He was beloved by all, and most of all by the children.
For he told them tales of the Loup Garou in the forest.
And of the goblin thai came in the night to water the horses.
And of the White Letiche, the ghost of a child who unchristened
died, and was doomed to haunt unseen the chambers of children.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline
My new favorite book is Legends of Le Détroit by Mary Carolyn Watson Hamlin, illustrated by Miss Isabella Stewart, and published in 1894 in Detroit by Thorndike Nourse. In addition to Ms. Hamlin’s descriptive prose that really sheds light on what life was like for early settlers in the Detroit area, it’s especially appropriate to kick off how I’m going to enjoy the week of Halloween, with stories that raise your hackles spark a feeling that Michigan is wilder and more wonderful than you may have known.
As the first of several spooky tales from Michigan, I offer Le Loup Garou which is a lot longer than usual. I’ve tried to share the highlights of the story, but you really should click that link to read it all! We begin at Grosse Pointe where:
…a trapper named Simonet had settled near there on the margin of the lake.
His young wife had faded away in the early years of their married life, but as if in compensation, had left the little prattler Archange to wean him from his grief and to cheer his loneliness. And the strong, hardy man, with his sunburnt face and brawny arms hardened by toil and exposure, in his yearning love for his child, learned to soften his rough manners and soothe her with the gentle ways of a woman. Anxiously he watched the unfolding of his “pretty flower,” as he called her, and with a solicitude touching in its simple pathos, he would select the softest skin of the bear to keep her feet warm, search for the brightest wings of the bird to adorn her hat. When she grew up he taught her to skin the beaver, muskrat and deer which he brought home, and to stretch them out on the drying frame near the house. He was wont to boast that no one could excel Archange preparing the poisson blanc (whitefish), poisson dore (pickerel), or give that peculiar shade of brown which is in itself an art, to the savory cochon au lait (sucking pig).
She was as light-hearted as the cricket that chirped on the hearth, and her cheery voice could be heard caroling away to the music of her spinning wheel. In the long winter evenings her deft fingers would plait the straw into hats which found a ready sale, and which, added to the sum she gained by her knitted socks and dried corn, enabled her to secure many little articles that her vanity suggested to enhance her charms. For the Canadian girl, in the rude surroundings of her forest home, was as anxious to please and be witch by her toilet as her more favored Parisian sister ; the instincts of the sex still lived in the wilderness. At the corn-huskings and dances on the greensward Archange was the reigning belle, and held her little court of homespun dressed youths fascinated by the magic of her dark eyes, her brunette complexion with its warm glow, her raven tresses and piquante tongue. Many admiring eyes followed her lithe form as she tripped in marvelous rapidity la jig a deux or as she changed into the more graceful, swaying motion of la dance ronde.
Enter the capable young farmer Pierre La Fontaine, whose marriage proposal was happily accepted by Simonet, was building a cabin for his bonnie bride, and apparently driving his fragile canoe along the rippling waters lit up by elfish moonbeams (Ms. Hamlin’s words) as they made wedding plans that included the gift of a red cow from Archange’s god-father. Well…
One evening as Pierre placed Archange on the beach near her home and she lingered, following him with her loving eyes as he swiftly rowed away until he had disappeared and only the faint echo of his Canadian boat song floated towards her, she was startled by a rustling sound near by. Looking up a wild shriek escaped her, for a monster with a wolf’s head and an enormous tail, walking erect as a human being, crossed her path. Quickly the cabin door was thrown open by Simonet, who had been roused by his daughter’s scream. Archange flew into her father’s arms and pointed to the spot where she had seen the monster, but the animal surprised by the light, had fled into the woods. Simonet’s face grew pale as Archange described, as accurately as her fears had allowed her to see, the apparition, and he recognized the dreaded Loup Garou.
Did I mention long?
Simonet worried about the Loup Garou (werewolf), but soon the wedding day arrived:
…Soon after she (Archange) joined Pierre and hand in hand, followed by all the habitants in their holiday attire, they entered the little church of logs hewn square, the interstices chinked in with clay, the roof of overlapping strips of bark. In front of the altar, decorated with flowers arranged by loving hands, they knelt. Father Freshet, who had baptized Pierre and Archange and prepared them for their first communion, now came to unite them in the holy bonds of matrimony. After the ceremony they went to the sacristy and inscribed their names in the registry, then hurried off to Pierre’ s new house, where the festivities were to take place. On the green lawn in front of her new cabin the blushing Archange greeted all her friends. The Seigneur of the neighborhood came to claim the right of premier baiser (first kiss). The refreshments were in abundance and all gave themselves up to the enjoyment of the moment, for the Canadians dearly loved a wedding and kept up its festivities for days.
Whilst the merry making was at its height the dreaded Garou with a rush like the wind sprang into their midst, seized Archange and escaped with her into the forest. All were paralyzed by the sudden, daring deed. But Pierre recovering, started in quick pursuit guided by the despairing cry of Archange, followed by all the men, whilst the women and children said their prayers and gave vent to loud lamentations. Long after the shadows had fallen they returned to report to the anxious, trembling crowd, and their sad, dejected faces spoke of the fruitlessness of their search. The monster had baffled them. But Pierre returned not. He was shortly after found by his friends wandering around and around a swamp, and clutching a piece of white batiste. When questioned as to how he had obtained this clue to Archange, he returned a maniacal stare and with a blood-curdling shriek, would have juimped into the swamp if he had not been held back by his companions, who with sorrowful accents said “La folie du bois.”* He would always return to the same swamp, remaining there for hours gazing vacantly in the weird reflections of its slimy, stagnant waters, until some friend led him home.
At the marriage of his sister, which occurred about a year afterwards, Pierre, always dead to the outside world, seemed to be roused by the preparations. After the ceremony he rushed into the woods as if in pursuit of something. He did not return until nearly sunset when he was seen, with wild eyes, flying hair, his clothes torn as if lay briers, chasing a Loup Garou to the very edge of the lake. All stood petrified by the strange apparition and feared a repetition of Archange’s fate. But the animal, seeing no escape, stood on one of the boulders strewn along the shore and stretched out his arms as if beckoning to some mysterious one. A large catfish was seen to rise on the surface of the water and open its mouth, into which the Loup Garou vanished. To this day no Canadian will eat catfish. The footprint of the wolf is still shown at Grosse Pointe, indelibly impressed on one of the boulders.
As I said, read the story in full and if anyone has a shot of the footprint in the boulder, please send it to me!!
More ghost & spooky stories on Michigan in Pictures!
*La folie du bois (the folly of the woods) alludes to the well- known insane tendency which prompts those lost in the woods to go round in a continuous circle, instead of following a direct path which would lead to a clearing.