It’s So Cold in the D: Marche Du Nain Rouge


Photo courtesy Marche du Nain Rouge.
Photo courtesy Marche du Nain Rouge.

Detroiters will wholeheartedly agree with the tagline, “It’s so cold in the D.” What better way to cast off all of the heavy-hearted winter blues and prepare for spring than with a costume party with thousands of other excited Detroiters? Like all good things, before the party, comes a little history:

Le Nain Rouge a.k.a. The Red Dwarf is supposedly an evil spirit that has put a curse on Detroiters since the founding of the city. For generations, this malicious creature has wreaked havoc on Detroiters causing turmoil, regret, fear and physical damage to the city.  This began with the first settlers from France when Antoine Laumet de la Cadillac saw the little red creature in 1701. The story reports that the creature screeched and hollered at Cadillac in the Royal Garden of Fort Pontchartrain in an attempt to drive him out. Shortly after, the settler’s luck turned and he was banished from the land and indicted on charges that we later dropped. Regardless of the dropped charges, his luck was never the same and he was never able to reclaim his stakes in Detroit.

Several other instances of ill-fated situations paint an unfortunate picture of Detroit’s past, some pointed examples include:

  • He was spotted prior to the Battle of the Bloody Run in July of 1763. During the battle, 58 British soldiers were killed, the Detroit River ran red with blood, and Le Nain was said to be dancing on the shore.
  • There was a sighting of Le Nain before the fire in 1805 that destroyed most of Detroit and was a setback to the city’s development at that time.
  • He was said to have been seen before the 12th Street Riot in 1967 that went on to last for five days. This riot was one of the bloodiest and most destructive in US history.
  • Not only does he breed violence, but also Le Nain was said to have been seen before a catastrophic snow and ice storm in 1976 that halted life in Detroit.

To battle Le Nain Rouge, in true Detroit fashion, there have been gatherings dubbed Le Marche du Nain Rouge. Starting as early as March 23, 1710, these are meant to battle the ill wills of the malevolent spirit and provide catharsis to the people of Detroit.  This buoyant revelry began in an attempt to banish the spirit from Detroit following Cadillac’s misfortune so as to not invite that kind of ruination for the rest of the settlers.

Photo courtesy Marche du Nain Rouge.
Photo courtesy Marche du Nain Rouge.

In 2010, a group of Detroiters decided it was time to not only plan an awesome participatory event in the heart of Detroit, but also to celebrate it’s interesting, elaborate history and highlighting parts of the community often left unnoticed.  This year’s event is planned for March 24th starting at 1 p.m. and begins in Midtown, which has undergone considerable development in recent years through investments and business ventures. Then, revelers will proceed down the Cass Corridor, which is developing at a rapid pace as well, ending the festivities at the Masonic Temple for a celebration.  Francis Grunow, a founder of the event, explains, “We chose the route to draw attention to assets of the city that may or may not be hidden in plain sight.”

The organizers of the modern event provide a forum for Detroiters to come together as a community, celebrate the coming Spring Equinox, and sustain the history of Detroit. Among other things, Grunow explains, “It’s a participatory art parade”, with participants dressing up in elaborate costumes. As the event has developed, the organizers have seen the popularity of the event skyrocket. To the organizers, Grunow goes on to explain, “It’s all about the people.”

Many major cities have an event that defines and highlights their growth as a people and a community. Le Marche du Nain Rouge gives the people of Detroit an opportunity to memorialize the city’s long history while also celebrating the coming Equinox as a community. Grunow explains that his favorite part of the event is, “Seeing the creativity of the community.” It is more and more apparent that Detroiters are excited about their city, and this is a day to make that tangible with costumes, revelry and camaraderie.

Have you been to one of Le Marche du Nain Rouge events? What are some of your favorite Michigan folklore stories? Will we see you at this year’s event?

Find out more on the Marche du Nain Rouge Facebook Page.

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