American Folklore: Michigan

American Folklore: Michigan

Michigan has a long history of human habitation going back thousands of years. First belonging to Native Americans, then to the French, then to the English, it has a unique location along the Great Lakes, and has some interesting local folklore attached to it. Here are some of the highlights of it.

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The area that is now Michigan was originally inhabited by a series of tribes of Native Americans for thousands of years. Explorers from France, who were mostly fur trappers, began coming to the area in the 1600s, and they claimed it on behalf of the French. However, France was defeated in North America in the 1762 French and Indian War, and the area came under control of the British, who were becoming the dominant colonial power on the continent.

After the colonists won the American Revolution, Michigan was given to the new United States by the British, but part of the northern border with Canada remained in dispute until after the War of 1812. Michigan was eventually admitted to the US as its 26th state in 1837, and was a free state, with no slavery permitted. In its time, it has collected a lot of interesting local folklore. Here are some of the highlights of it.

The Dogman of Michigan

There is a wild creature in the woods of Michigan known as the Dogman. It’s so well-known, it even has its own Wikipedia page. The first reported encounter with it was in 1887 when two lumberjacks happened across it. They said it had the body of a man and the head of a dog. It was spotted by others several times in the early 20th century, usually in the Upper Peninsula area.

One resident of Paris, Michigan, even said he was set upon by a group of dogs once, and one of them walked on two legs—he suspected it to be the Dogman. The legend has been featured on the TV show MonsterQuest, and there is a song about the creature called “The Legend.”

The Light of Paulding

In Paulding, Michigan, just off Highway 45, the mysterious Paulding Light appears each night after dark. It floats above the power lines, moves around, and sometimes even changes colors. Red and white are the most common colors of the light, but others, like blue and green, have been reported. The legend goes that the light is the ghost of a railroad brakeman who refuses to leave the site of his death by a railroad accident. The light is his lantern that he waves to warn off visitors. There is even a sign in the area of the light that lists the legend.

Another tale says the light is the ghost of a Native American who dances on the power lines. Others with less imagination say the light is merely swamp gas. The legend is well known, and has been discussed on the Syfy channel’s show “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files,” which concluded the explanation for the lights cannot currently be determined

The Nain Rouge

This is French for “red dwarf,” but should not be confused with the British TV show of the same name. It is instead a legendary creature that was originally considered a protector of the town of Detroit. Over time, it began instead to be seen as a harbinger of doom for the town, though no one knows why its purpose changed.

The citizens of Detroit have been dressing up as the Nain Rouge every year on the Sunday after the Spring Equinox for around three centuries. The purpose of this is to disguise themselves so the Nain Rouge cannot exact its revenge on them. People gather at Cass Park or near it to do the dress up thing, and sometimes the Nain Rouge even appears at these gatherings, usually to taunt those present with his plans to destroy Detroit. So far, though, Detroit has stayed safe.

Looking for Le Griffon

In 1679, the Le Griffon, a French cargo ship, disappeared on Lake Michigan. There was a griffon carved onto the bow of the ship (the griffon being a mythical, magical creature that is half lion and half eagle), and was the first ship to ever sail on one of the Great Lakes. Its purpose was to make fur trading between Green Bay and Detroit easier. Since it disappeared, countless treasure hunters have searched for it, as it is considered the “holy grail of shipwrecks.” More than twenty people have claimed to have actually found it, but each discovery was disproven—though the discoverers did not always believe they had not found the real ship. The most recent claim of discovery was made in 2015, but the state of Michigan claims to have proven this claim incorrect, as well. Whether anyone has actually found the real ship, and what actually happened to it all those centuries ago, remains a mystery, with modern people still interested in solving it.

The Singing Sands

There is a beach on the south side of the Keweenaw Peninsula that has an interesting story associated with it. The legend goes that a young Native American woman lost her true love to Lake Superior, and spent the rest of her life crying on the beach, calling to him. Because she spent so long doing this, the white sands of the beach are imprinted with her energy, and the sand itself still sings and calls out to her lost love. You are supposedly able to make the sand sing by patting or brushing the surface of it with your hand. This only works on the Bete Grise beach. If you take sand from that beach anywhere else, it will not sing for you.

True Love’s Kiss Resides in Michigan

Michigan State University has a beautiful tower called Beaumont Tower, where a legend exists about true love. Supposedly, any couple who kisses at the tower, either in its shadow or at the exact stroke of midnight, is a true love couple and destined to marry and spend their lives together. Also, students are only considered true Spartans (the school’s mascot) once they have kissed someone under the tower. As such, it is a popular place for new students to go, either to initiate themselves into the school or to make a commitment to a significant other. Alumni also use the spot for engagement and wedding photos, for which it is quite popular.