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Nain Rouge: The Red Gnome

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 2nd, 2009

Is any of this even true? The following is taken and summarized from Wikipedia.

The Nain Rouge, French for “red dwarf” or “red gnome” is a mythical creature that originated in Normandy, France, as a type of lutin (the French name, male, for a type of hobgoblin (an amusing goblin), in French folklore and fairy tales; females are called lutines).

The hobgoblin of Normandy is similar to house-spirits of England, Germany and Scandinavia. It sometimes takes the form of a horse, and in this shape is called Le Cheval Bayard.

Lutin is generally translated into English as: brownie, elf, fairy, gnome, goblin, hobgoblin, imp, leprechaun, pixie, pixy, puck, or sprite.

In a French fairy tale, “Le Prince Lutin,” written in 1697 has a description of the air, water and terrestrial lutin: “You are invisible when you like it; you cross in one moment the vast space of the universe; you rise without having wings; you go through the ground without dying; you penetrate the abysses of the sea without drowning; you enter everywhere, though the windows and the doors are closed; and, when you decide to, you can let yourself be seen in your natural form.”

In this story a red hat with two feathers makes the Lutin invisible.

Lutins also assist Père Noël in Lapland.

Ah, again, the Wildman, Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus…and the Elves.

In the United States, Nain Rouge haunts Detroit, Michigan, and is feared by its residents as “the harbinger of doom.” (Skinner 1896) Its appearance is said to presage terrible events for the city [like a banshee]. The Nain Rouge appears as a small child-like creature with red or black fur boots. It is also said to have “blazing red eyes and rotten teeth.” (Skinner 1896)

The creature is said to have been attacked in 1701 by the first white settler of Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who soon after lost his fortune. The creature is also said to have appeared on July 30, 1763 before the Battle of Bloody Run, where 58 British soldiers were killed by Native Americans from Chief Pontiac’s tribe.The small tributary of the Detroit river, which still flows through what is now Elmwood Cemetery, turned red with blood for days after the battle. It is said he was seen dancing on the banks of the Detroit river.

Famous multiple sighting occurred in the days before the 1805 fire which destroyed most of Detroit. General William Hull reported a “dwarf attack” in the fog just before his surrender of Detroit in the War of 1812.

A woman claimed to have been attacked in 1884, and described the creature as resembling, “a baboon with a horned head…brilliant restless eyes and a devilish leer on its face.” Another attack was reported in 1964.

Other sightings include the day before the 12th Street Riot in 1967 and before a huge snow/ice storm of March 1976, when two utility workers are said to have seen what they thought was a child climbing a utility pole which then jumped from the top of the pole and ran away as they approached.

More recently, in the autumn of 1996, according to an article in the Michigan Believer, the Nain Rouge was spotted by two admittedly drunken nightclub patrons, who claimed to both have heard a strange “cawing sound, similar to a crow,” coming from a “small hunched-over man” who was fleeing the scene of a car burglary. The creature was described as wearing “what looked like a really nasty torn fur coat.”

Detroit Beer Co., a brewpub in downtown Detroit, has as its signature brew a “Detroit Dwarf” lager, named in honor of the Nain Rouge.

Various alleged sources: “Le Prince Lutin” by Marie Catherine d’Aulnoy in her Fairy Tales (Les Contes des Fees, 1697); Myths and Legends of our Lands, vol. 6, by Charles M. Skinner, 1896; Legends of Le Détroit by M.C.W. Hamlin, 1884.

Have you heard any of these stories of the “Nain Rouge”? The crimson threads between the Nain Rouge and the imagery in the film Don’t Look Now (1973) and the allied cinema reflective references are certainly there. But the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Are such stories merely gamer fantasies or created fictions based on a few threads of folklore?

Well, at least the brewery is real and so is the brew, allegedly based on the tale of the Nain Rouge:

The Detroit Dwarf
Copper/amber in color, cloudy, strong in alcohol (6.8% ABV). Clean lager character with some fruity ale notes. Earthy with flavors of tea and forest nuts. Distinct balance between malt and hops allows the creamy texture to really come through. We earned a medal at the Great American Beer festival in our first year of business with this one and it remains our house specialty to this day.

Red’s Rye (bottle pictured below) appears to be Michigan ale that also is related to the Nain Rouge folklore tied to Detroit.

If you are from Michigan, have you ever heard of any of these stories, in addition to the beer and ale?

Thanks to Dr. Benway for mentioning the name. Thanks to Ben Fairhall for the scarlet imagery metaphor.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


13 Responses to “Nain Rouge: The Red Gnome”

  1. Endroren responds:

    “In the United States, Nain Rouge haunts Detroit, Michigan, and is feared by its residents as “the harbinger of doom.” (Skinner 1896) Its appearance is said to presage terrible events for the city [like a banshee]. ”

    Yes! It was spotted last week on the front lawn of the Chrysler HQ!

    Seriously, though, it isn’t something I’d ever heard of before today. Of course I live in a Detroit suburb and not Detroit proper.

