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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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  • 1

    Must have run with the wrong crowd -- grew up 2 blocks from Detroit and never heard this one. Good story for Halloween!

  • 2

    Dear Readers,

    As a residing freelance journalist I will be critical, fair and impartial to Time Magazine while they live here in Detroit from Aug. 2009 - Aug 2010. But, it begs to ask the question though, "Just what in the hell are Time Magazine staffers doing here in Detroit?" Lets me just back up here on an inventory of events just to be fair along with the suggestions/criticism I have to offer because, Time Magazine has really got me concerned and very angry at the quality of the body of their journalism. And, I'm sorry sensationalism isn't gong to cut the mustard here with any hawk-eyed shred of common sense from me or others locally.

    Steve Gray came here Aug 2009 with one blog and 81 comments, two television interviews during October 2009 with Channel 56, "Am I Right" with Nolan Finley & Debbie Dingle and Channel 7, Chuck Stokes, "Spotlight On The News." At the end of October 2009 two additional staffers of Time Magazine Ms Dybis and Mr Dawsey offered two blogs; one about a Canadian Lore of a Red Dwarf and Beer and the other blog that of "Land Bank" in Detroit and the newly appointed, Director, Deborah L. Younger.

    Granted Time Magazine had a sensational entrance with a grandstanding introduction plastering the cartoon effigy of Detroit all over their front cover, thus amplifying the city and state of Michigan as a poster child of an impoverished society in the nation and, downfall of housing foreclosures, unemployment, and joblessness. Iit remains to be seen where Time Magazine has NOT been least of all participating in the community of Metro Detroit. Now! If the intension is for Time Magazine staff is to stay held up in their house doing their interviews and stories then, I think they need to have a better game plan and, here is why?

    With the notable absence of Time Magazine I have been in attendance to the inaugural conference, "The Business of Plugging In 2009," Detroit MI. An informative means of identifying the progress of Hybrid Cars, Electrical Plug-in-Cars, reformation of the electrical grid and the provision of congressional bills and jobs it will provide both now and in the future. Notable attendees in panelled discussion were former Gov Potaki of New York, retired General Wesley Clark, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and William "Bill" Clay Ford of Ford Motor Company. Since the introduction of Steve Gray on the local media circuit I have not seen the ofference or invitation to freelance journalist to shadow or co-author with staffers on a scintilla of transparent news worthy commentary which, is contrary to that of realtime media moguls of Channels 2,4 &7 in Detroit.
    Well, how about staffers performing a workshop with local freelance journalists? Are the Time Magazine Staff creating good relations or just circumventing hyper-sensationalism to sell print and promote Time Magazine's status?

    Either way this is one very unhappy camper dissatisfied with the performance and quality of journalism from Time Magazine. During my time out purveying the black-tie circuits and conferences it remains to be seen as to what precisely is Time Magazine doing in Detroit? I sure as heck couldn't tell you even though I have my proverbial eye like a hawk watching, waiting and commenting. I know it's a dirty job but, somebody has to watch the press to keep things equitable and fair.

    Let me know what you think? I hope to interview Tom Barrow, candidate elect for Mayor of Detroit November 3, 2009 and I intend to ask current Mayor, Dave Bing, "In the shadows and disgrace of former Mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick," is the Mayoral seat of office for sale with the likes of; Peter Karmanos Jr owner of Compuware, Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, Matty Mouran owner of Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, Jim NIcholson owner of PV Chemicals Rodger Penske owner of Penske Automotives and Car Racing in Detroit, Illitch Family of Detroit owners of Red Wing and Comerica Park, Parnership for Detroit LLC, a collage of Detroit owned businesses where entrepreneurs reside in the burbs. Look! Most of these folks gave Kwame and Carlita Kilpatrick a total of $290,000 to leave Detroit and go to Dallas,Texas.
    What isn't for sale in Detroit? It sure isn't the middle class or city employees being forced to negotiate lower wages to do more work.

    How do rate Time Magazine? Have they lowered their presence to the public with goggle-eyed fear mongering tabloid gossip or are they still a cut above the rest in superior journalism? Is Dave Bing, Mayor of Detroit for sale? I can tell you that there is nothing more EVIL than Detroiter's present suffering in the this current economy. Let me now your opinion....

  • 3

    ..Oh, Jeez!,...Grow up! This entry seems nothing more than an attempt to increase YOUR presence by putting TIME MAG. on the spot. It reads suspiciously alike to , HMMM.., let's see who was the LAST to trot out the old..'..THEY'RE trying to sdteal the city's jewels!...' crap. Can't remember???.. ...Been SOOOO MANY!!Hey if THEY want the CITY's Jewels, it seems all THEY have to do is show up at 'THE POLITICAL PAWNSHOP' and offer 10 cents on the dollar! Do you REALLY think Mr. Bing NEEEDSSS this 'stuff in a near depression?! Mr. BING was a class Hall-of-FAME B.Ball player at COBO, and he STILL is a class Act as mayor. ..Yup,..!, he was my favorite player when the Pistons LOST the '66 coin toss, and HAD to take Dave Bing , instead of Cazzie. Give it up, you NEO-Politico-Racists!!!...ON BOTH SIDES!! WE ARE ALL tired of 'watching Rome Burn' while every citizen wants to be addressed for ebery Perceived slight . You(OOPPS!) I mean, WE, ought to thank God that someone who doesn't need to , tries to straighten out this towns mess made by lifetime politicians as 'the Conyers, the Kilpatriks(sic), and the Englers' . ...and yeah, I'm a retired Union , Teamster, man who doesn't like 'givebacks, but for God's sake, the damn city, Hell.., COUNTRY, are bankrupt, and not a FOR PROFIT COMPANY!

  • 4

    I'm more on the "it's about time" side of this argument. This "Assignment Detroit" project/package is fascinating -- both for putting my hometown under the national microscope and integrating new media into the coverage.
    Detroit is going to get the bad and sensationalized attention anyway, so why not Time's Detroit staff take a crack at it. The coverage can offer some different insights and even inspire some solutions.
    This blog shows a national audience -- even the local suburbanites -- what it's like to live in Detroit. Whether the topics are good, bad or random doesn't compromise the greater mission to show America what makes the D tick.
    This project has to start negatively to get the nation caught up on 40 years of decline. I'm looking forward to the positive results this kind of exposure can produce for Detroit.

  • 5

    As someone who reads these blogs just about every day, I appreciate not only the national exposure, but learning things about my city I didn't know. It's NOT all negative and I love the randomness of some of these blogs. The local media does a fine job of covering the black tie events, I'm glad to see someone talk about the cool new website that shows all things bought in Detroit, or the community garden rising up out of the industrial decay. They are showing ALL things that make up this great city, some of it isn't so great, but some of it is randomly wonderful. So I say good job Time, keep it up!

  • 6

    [...] * The march to kick out La Marche du Nain Rouge begins on 3 p.m. Sunday at the Third Street Bar in Detroit and parades down to Cass Park, where Le Nain Rouge will be banished for 2010.  The after party will be held at Detroit's Temple Bar. Learn more about this devilish spirit here at the march site and from the blog. [...]

  • 7

    [...] since we all love Rock City, I want all my fellow NFL Lions fans to check out detroit.blogs.time and tell me what you think about[...]

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