Nain Rouge and the Ghosts of Modern Detroit

A city such as Detroit, MI, that has seen its population drop from over two million to barely 700,000 and that has seen decay and abandonment permeate its inner being would well be expected to harbor the spirits of its painful past, and to an extent, it does. A simple search would reveal stories of sightings and hauntings by the ghosts of former Detroiters such as that of Daniel Scotten, founder
Nain Rouge

Nain Rouge

of the Hiawatha Tobacco Company and builder of its mammoth factory on Fort Street, who was said to inhabit the abandoned building after his death and the plant’s closure, and that of architect George Mason, builder of Detroit’s massive 1000-room Masonic Temple, who is said to have leaped to his death from the structure following his bankruptcy and his subsequent and related divorce. To this day, visitors and employees tell of cold spots, slamming doors, mysterious shadows and more throughout the Temple.

But such stories as these are more like children’s bedtime stories when compared to the one overriding tale of the spirit that has evoked fear in the hearts of Detroiters for
centuries, the spirit about which stories and songs have been written, about which a movie is being made, and in celebration of whom a yearly festival and parade is now held - yes, the true spirit of the city of Detroit, The Nain Rouge, or the “Red Dwarf of Detroit” as he is sometimes called.

Don’t get it wrong, while some choose to ridicule the tales of the Nain Rouge and use him as a source of merriment, to many he remains a terrifying figure, one who is seen as a harbinger of awful things to come. Dating back to the founding of the city, Detroiters
have been warned that if they were to see the Nain Rouge, to never offend him, or they would suffer the consequences.

This, as most of the stories go, dates back to the time of the founder of the City of Detroit, French explorer Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac, prior to the city’s founding and during the time period in the early eighteenth century when he resided in St. Louis, Quebec. The thrust of the various similar stories is that Cadillac was at a lavish ball, perhaps even given in his honor, when a strangely dressed women, with a cat on her shoulder, appeared, and it was said that she was in fact a fortune teller. She went from guest to guest, delivering their stories of future fame, fortune and failure, and as at various times the cat would lick her face, word spread across the room that the cat was the instrument of the devil, delivering his messages through the woman.
Marche du Nain Rouge

Marche du Nain Rouge

Finally, she approached Cadillac, and proceeded to inform him of his future. She told him about how he would in fact start a great new city, one that would eventually have more residents than the then New France, and that he will achieve fame and happiness. But she also told him of the dark side that his future held, that this grand new city would eventually be overcome with strife and bloodshed, and great struggles would ensure with both the Indians and with the English, but that would eventually be overcome and prosperity under
a new flag would follow. She finished his reading with words of caution, that he had to take care of his ambition, and that most of all, that he had to appease the Nain Rouge and beware of offending him. Cadillac thought little of the warnings, or of the entire story, and he and his wife would laugh about it thereafter. At least for awhile they would laugh about it.

Years later, after the founding of the city of Detroit and its early years of prosperity, Cadillac was in fact said to have become arrogant and condescending, and in those years stories were heard across the city about sightings of a small, strange, red-faced inhabitant, that came to be referred to as “le petit nain rouge”. Then one evening Cadillac and his wife were out walking when they
themselves were said to have come across an unusual creature, a dwarf, a dwarf possessing a bright, glistening eye that seemed to emit s cold, shinning reflection, a mouth full of sharp. pointed teeth, and above all, red-colored skin.

Rejecting the warnings of the fortune teller so many years earlier, Cadillac struck the dwarf with his cane, yelling at it to “get away!” As
the Nain Rough scampered off, it turned back to laugh at M. Cadillac.

True to the word of the fortune teller, Cadillac’s fortune did take a precipitous turn for the worse, with fires destroying parts of the new city, and then he was charged by the New France government with illegal trafficking in alcohol and furs and despite ultimately being cleared of charges, he spent several months in prison. Years later he faced new charges, and when ordered to the colony of Louisiana, he instead returned to France.

Thereafter, the Nain Rouge became a symbol not just for the misfortunes of M.

Marche du Nain Rouge

Cadillac, but for the many and varied misfortunes befalling the City of Detroit. He has been said to have been seen by someone before every such major disaster to hit the city since the early 1700s, including on an evening in 1763 that was followed the next morning by
the Battle of Bloody Run in which Chief Pontiac and his warriors killed dozens of white people, in the spring of 1805 just prior to a massive fire burning much of the city, by Gen. William Hull as he surrendered Detroit to the British army in 1813, prior to the Detroit riots of 1967 and prior to major ice storms in the 1970s and 1990s and even before the great blackout of 2004.

So how have the residents of Detroit responded to recent sightings of the Nain Rouge? By celebrating him!

For several years now, Detroiters have each spring held the “Marche du Nain Rouge”, a parade and party in which celebrants toss the Nain Rouge. and everything bad that he has wrought, out of the city for the coming spring and summer months. Thousands attend and rejoice, only, apparently, to only find that by the following spring he has returned, necessitating yet another
“Marche du Nain Rouge”.

Meanwhile, other hauntings abound through the abandoned buildings, dark streets and unkempt parks of Detroit - other hauntings such as the girl on Knock-Knock Road, or more correctly Strasburg Road, where legend has it that a young girl was once struck and killed by a car and has since haunted the area looking for her killer, knocking on the driver’s side window of autos stopped a a red light, or such as the bride in her wedding dress at the Inn on Ferry Street’s Roehm House lifting guests from their beds in the middle of the night.

The Nain Rouge may come and go from Detroit, but there is always a ghost or two around.

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