Paris Monuments: A-Haunting We Will Go

“Flamme de la Liberté” memorial ( the unofficial Princess Di shrine) Photos by Theadora Brack

“Flamme de la Liberté” memorial ( the unofficial Princess Di shrine) Photos by Theadora Brack

Why did Princess Anna Troubetzkoy jump?

Why did Princess Anna Troubetzkoy jump?

By Theadora Brack

Blame it on the falling autumn leaves, but now I’ve got a strong hankering for a little Magical Mystery stroll. Let’s crack open my slim, leather-bound volume of spirited adventures in Paris for another retelling, see. Here are my favorite sacred grounds. Grab the bottle of Suze while I fluff the pillows. Pinching from Edith Piaf: “Tou qui m’aimais!
 Moi qui t’aimais!” Get closer.

1. Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is a virtual magnet for suicides. From the get-go, folks have been jumping off it like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, it’s one of the most popular spots to commit suicide in all of Europe. She may not have been the first to say it, but perhaps she was the most memorable: “So sorry to rain on your parade,” Princess Anna Troubetzkoy shouted, as she fell from the top on Bastille Day in July 1931. At first it was ruled accidental, but then a farewell note was found in her bag.

Back in May: Anna had married a certain Prince Sergei in New York. They kicked off their European honeymoon in June and were set to renew their four-month vows in August when they reached Russia. So what happened? Was she already envisioning endless crash diets and yet another round of dress fittings? (Heck, we’ve all been there!) Nobody knows for sure, but obviously something had already gone astray between the lovebirds to make her decide to fly the coop so dramatically.

 Eiffel Tower, Travel Slide, 1950

Eiffel Tower, Travel Slide, 1950 (T. Brack’s archives)

2. Hôtel Cluny Sorbonne


Trekking to Paris? Grab my hand. I’ve got the place for you. Located in the Latin Quarter near the Université de la Sorbonne and Panthéon, the Hôtel Cluny Sorbonne has always attracted starving poets and Lonely Hearts, too. Here La Vie de Bohème can still be found in its coveted reflection-inducing garret rooms.

Poet on Fire

In fact, in room 62 is where visionary poet Arthur Rimbaud composed the ultimate break-up, “he’s just not into you” opus, upon his fiery return to Paris in 1872.

And speaking of another Rimbaud poem, “Eternité,” do keep a watch for spirits. The hotel is rumored to be flush with glowing literary orbs. Experiencing writer’s block? Perhaps one will lend a guiding hand. Just bask.

I have stretched ropes from bell-tower to bell-tower; garlands from window to window; chains of gold from star to star, and I dance!” Arty brilliantly penned. Sigh.

3. Notre Dame

A young woman known only by the initials “M.J.” appeared at the cathedral on a cold and rainy October day in 1882, begging to climb the tower. She was refused, because back in the day, women weren’t allowed to ascend without a chaperone.

Keep your eyes peeled for M.J. and Friend (Travel Slide, 1950)

So what to do? She quickly spotted an elderly lady who was also touring the church and decided to make fast friends. After buying her breakfast at a nearby café, M.J. asked the lady to tour the tower with her. She agreed and they headed back to the church.

By the time the pair reached the upper parapets, rain had begun to pour. While the elderly woman sheltered in the bell-ringer’s room, the M.J. screamed and apparently jumped. According to witnesses, she fell onto the spiked railings below and was neatly severed in two. No identification was found in her bag, but her kerchief was marked with the initials “M.J.”

Poof: As for the old lady who agreed to escort her, she seems to have disappeared into thin air too. If you happen to visit Notre Dame, keep one eye peeled for either one—they’ve both been seen flitting between the gargoyles.

Pack the opera glasses, I say. Do let us know if you spot them!

4. Arc de Triomphe

Almost immediately after it was completed, people began heaving themselves off the Arc de Triomphe’s rooftop parapet, after climbing all 284 steps to get there. (Did they not spot the gift shop?) Occasionally a skirt would tangle and catch on a cornice, leaving the poor women dangling a few long moments above the horrified crowds below, before the seams would give way and they’d plunge to their deaths.

Don't look down while touring the Eiffel Tower, Travel Slide, 1950

It’s a long way down,  Eiffel Tower, Travel Slide, 1950

Figuring out which police station to contact after one of these unfortunate incidents has always been a major source of confusion because the monument sits at the juncture of four arrondissements and they’ve never clearly settled whether it’s the departure spot or the point of arrival (i.e., the sidewalk) that should be the determining factor in establishing proper jurisdiction.

