Detroit is home to an urban legend that goes back over 300 years. Whenever the Nain Rouge, or Red Gnome, appears, bad luck follows. The Gnome first appeared in 1701 and last appeared in 1984. His appearances precede fires, natural disasters, and death. The Red Gnome has been blamed for fires, ice storms, rebellions, and riots.
The Red Gnome is a short impish figure. He has a coat of dark fur, fire red eyes, and rotted teeth. Some say he has horns. The Nain Rouge likes to do a celebratory dance before disaster strikes. While alcohol is often involved in sightings, it can not be blamed for the problems that follow his appearances.
Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans spoke of a demon that terrorized them. The demon looked and acted like the Nain Rouge. The local Indian tribes feared the creature. Eventually, it became associated with Detroit and bad luck always followed it.
The first recorded sighting occurred in 1701. Detroit’s founder, Antoine Cadillac, ran across the gnome and attacked it. Bad luck followed Cadillac back to the Old World. After returning to France, Cadillac lost his fortune and was imprisoned for speaking out against government settlement policy. Cadillac was the Gnome’s first recorded victim.
In 1763, the British expelled the French from Detroit. The conquerors arrived in time to receive a visit from the Red Gnome. After being taunted, a British patrol was massacred by Indians. This battle was part of Pontiac’s Rebellion. The natives killed 58 British soldiers in the ambush and then laid siege to Detroit.
Pontiac’s Rebellion sputtered out and the siege lifted. Detroit became part of the United States after the Revolution. In 1805, several people reported seeing the creature. Shortly thereafter, a great fire burned through Detroit. The blaze leveled the village leaving one building intact.
The Gnome was busy in the early 19th century. In 1812, America and Britain were at war again. American General William Hull claimed to have seen the little imp in the fog. After the sighting, the British marched on Fort Detroit. General Hull surrendered Detroit without firing a shot. It remains one of the American army’s most embarrassing moments.
The Nain Rouge still makes appearances in modern times. In 1967, several residents saw the beast. The next day, the greatest riot in U.S. history broke out. Five days later, the revolt ended. The insurrection killed 43, injured 1189, and police arrested 7000. The riot accelerated Detroit’s population decline and the city has never recovered.
Almost a decade after the riots, two Detroit Edison employees claim to have seen the Gnome climbing a utility pole. They yelled at it to come down. The creature jumped off the pole and ran off. The next day a massive ice storm hit killing 16 and leaving half a million without power.
The last known appearance of the Gnome was in 1984. The dwarf appeared in late October. The Tigers won the World Series and Detroit burned in the celebration. A couple weeks later, over 800 arson fires ravaged Detroit around Devil’s Night. The city apparently hit its nadir.
Detroit’s Red Gnome is an unwelcome mascot. Whenever this thing appears, disaster strikes. Native Americans reported sightings before Cadillac arrived in 1701. Europeans and Americans have reported seeing it for 300 years. If bad luck is about to strike, the Gnome appears. His appearances have led to ice storms, riots, and death. Considering Detroit’s current state, let’s hope the Nain Rouge never returns.