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Detroit's evil spirit

In honor of Halloween, I bring you one of Detroit's little-known yet fascinating characters: the Nain Rouge.

Nain Rouge is French for red dwarf. Supposedly, this evil mythical creature haunts Detroit and is feared as our fair city's "harbinger of doom."

According to lore, he appears as a small, child-like creature with red or black fur boots. He is also said to have red eyes and rotten teeth. Some claim he has horns. Supposedly, he sounds like a crow. And witnesses say he is dancing or doing flips as he does his dirty, dirty deeds.

By most accounts, the Nain Rouge was here from the time Detroit was founded. "The creature was referred to by the Huron and Ottawa tribes as the ‘Demon of the Strait' referring to the narrow strait on the Detroit River where the city of Detroit is now located," according to one version of the tale.

In 1701, he is said to have attacked Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who lost his fame and fortune after the altercation.

He showed up in 1763 before the Battle of Bloody Run, where some 60 British soldiers were killed. It is said "he was seen dancing on the banks of the Detroit River." In 1805, Nain Rouge is said to have been seen before the huge fire at destroyed much of the city.

The most infamous sighting came in 1967, the day before the riot or altercation that is said to have split the city apart and caused so many people to move to the suburbs.

In 1976, he supposedly scared the dickens out of two Detroit Edison utility workers, who saw him leap off of a pole to the ground below. The next day, the city was paralyzed by the worst ice storm ever, killing 16 and leaving half the city without power.

The Nain Rouge has not been seen since. Perhaps the Model D story is correct with its musings on the topic in 2005:

“So … the Nain Rouge has fallen on hard times. It's entirely possible that he's bogeyman'd his way out of a job. By showing everyday Detroiters how to cause havoc by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he's mapped out a simple course for mischief that it seems these days everyone from city officials to teenage delinquents have adopted. Detroit did invent planned obsolescence after all.”

There is even a Detroit-based band named after the little guy. They play hard-core metal and grunge.

More recently, Josef Bastian released a book called, "Nain Rouge" in August. It is young adult fiction about two teens living in Detroit. The story goes like this: the duo try to save the city from the evil dwarf "whose vengeance and rage have been fueled by the misuse of the land and the buildup of negative energy created by over 300 years of human failings." (Ugh. Some fiction is too close to the truth). You can find out more at his web site.

Interestingly, Detroit Beer Co. named one of its signature brews – the Detroit Dwarf – in honor of the Nain Rouge. Alcohol seems to be a factor in many of the more recent sightings of said dwarf. According to the site, the beer is "copper/amber in color. A clean lager character with some fruity ale notes. Earthy with flavors of tea and forest nuts. Distinct balance between malt and hops allows the creamy texture to really come through." Yum.

Another local drink, known as The Red Gnome, contains rum, peach schnapps, orange juice, lemon juice and some creme de cassis in the bottom of the glass.

(As an aside, I first heard of his urban legend from my husband, who insisted our first born go as the Nain Rouge for Halloween one year. We're ghouls, aren't we?)


  • Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land by Charles M. Skinner
  • Mythic Detroit by David A. Spitzley
  • Legends of Le Detroit by Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin.
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