Atop the Arc, look out for a particular spirit named Rose. After quarreling with her beau on Bastille Day in 1914, Rose jumped, narrowly missing throngs of tourists in her tumble. Our hobble-skirt clad fashionista was “dressed expensively and well,” according to the newspaper report.

Just what is it about Bastille Day that drives folks to make the leap? Is it uniforms or the martial music?

5. Pont-de l’Alma, Princess Di


Just outside the Pont de l’Alma Métro station is the “Flamme de la Liberté” memorial, which now serves double duty as the unofficial Princess Di shrine. Pilgrims still leave poems, flowers, and love letters there.

According to my friend Ghislaine, who worked on two documentary films about the crash that killed her, “There are definitely ghosts in the Alma tunnel. After many nights spent filming there, I can tell you it’s eerie. It was if Diana’s ghost was trying to urge us to find the truth. And I was certainly not the only one to feel this.”

DALIDA at the Cimetière de Montmartre (BY PINUP ARTIST ALAIN ASLAN)

6. Dalida

On May 3, 1987, Yolanda Gigliotti, better known as pop idol Dalida, took a handful of pills, put on her sunglasses and “left our world for another,” as a fan website puts it. Ever since, the house has never quite felt the same. However, sometimes a shadowy figure appears at the window as if to greet her fans—and she certainly still has them by the millions.

In addition to the house, the late diva’s life-size sculpture is in the Cimetière de Montmartre, while her bust is at the junction of rues Girardon and Abreuvoir. Both memorials are often rubbed for luck before athletic and musical competitions.

7. Cimetière de Montmartre

After spending time with Dalida, visit Marie Taglioni’s shrine. Paying homage to the ballerina, dancers from all over the world leave their well-worn ballet slippers (sometimes with little notes). The sight of the heartfelt gestures has never failed to lift my spirits. It’s true.

Winding it back: Though Marie Taglioni wasn’t the first to dance en pointe or don the muslin skirt (skimming the ankle much to the delight of every binocular-carrying fan!), she’s the one who made it her own. “Shorten your dress just a  little,” begged one admirer, according to a newspaper report in 1884. Taglioni’s popularity launched her name into the lingo: the verb Taglioniser (to be slender and graceful). And most coveted coiffeur? À la syphide!

Dancers leave their ballet slippers at Marie Taglioni's shrine

Dancers leave their ballet slippers at Marie Taglioni’s shrine

8. Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

After dancing with the stars, hotfoot it on over to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, you’ll not only find the graves of famous folks like Chopin, Balzac, Modigliani, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and, some say, Jim Morrison, but a few final resting places that are even more interesting because of the behaviors they induce.

Tip: It’s worth buying a map at the entrance to help you locate them. The best time to watch the action is early in the morning.

Allan Kardec

One of my favorites is the grave of Allan Kardec in section 44. Here you can discreetly watch as true believers in spiritualism not only come to caress the shoulders of the bronze bust glaring from its niche (under what looks to be a crude prehistoric dolmen), and to whisper messages in order to “telephone” their dead loved ones in his ear, but often also to put in requests for winning lottery numbers.

Behind the tomb is an official warning from the city of Paris (akin to the surgeon-general’s warning on a pack of cigarettes) to the effect that the municipal government can’t be sued if your numbers don’t win.

On the flipside: France is still a hotspot of afterlife activity—it’s no accident that words like séance, clairvoyant, and déjà vu are all French terms. So Bonne Chance!

Clipping from Allan Kardec, ‘Unshakable faith is only that which can face reason in all human epochs.”

Carpe diem!

Calling Allan Kardec at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

You’ll also find Modigliani, Proust, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Notre Dame with Sacré Coeur and Montmartre in view (Travel Slide, 1950)

Where-oh-where is M.J.? Notre Dame with Sacré Coeur and Montmartre in view (Travel Slide, 1950)

Paris Purple Haze

Purple Haze view of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe (Travel Slide, 1950)

A cat sketch left by a royal pilgrim at the the unofficial Princess Di shrine

A cat sketch left by a royal pilgrim at the the unofficial Princess Di shrine

Dalida

I can see your halo, Dalida! (Gondolier, 1958)

BRACK Ladies 51

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72 thoughts on “Paris Monuments: A-Haunting We Will Go

  1. “Goodbye, my friend, goodbye
    My love, you are in my heart.
    It was preordained we should part
    And be reunited by and by.
    Goodbye: no handshake to endure.
    Let’s have no sadness — furrowed brow.
    There’s nothing new in dying now
    Though living is no newer.”

