Folklore has always played a role in the historical narrative of major cities, and Detroit is no exception. Here, residents who put stake in superstition believe in an evil spirit none as the Nain Rouge, or “the red dwarf of Detroit.”
Detroit resident Joe Uhl claims that “the mythology behind the Nain Rougue goes back to … an oral history of this red devil who would appear as the precursor or harbinger of bad things to come.” According to Uhl, city folklore maintains that soon after Detroit founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac came ashore in 1701, he crossed paths with the Nain Rouge and was never the same again. Uhl notes that supposed sightings of the “red dwarf” have been recorded before the great fire of 1805, the uprisings of 1943 and 1967, and even an ice storm in the early 1970’s. Last spring, Uhl had the idea to create a Mardi Gras-style event for Detroit residents to come together and banish Le Nain Rouge. At the springtime event, locals dress up in costume, paint their faces or wear masks, and march through the streets of Midtown Detroit, destroying an effigy of the red devil. The first “Marche du Nain Rouge” last spring drew about 300 people, and over 1,000 people showed up on March 20th to participate in the second annual celebration.
Uhl says he envisions the event as Detroit’s answer to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras. But he says as long as it retains the spirit of the community, he’s more than happy to just watch where the Marche will march off to in the future. He reflects that “as new generations come into the city and new people take interest in the city … the parade takes on significantly new meanings to new people and new generations and I’d love to be a part of that evolution and just watch that happen.”