Tag Archives: Detroit

Detroit’s East Market – Legend


My father told me about living in Detroit. His side of the family is almost all Italian (Sicilian, more specifically). There was a saying that “You always know someone in the Mafia”, even if you weren’t aware of it. Detroit is notorious for high crime rates, or at least it was when my father was younger. He himself knew that his uncle was friends with people in the Mafia, which made many family members very uncomfortable. My father assumed that this meant he didn’t have to pay for protection (to the Mafia) for his liquor store, which many other store owners had to do. 

My dad knew a story about a newcomer to Detroit – someone who moved there without knowing what the situation was like. He sells their house and buys a new one in Detroit, with hopes of making it in the motor industry. Unfortunately, his perfect view of the city is shattered upon arrival, where robberies are rampant and terrible shootouts happen every day. The newcomer is terrified and keeps moving to new neighborhoods, asking for police help each time. The police prove more than useless and it becomes clear that they have little to no control over the city. Eventually the man, who has been robbed and mugged multiple times, is ready to give up on his dream. Just then, he stumbles into a new neighborhood. People are selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers out in the open. The newcomer is baffled – how are they able to do this and feel safe? He figures this area is more affluent and can fund their police better. But when he asks about the police, he gets laughed at. “The Mafia protects us,” respond the vendors. Apparently, this was the area in the city most tightly under the Mafia’s control. Crime was almost completely eliminated. My father referred to this place as the Eastern Market – one of the first farmer’s markets. He visited himself and testified to its truth – it was safer than most other places in Detroit at the time.


My dad heard this story from his parents, who warned him about going in certain neighborhoods because of high crime rates. My dad knew it to be true himself after visiting the area. The story reminds them that oftentimes there’s a whole lot going on that you don’t see – his uncle was a good example of this. A different relative was put in prison for obstruction of justice related to Detroit crime. He worked for the police. My father took dangerous places very seriously, especially after working at a Detoir emergency hospital where he saw gunshot patients and stabbed patients constantly.


There’s an inherent warning in this story, and a forced acceptance of the way things are. The story’s purpose is to help children (maybe more mature children) understand the city they live in, and come to terms with the fact that someone they know might be involved in crime. They must also come to terms with the fact that the police are not, in fact, safe people to talk to. They can easily be bribed and were not effective at all in eliminating crime. Finally, the story helps the children remember that the Eastern Market is one of the safer areas in Detroit.

The Nain Rogue Demon


AB: From what I know – which isn’t the most accurate account – is that the Nain Rouge is a disgusting hairy and horned demon. The story goes that the first time it showed up was before some battle where the demon danced on the corpses of the dead soldiers and turned the river bloody. Since then, it shows up prior to devastating events in the city as like a bad omen. The 1967 Race Riots were the most common example I heard since my grandparents moved out of the city due to them.


AB: The Nain Rouge is one of those myths not really in circulation in my family. I know growing up it was used as a boogeyman for a child’s bad behavior, which deviates pretty heavily from the original myth of it being a foreboding omen. I mostly just thought it was my parents needing a local legend derived from their parent’s catholic backgrounds. I lived in the suburbs surrounding Detroit but I did live close enough to the Rouge River for cultural osmosis to propagate. Myth went from chastising bad behavior to a reason to be back home before sundown (I used to bike up and down the Rouge River at Hines Park). Eventually my parents kinda just grew out of it, I didn’t really believe in it so they stopped using it.


There are a lot of similar boogeyman type stories in American folklore. Other common examples include stories like the Jersey Devil. The most likely origin for these stories is from somebody who witnessed a tragedy and wants some way to rationalize what occurred. Seeing a battlefield is damaging to the psyche, it isn’t too unbelievable that people would tell stories about the aftermath. As the stories grow popular, there are more “sightings” of the monster because more people know about it. Though, these stories are rarely believed, and like AB mentioned, are mostly used to scare children into behaving.

Windsor/Detroit Friendship Festival


The informant grew up near Windsor, Ontario in Canada which was right across the US border from Detroit, Michigan. Since the United States celebrates Independence Day on July 4th and Canada celebrates Canada Day on July 1st, the two towns would join to celebrate together at some point over the long holiday weekend.

Main Piece:

“Detroit and Windsor would do this thing, The Friendship Festival, because it was international friendship. And so they would have shared fireworks between, and they would compromise, do, like, whatever day worked out best over the long weekend, but, you know, sometimes it would be on my birthday, which was July 3rd, so it was especially great to go to Windsor and they’d have fireworks for my birthday.”


These two cities were so close to each other and both celebrate a major holiday on the same weekend, so it makes sense that they would join forces. Some other compounding factors include the fact that the drinking age is two years lower in Ontario than in the US, which already made Windsor a popular destination for those slightly too young to drink alcohol in the States. This tradition makes me consider how a folk does not necessarily end at a national border. These towns, only separated by a river and an artificially enforced border, institutionally celebrate their national holidays three days apart. But because their proximity to each other, and therefore their connection, cannot simply be negated by the borders of their nations, they compromise to create a new festival out of the two.

Bob’s Frieghter Jump

Informant Bio

My informant is a student at USC who hails from Detroit, Michigan. He grew up in the suburbs around Detroit, attended a private Catholic school there, and has great pride in his city. He has a large family with whom he is very close.


In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my informant’s family has a lake house that they use for family gatherings in the summer. His family is rather large, so these gatherings involve three or four sets of grandparents, anywhere from four to six sets of aunts and uncles, plus my informant’s parents, and up to ten of my informant’s cousins along with him and his two siblings.

At these family gatherings one year, someone brought up a story that they’d heard about a man who leapt off a freighter into Lake Michigan and had never been found. No one knew who that man was, or why he jumped. The family together tried to research the incident online, but couldn’t find a single news story that sounded similar.

Over time the story has been brought up at the gatherings and has become a joke for my informant’s family. Someone in the family decided that the man’s name was Bob, and that somehow Bob was still hanging around the Upper Peninsula. My informant’s sister along with some other young kids from a nearby lake house once came across a large slab of broken rock that they declared “Bob’s Tomb.”

The story has circulated around the lakeside community, and has become a popular legend of the Upper Peninsula. But to my informant, it remains a family joke.