    • Oh, yes. The perfect words, Tin Man. Thank you. Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin’s suicide note. What a sad story. He was so beautiful. And incredibly talented.

      “A rose in full bloom, whose petals of flesh snap shut on their prey,” is how dancer Isadora Duncan described the poet.

      I think it was a stormy affair! They married in 1922, and separated in 1924. Sergei then married Tolstoy’s granddaughter. However, Isadora was still in his thoughts. Just before committing suicide in 1925, he wrote: “I remember you saying to me/The good years shall pass/And you will forget me, my dear/Will another at last.” Fast forward: Isadora died in the infamous car wreck in 1927. Heads-up: Driving with the top down? Leave the scarf at home! According to rumor, before the car trip, she quipped to her friends: “Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!”

      Goosebumps!
      T.

  2. Since I don’t care for heights, I’d have to kill myself some other way, so if you ever hear a rumor that I committed suicide by jumping from a height place, show the police this comment! Not that I would commit suicide anyway, but…
    I’ll be traveling on Halloween, but by car, not something exotic like a broomstick, ending that evening in Philadelphia. Perhaps a few of the Founding Fathers will be signing something there. :-)

    janet

    • Thanks for the giggle, Janet!

      I’m with you. I’m also afraid of heights. I always think to myself: “Don’t jump. Don’t jump.”

      It’s a mystery! According to the Princess Anna’s father, “She went to the Eiffel Tower on a sightseeing party with a girl friend, Miss Natalie Pissaress. The girls went to the fourth floor, at the top of the tower. This floor is not closed in, as are other floors. Prince Alexander told me that my daughter was leaning over a railing and her foot slipped. It was entirely accidental.”

      T.

      (Enjoy Philadelphia! Your broomstick line also made my day!)

    • Merci!! I love spending time in the Montmartre Cemetery. Whenever I need a mood lift, I trek there and spend time my favorite dancers.

      Here’s my Dance Card:

      1. Dalida (18th Division)

      2. Louise Weber (31st division)
      Famed terpsichorean Louise Weber, a.k.a. La Goulue (the Glutton) was Queen of the Can Can and a favorite muse of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. She earned her moniker for nipping drinks from her audience while distracting them with her pantaloons and little pet goat!

      3. The Vestris Family (5th division)

      4. Marie Taglioni (22nd division)

      5. Emma Livry (22nd division)

      6. Fanny Cerrito (29th division)

      7. Paul Poiret (Intersection 8th 9th + 11th)

      8. Courtier Paul Poiret (Le Magnifique)
      And speaking of Isadora Duncan, Poiret not only draped favorite client Isadora in diaphanous chitons made of Dijon-colored chiffon, but also performed with her at his infamous Ballets Russes-inspired tented backyard shindigs!

      8. Vaslav Nijinsky (22nd division)

      9. Edgar Degas (4th division)
      Edgar Degas, who painted his beloved petits rats (ballerinas in training) for nearly fifty years!

      Enjoy the weekend!
      T.

    • Thank you! By the way, Marie Taglioni’s rival, Fanny Cerrito, is buried nearby in the 29th division at the Montmartre Cemetery.

      Here’s another story I often tell: Winding it back, riots erupted in Milan when Fanny Cerrito took the stage to challenge rival Marie Taglioni. According to her Fanny Cerrito’s choreographer husband (Arthur Saint-Leon) Cerrito was clearly the winner. “Taglioni’s leg encompassed a great deal of attention, while Cerrito’s leg magnified excitement.”

      Favoritism, eh?! Oh, la la.
      T.

    • YES. I agree with glee. Hugely impressive! I always spot beaucoup pilgrims by Dalida’s house, bust and grave site. Plaques mark the sacred spots. All three are located in Montmartre. Worth the trek! The Musée Montmartre is also located nearby. The life-size grave site sculpture and the bust were created by pinup artist Alain Aslan.

      Also I highly recommend giving her “Bambino” and “Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini” tunes a spin!

      Cheers!
      T.

  3. that was fab. when I was little, I used to love the little “houses” in the cimetiere du Pere Lachaise and wanted to live in one.It was quite a long time afterwards that I realised what they were.

