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In Detroit there is said to exist a creature which presages misfortune. This harbinger of doom is known as the Nain Rouge – the red dwarf.
A book published in 1883 described the creature as being “very red in the face, with a bright, glistening eye”, as well as “a grinning mouth displaying sharp, pointed teeth”.1 Other accounts of the creature have described it as a small creature with red or black fur covering an animal’s body, but with the face of an old man with “blazing red eyes and rotten teeth.”2
Origin of the Nain Rouge
Whilst various origin stories of the Nain Rouge exist, the most commonly told dates back to 1701, when Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded Detroit.
According to the tale, the Frenchman was a warned by a fortune-teller to be more careful with his money and, when the time came, to “appease the ‘Nain Rouge’” – or face ruin. Sometime later, whilst walking home from a May Day celebration with his wife, Cadillac encountered the foretold dwarf. Arrogant and full of anger, he smacked the Nain Rouge with his cane, and shouted: “Get out of my way, you red imp!” The Nain’s response was to laugh and curse the hot-tempered Frenchman, and the city which he had founded. Exactly as the fortune-teller had warned, Cadillac’s fortunes fell. He was arrested for abuse of authority, and was forced to leave Detroit. A brief stint as governor of Louisiana ended badly. He eventually returned to France, where he was imprisoned in the Bastille for five months. Haunted by bad luck and financially ruined, Cadillac died in disgrace. 3
Sightings of the Nain Rouge
Since the downfall of Cadillac, the Nain Rouge is said to have appeared before incidents of bloodshed and disaster connected with Detroit.
According to legend, the sharp-toothed creature was sighted right before 1763’s Battle of Bloody Run, where many soldiers were killed in a thwarted surprise attack against Chief Pontiac. The Nain was also said to have manifest before the Great Fire of 1805, a blaze which saw all 200 structures in the city, except a stone warehouse, burned to the ground.4
In modern times, an annual parade, called the Marche du Nain Rouge, is held in Detroit. As recently as 1976 two utility workers spotted what they thought was a child climbing a utility pole before a particularly brutal snowstorm crippled the city. Afterwards, it was described as the most recent Nain Rouge sighting. 5 Far from forgotten and consigned to folklore, the red dwarf is very much a part of the city’s identity – for better or for worse.
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