Du Nain Rouge

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Du Nain Rouge is the enigmatic legend of Detroit, by some thought to protect the city, by others, to only appear as a harbinger of pending disaster.  A few years back I stumbled upon a wonderful book at my local library, written in 1884 by Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin, titled Legends of Le Detroit, in which I first read his story.  In this particular legend, it was a fortune teller, entertaining a party in Quebec, who warned Monsieur La Mothe Cadillac that he would cross paths with this “red dwarf” in the city he was to found.  He was told that he would create a city greater than New France itself, and would have many children around his hearth, but that he must not offend Du Nain Rouge or his children would never inherit the great wealth he was to possess.  Years later, after founding just such a city, he and his wife were walking through the Kings Gardens late at night when the visage of Du Nain Rouge appeared before them.  Heedless of the old fortune teller’s advice, he shouted for the “red imp” to get out of his way.  Shortly thereafter Cadillac was arrested in Montreal and was forced to sell his seigniory in Detroit to pay for his trial.  After being removed to Louisiana as governor, he was to die in France, and his children did not inherit any of his vast estate.  He was said to have appeared just before the attack at Bloody Run, and again in 1805, dashing through the flames as the city burned.

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I prefer to face our demons head on, so to speak.  By sculpting him, by engaging him, I like to think that he is simultaneously respected and revered, and yet loses that power over Detroit his legend holds.  Whether he needs to be quashed and run out of town, or flattered and appeased to keep the city safe is an ongoing debate.


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