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Nain Rouge | Unexplained Cases (2022)

Written by: Timothy J. Seppala
Case Filed: 11/25/22
Executive Producer: Rick Garner


Welcome to Detroit: home of square pizza, techno, Motown records and the traffic light. What it's best known for though are cars. Ford, General Motors and the automaker formerly known as Chrysler all call the Motor City home. By the early 20th Century, Detroit was the third-largest city in the nation, with almost two million residents. But those parabolic highs couldn't last forever. In 2021, just under 640,00 lived within the city limits. Detroit is a city with no shortage of heartaches. From tthe race riots of 1967, 2013's record-setting $19 billion municipal bankruptcy, and the Lions - who've been bad since practically forever - Detroit's woes need no introduction. Some place the blame at the feet of politicians like the mayor who oversaw that bankruptcy, Kwame Kilpatrick. Others blame billionaires like Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert or broken promises from the Illitch family which owns the Little Caesars pizza chain. Some in The D have found an evergreen scapegoat Le Nain Rouge, "the Red Dwarf." His story goes back to the city's founding in the late 1600s but like a four-century-long game of telephone, depending on who you ask PAUSE you get a different story. To get some perspective, I reached out to Julie Kohler, a folklorist and professor at Michigan State University. The Nain's origin story goes back to "Legends of le D├ętroit," published in 1883 almost 200 years after Detroit's founding and written by folklorist Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin. Among tales of werewolves and a flying canoe resides a legend about the Motor City's origins. The star? You might know his name from GM’s luxury car division: Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French soldier and trader who founded the city in 1701. Legend has it, that one night at a dinner party in Quebec Cadillac and fellow wealthy friends were visited by a fortune teller with a "dark, swarthy complexion" and a black cat on her left shoulder. When it came time for Cadillac's palm reading she issued a premonition: foretelling of Cadillac founding a "great city" and having numerous offspring. When Cadillac pressed for more information PAUSE the crone warned him that selling alcohol to the natives would be his downfall. That Detroit would be the site of strife and bloodshed, that the natives would be "treacherous" and that the English would struggle to run the colony. If there's an upside, it's that under a different flag, Detroit would become prosperous beyond Cadillac's wildest dreams. Focused on his legacy, Cadillac pressed the palm-reader for details. "Your future and theirs lie in your own hands. Beware of undue ambition; it will mar all your plans. Appease the Nain Rouge. Beware of offending him. Should you be thus unfortunate, not a vestige of your inheritance will be given to your heirs.Your name will be scarcely known in the city you founded." Six years later, Cadillac and his wife were out for an evening stroll near the current Detroit Windsor tunnel when the Nain appeared in their path. Watson Hamlin describes him as uncouth and being very red in the face, with a bright, glistening eye that bewildered anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in its gaze. And a grin made up of sharp, pointed teeth. Rather than leaving it alone, Cadillac struck the imp with his cane and told it to get out of his way. The Nain's laughter pierced the night air before the imp vanished. Cadillac's wife reminded him of the crone's warning and that misfortune would soon be visited upon their family. Shortly thereafter, Cadillac was arrested in Montreal and had to sell his stake in Detroit to finance his defense. He died in France with his children never seeing a penny of his fortunes. Watson Hamlin writes that Detroit's flag changed five times in the ensuing century before reaching prosperity under the "Republic." She writes that the Nain’s appearance was a warning of impending evil or loss PAUSE Like the 1763 Battle of Bloody Run where he was seen running on the Detroit river banks. Legend has it, the Nain was seen darting through burning buildings in the 1805 fire that nearly destroyed the city. He was also spotted during the War of 1812 when Detroit was surrendered to the British. There have been countless tragedies since but even before Photoshop and everyone had a smartphone in their pocket, Nain sightings were few and far between. People claim to have seen the Nain ahead of the 1967 race riots and most recently ahead of the 1976 ice storm that left 120,000 without power. While the crone’s warning about impending strife came to pass, her proclamation that no one would know Cadillac’s name didn’t quite pan out. Beyond GM’s luxury vehicles, his name is all over downtown Detroit. He's everywhere. So, where’s the Nain been the past 40 years? In the media mostly. The Red Dwarf starred alongside Eminem’s brother in 2020’s "Devil’s Night: Dawn of the Nain Rouge" and even granted an interview with the local ABC affiliate back in 2013. You can find his face on absinthe and other spirits. He’s also been present for the annual March Du Nain Rouge a street party/parade in early March where Detroiters take up costumes and brass instruments in an effort to drive the little red man out of the city PAUSE The Mardi-Gras-style street party started in 2010. This year, the parade returned after a two-year absence PAUSE and Detroit was ready to party. It was where I encountered protestor John Tenny PAUSE who runs Tenny says the Nain is an allegory for the Native Americans who resided here before Cadillac. Driving out the Nain - a little red man - symbolically equates to driving out the natives. Throughout Hamlin’s source material, Native Americans are written as an enemy. That the Nain appears on alcohol labels given Cadillac’s warning about trading brandy with "savages" feels particularly tone deaf. Detroit’s contemporary struggles are more political and social than they are militaristic. Instead of blaming the Nain for battles going south, he’s a scapegoat for destroying sports dynasties. Rather than drive the Nain out Tenny says we should celebrate having an ancient protector. Something that goes back to the fortune teller’s warning: appease the Nain, don’t offend him. At the penultimate parade in 2019 PAUSE the organizers took that track and embraced the Nain. We all know what happened the next year. And why the 2020 and 2021 events were postponed. But confirmation bias is a helluva drug and organizers decided blaming the Nain again was the best course of action this year. At the parade’s close, the Nain’s scapegoat status was cemented. On the steps of the Detroit Masonic Temple, a stand-in for the Nain clad in ridiculous a full-body red spandex suit took on everyone’s aspersions, to the delight of the crowd. Should Detroiters be afraid if they ever encounter the Nain? The Nain didn't warn us about COVID. Or cause it. PAUSE He didn't make Detroit one of the world's hardest hit cities either. Same goes for white flight. Or that $19 billion bankruptcy. Or the Lions' decades of constant disappointment. Instead, he became an unwitting scapegoat for whatever tragedies arise in Detroit. No one likes admitting they're wrong. But given the ugly implications of the legend, we should look in the mirror more often when it comes time to point fingers. Reporting from Detroit for Unexplained Cases, I’m Timothy J. Seppala.
ABOUT UNEXPLAINED CASES: The Unexplained Cases team is focused on preserving history while documenting the strange, paranormal and unexplained. What separates Unexplained Cases from other paranormal groups is that Darren Dedo and Rick Garner, who today are recognized as early pioneers of the “ghost hunting”genre, have over 35 years in broadcast radio and television news and have won a Southeast Regional Emmy and Associated Press awards. Over the past few years, the UC team has grown to add Michael Chinn as Lead Investigator and Researcher in addition to having the privilege to collaborate with several renowned paranormal investigators, including A&E’s Ghost Hunters Daryl Marston, Mustafa Gatollari, Brandon Alvis, Brian Murray, and Richel Stratton, as well as Malia Miglino from YouTube’s “Macabre Mondays” and “Grave Hunter”. SUPPORT US: Paypal | Patreon | Channel Member | GET MERCH: Teespring | GET EQUIPMENT: Spirit Box SB7 | SBox Ghost Box | K2 EMF Meter | Mel Meter | REM Pod | EDI+ Meter | Laser Grid and Tripod | CONNECT WITH US: Youtube | TikTok | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn |
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