on your windows with paraffin and threw rotten eggs at houses. Our house was hit once by a fresh egg and our windows were written on with a bar of soap. I guess that the perpetrator had to make do with what they had on hand!

  3. Julie Donahue

    I was introduced to “Cabbage Night” when I began my teaching career in Ludlow, Kentucky in 1983. The local fire house hosted an event to dissuade the children from roaming the streets. I am not sure how successful it was since the school windows were always “soaped” Halloween morning. Loved your piece! I had just asked another retired Ludlow teacher who grew up in Ludlow what she remembered about Cabbage Night last Friday. My online research last week said it started when farmers would gather up the rotten cabbages in the fields and build a bonfire on October 30. Maybe a German tradition?? Thoroughly enjoyed your piece.

  4. Kevin A Wadlow

    Follow up response from Greg Hand via Reddit: “Cincinnati – and particularly Northern Kentucky – occupies an area where these terms overlap: Devil’s Night from the Great Lakes, Cabbage Night from the South, Corn Night from the Midwest, Tick Tack Night and Gate Night from the East Coast.
    Around 1900, lasting into the 1930s, Northern Kentucky observed ALL of these nights, with Tick Tack Night almost a week ahead of Halloween, followed by Corn Night, then Cabbage Night, then Halloween itself.
    For a couple of years, it appears NKy juveniles tried to promote a “Light Night” in which they lowered or demolished street lights. It didn’t catch on.”

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