Thursday, October 31, 2013

Le Nain Rouge: Detroit's "red dwarf"

If you're ever in Detroit and see a goblin-like creature heading toward you, clad in fur boots and rocking red eyes and rotting teeth, you might want to head the other way (and, ladies, not just because it might be a creepy guy trying to hit on you). The creature is probably Le Nain Rouge, "the red dwarf," who, for more than three centuries, has appeared in Detroit to signify the impending occurrence of something bad.

I would think the simple fact that the dwarf
 appeared would be bad enough itself.

Stories of Le Nain Rouge encounters have been around since at least 1701, when Detroit's first white resident, Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac, is said to have met the dwarf shortly after arriving from Canada. Cadillac chased away Le Nain Rouge, but couldn't escape its prediction of doom, for the explorer ended up losing his fortune not long after the encounter.

Le Nain Rouge has appeared in Detroit several other times, dancing and doing back flips (as one does) before tragic events in the city. A partial listing of the crises that drew Le Nain Rouge to Detroit includes:

*1763---the Battle of Bloody Run, in which Ottawa Chief Pontiac's men killed several British soldiers who were attempting to end a Native American siege of Fort Detroit. (In this case, looked at from Pontiac's point of view, Le Nain Rouge was basically a good luck charm.)

*1805---the Detroit fire, during which the city was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed.

*1812---the surrender of Detroit to British forces during the War of 1812.

*1967---the Detroit riot, which lasted five days, cost forty-three lives, and led to arson- and looting-related damages of 40 million to 80 million dollars.

Though most residents of a city that has its own harbinger of doom might shy away from provoking it, Detroiters do the opposite. Since 2010, the city has held the "Marche du Nain Rouge," a parade and festival during which participants burn an effigy of the dwarf, thereby banishing him from Detroit for a year. Festivalgoers wear costumes so that the dwarf won't know who they are in case he somehow returns to wreak vengeance.

Taking the opposite tack, the Detroit Beer Company decided to honor Le Nain Rouge by naming a beer after it. "Detroit Dwarf" lager has become the company's house specialty. Maybe someday, if Detroiters can arrange a truce with their impish terrorizer, Le Nain Rouge will be more than happy to settle down on a bar stool, a pint of Detroit Dwarf in hand, and regale the city with tales of mischief and devilry. Until then, every year during the Marche du Nain Rouge, Detroiters will have to tell the little guy, " gotta go."

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