Depending on who you believe or which academic source you consider the most reliable, all the problems besetting Detroit over the centuries have been caused by a crimson-colored imp who's been hanging around since Cadillac beached his canoes here back in 1701.
We're talking about Le Nain Rouge (The Red Dwarf), the malicious prankster who will be honored, banished or (hopefully) placated by a downtown procession on Sunday.
How malicious? Well, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founding father of our town, credited this "small child-like creature with red or black fur" with some serious financial reversals to his bank account. The Red Dwarf was also spotted in 1763 when 58 British soldiers fell to Pontiac's warriors at the Battle of Bloody Run. The 1805 fire that gave the city its "rise from the ashes" motto? He was seen that time as well. An 1884 account indicates that the joker's appearance didn't improve much during the intervening years; a woman who claimed to have been accosted by the creature described him as "a baboon with a horned head...brilliant restless eyes and a devilish leer on its face."
And yes, our vertically-challenged pal was reportedly in the vicinity when Detroit burned during the 1967 riot.
Interestingly enough, the Red Dwarf is not just a Motor City mascot, but a legitimate type of supernaturalism. John E. L. Tenney, a noted Detroit paranormalist and lecturer, has this to say on the subject.
"The Nain Rouge falls under the category of folkloric or legendary figure and there are in fact very few direct references with clearly sourced and verifiable instances of his appearance. Some would classify the Nain as a cryptid along the lines of Bigfoot and the Chupacabra - a creature that tends to remain more readily visible to an ever changing world, cross culturally and throughout all time periods."
And does Tenney himself believe in the Red Dwarf?
"I don't believe in anything," he admitted. "I try to stay on the safe side when making 'final calls' regarding the existence of creatures which are folkloric in nature. The world is so strangely diverse in its inhabitants I try not to rule anything out. If the Nain Rouge was real in the past but no longer alive now, is it still real? And if it was never a living creature does the fact that it exists collectively in the imaginations of thousands of people make it any less real than the memories we have of those people who no longer exist in the world?"
That cautious sentiment is echoed by Janet Williamson, a Detroit-area blogger.
"While I’d otherwise be inclined to argue that gods, goddesses and mythical creatures -no matter how motley- should stick together, I won’t defend an entity that brings so much suffering to a city so dear to my heart. Being superstitious by nature, I find the Marche Du Nain Rouge banishment to be well worth the effort. You can’t be too careful. I’ve spent my entire life avoiding Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” for just that reason; it’s brought me bad luck before and you shouldn’t tempt the devil."
Needless to say a few Detroiters have grown fond of the guy over the years. For example, the Detroit Beer Company has a "Detroit Dwarf" lager named in honor of the Nain Rouge.
The Marche du Nain Rouge itself may be described as the ultimate tip of the hat. A 2010 revival of a custom that originated back in Fort Pontchartrain days, it has now become an unofficial civic event where participants are encouraged to wear costumes, play instruments, sing, shout and join in banishing the Nain Rouge for at least one more year.
Peter Van Dyke is one of the principal organizers of this year's Marche. We asked him a few questions prior to the trek thru midtown.
The Nain Rouge has never seemed the most hospitable of Detroit residents. Why this "marche" through the city streets?
The Marche is through the streets so the 4,000 plus revelers we expect this year can take part in ceremonially marching the Nain Rouge, the harbinger of doom for our City, out of our Detroit.
How do most Detroiters feel about the fellow? How do YOU feel about him?
When you hear the massive crowd chanting “down with the Nain” at the Marche, Detroiters’ sentiments about his existence become pretty apparent. Personally, I despise him, although he gives me a reason to have an inspiring and awesome event every March, so it is really a love/hate relationship.
This march is a revived tradition then?
The Marche is the revival of a tradition that purportedly occurred some 300 years ago.
What can we expect on the 24th?
Revelers can expect this year’s Marche will be even stronger in its efforts to rid Detroit of the Nain Rouge. We’ll have more community-built chariots, several other bands are joining the Detroit Party Marching Band, who lead the procession, and many bars, restaurants and stores in Midtown will have specials and events. Additionally, new this year, the Tour de Troit crew will have a Run du Nain Rouge at 11 a.m.
Didn't this guy give us ANY warning about the Lions or Kwame or our current financial crisis?
I honestly don’t know. Did he?