Le Nain Rouge - Detroit's Red Devil
Two employees of Detroit Edison ( the local utility company) are enjoying lunch in their truck. They spot a small child climbing a utility pole, and run from their vehicle shouting for him to come down before he falls to his death. As they reach the pole, the child looks down at them from the top, and leaps to the ground a few feet from where they stand. He runs off under gathering clouds, and leaves the two men in shock.
Realizing this was no child, they later described the creature as small in stature and covered in short red fur. He had red eyes and rotted teeth.
They have just encountered one of Detroit's oldest legends. The Nain Rouge. As is typical of Nain Rouge sightings, Detroit met disaster the following day. It came in the form of the worst ice storm Michigan had ever seen, leaving 16 dead, and 500,000 homes and businesses without electricity.
A brief history of the Nain Rouge
The Nain Rouge (French for " Red Dwarf", or "Red Gnome") is reputed to be the son of the Stone God.He shows up in the Detroit area, often dancing and doing back flips, just before a disaster strikes. He has been described as childlike, or impish, being covered in red or black fur, and having blazing red eyes (as any self respecting creature of myth would). He is also said to have rotten teeth, and some have reported seeing small horns on his head.
The first recorded sighting of this beastie was in 1701. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit, allegedly chased and attacked the little guy. The disaster that followed was the complete loss of fortune and subsequent fall from grace for monsieur Cadillac. He eventually returned to France, where he was imprisoned for speaking out against settlements along the Mississippi river.
While Cadillac's was the first official sighting, the Nain Rouge is believed to have been known to, and feared by the Ottawa indians that pre-dated the establishment of Detroit.
Historians have found references in local indian lore to the Demon of the Strait, whose appearance and antics are remarkably similar to those of the Nain Rouge.
There have been numerous sightings across the United States of similar creatures, but he has become well known in the Detroit area as a harbinger of ill fate.
Most widely reported incidents
In 1701 Cadillac, the founder of Detroit, is rumored to have encountered and even attacked the Red Dwarf. Within days Cadillac lost both his fame and fortune.
On July 30th of 1763, the day before the battle of Bloody Run, the Red Dwarf was seen stalking Capt. James Dalyell on the banks of the Detroit River. The following day, the British captain and 58 of his soldiers were ambushed by Chief Pontiac at the Battle of Bloody Run. The small tributary of the Detroit River, which still flows through what is now Elmwood Cemetery, turned red with the blood of the soldiers for days after the battle.
Multiple sightings of the Imp occurred just before the majority of Detroit was consumed in a massive fire in 1805.
A blundering Gen William Hull claimed to have seen it in the fog just before his surrender of Detroit to the British without firing a shot in the War of 1812.
- Several citizens of Metro Detroit sighted the Nain Rouge the day before the 1967 riots which marked the start of Detroit's modern decline.
There have been more recent sightings but, as you may expect, the sources are dubious at best. Alcohol is usually involved in these personal accounts. In fact, there are several witnesses who claim to have seen the creature as they were leaving a bar. In one story, he appeared to be trying to steal a car. This takes the romance out of it for me, so I try to stick to the more credible witnesses.
That's not to say I believe this myth, but I do enjoy a good story. Alcohol feuled hallucinations can be humorous but, I find, they rarely add anything useful to an already interesting myth.
On the other hand, an encounter with this little cryptid could drive a person straight to the local pub. If that's the case, I might suggest a local beverage that seems to have been inspired by him. The Red Gnome contains rum,peach schnapps, orange juice, lemon juice, and a drizzle of creme de cassis pooled at the bottom of the glass. If you have a few of these, you're all but guaranteed to see the Nain Rouge as well as countless other creatures running through the streets.
Pierre Livernois, often called the Spirit of Detroit, is ever vigilant in attempting to banish the Nain Rouge. His spirit has reportedly been seen many times working diligently to repair the damage brought about after a visit from the imp.
Real or myth?
I leave it to you to decide. I have spoken with many people who believe he is real, and a great many more do not. As for me, I remain a skeptic, but wary. As the evidence would suggest that reported sightings may indicate impending disaster.
Real or not, he has certainly enriched the history and lore of Detroit. There are a great many ghost stories in and around the area, but the Nain Rouge is, by far, the most enduring.