Detroit’s Mardi Gras: Marche du Nain Rouge in Midtown

Beat the Devil: Banishing an evil littler dwarf is cause for a big part in Detroit. // Photographs by David Lewinski

It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, as The Beatles wrote.

Now, to rephrase their lyrics: Here comes the fun.

Later this month, just after spring officially arrives, hundreds of merrymakers will gather for a Mardi Gras-style parade through the streets of Midtown Detroit in a ritual banishment of Le Nain Rouge.

For the uninitiated, Le Nain Rouge is a short, red-eyed, mysterious, and malevolent figure steeped in Detroit lore. And, on March 25, he’s a marked man.

That Sunday afternoon, at about 1, a theatrical parade and cleansing rite will march from Second and Canfield (in the Traffic Jam parking lot) to Cass Park, where the dwarf will be ceremonially ousted from the city, taking with him the evil he’s said to exude.

The curse of Le Nain Rouge dates to the city’s beginnings, when the dwarf, as the story goes, crossed paths with Detroit founder Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac. In a confrontation, Cadillac took a swipe at the shrieking, matted creature with his cane. Shortly afterward, Cadillac’s fortunes turned.

On Sunday, March 23, 1710, a Marche was held, proceeding from Ste. Anne’s Catholic Church to the river in an effort at ridding the city of the creature and his curse.

This year marks the third annual modern revival of the Marche. It’s an early-spring excuse for mischief, dress-up, music, and food.

What to expect? For one thing, chariots share the pavement with some 1,000 costumed revelers and the Detroit Party Marching Band. “Last year, we had six chariots created by different neighborhoods,” says event director Peter Van Dyke. “They’re man-powered. The downtown chariot looked like the People Mover; Midtown’s looked like a boombox, and a spinner was inside. Anybody can create a chariot.”

Local businesses also get into the spirit with special products, food, and drink. Along the parade route, costumed characters spout chants and taunts for the dwarf, all of which makes for lively, impromptu street theater. As the event website,, says: “Do not come as you are. Come as you once were or yet could be.”

The banishment of Le Nain is part of what we were. As Van Dyke says, Detroit has a very rich 300-year history, and the Nain Rouge is part of it.

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