  2. tomagi responds:

    This is too funny. Just a few lines into the article the Red Dwarf of River Rouge Park lept to mind. This is, of course, the same entity described here. River Rouge Park is in Dearborn. The Rouge River runs through it. Somewhere as an adolescent, I had heard that the Red Dwarf ran the banks of the Rouge River and I always assumed the park was the dwarf’s domain – probably because that was the segment of the river with which I had some familiarity. The park was also a congregation point for kids wanting to gather and experiment in 60′s and 70′s. My memory of this folklore is sketchy, but I do associate my knowledge of the sightings with teenagers hanging around the park after dark. No 1st hand experience, naturally. My grandparents who lived in the area always commented on what a bad place that was for young people.

  3. cryptidsrus responds:

    Great story. I assume Detroit does not like to push monster reports like these because of the “bad publicity” they would engender, of course. Not surprising, ultimately.
    I was told by someone that most of the people in Loveland, Ohio do not know about the famous “Frogs.” Again, not surprised.

  4. Lonewolf 9390 responds:

    Hi Loren. I’ve been a resident of Michigan my entire life, and I’m very much familiar with the legend of the Nain Rouge. I do know of one report that the article failed to mention. On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines Flight 255 was taking off from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. The plane crashed immediately after take off, killing all of the crew and passengers except for a 4-year-old girl, Cecelia Cichan. Allegedly, just before the crash occured, several motorists on Interstate 94 spotted the Nain Rouge running under an overpass.

    Although the official FAA and NTSB reports and even the entry on Wikipedia make no mention of the Nain Rouge, many Detroit area residents who believe the stories concerning it feel that the creature’s appearance was a harbinger of the horrific event which followed. There are many strange things in this world that we don’t have all the answers to, but it has often been said that legends are usually based on at least one kernel of truth.

  5. Insanity responds:

    I grew up in Troy, MI, not too far from Detroit and I do not recall ever hearing about this.

  6. mystery_man responds:

    Loren – The film Don’t Look Now, with Donald Sutherland, has one of the most genuinely disturbing endings to a movie that I have ever seen, and fits in well with the tale of this Nain Rouge thing.

  7. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    I just looked up that movie, Don’t Look Now. I wondered why I hadn’t heard of it or seen it before, then I saw it was released in 1973, lol. So now I realize why I hadn’t seen it. It was released 2 years before I was born. But I put it on my queue and will check it out though, since it sounds interesting.

  8. tomagi responds:

    Some follow-up. If you replace “Elmwood Cemetery” with “Woodmere Cemetery,” then you have a perfect fit for the Rouge River as the tributary of the Detroit River mentioned above.

    Interesting links for additional info, here.

    And relative to events leading up to the river area and the 1967 riots, here.

  9. cryptogirl responds:

    I’m originally from the Detroit area, and the Nain Rouge is certainly part of the local folklore. Colonial Detroit also hosted a resident loup garou – or, werewolf. Check out this excellent book (published 1883!) for more on these, and other, Detroit legends.

  10. mystery_man responds:

    Cliffhanger- Yeah, 1973 IS the year I was born. It wasn’t until much later I stumbled across the movie. I won’t spoil it for you, but the ending is incredibly creepy. I recommend it, but expect to get at least one horrible nightmare out of the deal. :)

  11. CalebKitson responds:

    “You are invisible when you like it; you cross in one moment the vast space of the universe; you rise without having wings; you go through the ground without dying; you penetrate the abysses of the sea without drowning; you enter everywhere, though the windows and the doors are closed; and, when you decide to, you can let yourself be seen in your natural form.”

    Any average guy on an acid trip can do this too!

    I have lived in Michigan my whole life and never heard of Nain Rouge, but I will grant that I have only been in Detroit twice, and that was at the Airport.

    If he shows up before bad things happen, shouldn’t he be popping up all over the city??

  12. wisaaka responds:

    This sounds very much like the Pukwudgies. It is very much like the phenomenon reported here in New England.
    Also stories from Africa and other places feature a dwarf like creature coming around when there is crisis and catastrophy. These same attributes are given to Indrid Cold otherwise, perhaps, known in the mid-west (well at least 100 years ago) as a Boger-man. When there is death and/or destruction they come out a’calling.
    It seems to me, if there is any truth to this sort of thing, then it is closely linked to the human psyche. I would venture that “they” are ‘thought forms’ put forth by an individual or a group or a combination of natural precogniton (not produced by humans) and an interface of human precognition.

  13. dspitzle responds:

    I am stunned and touched to learn that the estimable Loren Coleman has turned his eye to The Straits. I can attest that the Nain Rouge is a historical phenomenon, but it would be an overstatement to suggest that it has the city quaking in its boots. The fact is that Detroit has amnesia; it’s a land of giants, but nobody notices them standing there as the cars travel between their feet. In any case, last year saw a group called the March de la Nain Rouge (look for them on Facebook) organize what was hypothetically a revival of a 19th century celebration where the Nain was burnt in effigy. Personally, I read the Nain as a Genius Loci, so I think this is a bad idea, but hey, at least they’re paying attention to the poor beastie, even if it smells of Gardnerian mythspinning. At the risk of being gauche, I’ll just point people to my Mythic Detroit webpage (just Google the name), where I’ve gathered what I can about Detroit’s forgotten majesties. I’m moving it to a wiki format, so hopefully the project will expand in the near future.



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