    • Oh, I love your story about the little houses. The little houses do resemble dollhouses with their tiny stained glass windows, little bolted doors, and porches. They’re perfect perches for the “guard” kitties. Sweet story! T. (Even with a map, I always get lost in Cimetière du Père Lachaise. Happens every time!)
      T.

  4. “Did they not spot the gift shop?” Priceless! I do recall Rose from last year but there are newbies that are just as “fun.” I will definitely visit Anna’s Ballet Slipper Depository and as for that sad honeymooning princess, I’m going

    • Great eye for detail! Our Rose and M.J. made a cameo appearances last year. Every autumn, I’ll add a few more stories and photographs, I do believe. YES. Add Marie Taglioni’s shrine at the Cimetière de Montmartre to your list. Vaslav Nijinsky’s grave site is located nearby in the 22 division. I’d also visit the Musée Carnavalet to your list. Marie Antoinette’s slipper is on display. Perhaps you’ve been there?! It’s a beauty.

      Also, the Opéra Garnier often coordinates costume exhibitions. Sometimes they feature headpieces!
      T.

      • I did the same thing this year too…just added more stuff. Costume and headpiece exhibition?! *dreamy*…I have not visited m@’s slipper; I’m writing that one down. the other “must” are 2 of Marie Thérèse’s tiaras from when she was duchesse d’angl & dauphine.
        I’ll check out the “suicide” tiara…

  5. Really interesting piece. When I was in secondary school the group that got to (because they paid to) go to Paris for a week witnessed a suicide when they were at/up the Eiffel Tower. It’s the only detail I remember them reporting. Unlike in your diagram’s dotted line I don’t think this woman had such a push off as she impacted somewhere on the girders on the way down, as science would suggest she would. It must be a horrible place to jump from.

    • Oh, gosh. What a story. What horrible timing for your classmates. AND YES. I’ve been studying the newspaper diagram. I guess they were being kind to their readers, perhaps. On July 23, 1931, it appeared in the numerous papers. Here’s another eyewitness account: “None of the numerous visitors on the third platform thought the elegant woman wished to die. They could not prevent her from getting over the parapet when she threw herself into space. After striking the ironwork her body crashed to earth.”

      T.

    • Ah, thank YOU. Each year, I’ll add a few more stories and photographs. I’m currently working on a post about the spirited cafés and bars in historic Montmartre, Abbesses and Pigalle. So stay tuned! T. (And enjoy the weekend!)

  6. You do Paris such a great justice! I so enjoy your different angles and perspectives from both the very popular sights and the less popular ones. I am learning so much about this wonderful city through your posts. What a great ambassador and tour guide you are! love, Love, LOVE your writing style!

    On another note, I have the supply of Halloween treats for the close to 100 trick-or-treaters who will be coming to the door tomorrow evening! Till next time, Thea

    • Thank you, Thea! I love, Love, LOVE your thoughtful words and positive energy!

      One hundred Trick-O-Treaters?! What did you purchase? Presentation? Bags or dishes? By the way, I loved the shots of your Halloween Vignette! Great post. It’s alive! It’s a beauty.

      T.

    • Goosebumpingly gorgeous?! Fabulous description. I LOVE it.

      Next up: Haunting the bars and cafés in Historic Montmartre! Stay tuned for more goosebumps!

      T.

    • Merci! And YES. I agree. The Cimetière du Père-Lachaise and the Cimetière de Montmartre are both wonderful spots to visit—any day of the year.

      Also, let’s not forget Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise of pet cemeteries. Located northwest on the Seine, Paris’s Le Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques (Cemetery of Dogs and Other Domestic Animals) is the oldest pet cemetery in the world.

      It’s another one of my favorite haunts in Paris!
      T.

  7. Wow, T. You never disappoint. The ballet shoes picture was just wonderful and Edith Pilaf — I listen to her music — it’s just great. Thank you for taking me along with you on this day. :)

    • Brigitte, I also love writing while listening to music. And YES. Edith Piaf never disappoints. For kicks, Give Dalida a spin! You won’t be sorry. I especially love her late 1950s work. Her “Gondolier” and “Come Prima” are favorites, hands-down! She was dramatic. She was a diva. T. (Enjoy the weekend!)

  8. Marie Taglioni’s shrine is particularly poignant, with its faded colors … Apart from Dalida and Lady Diana, I didn’t know these sad tales, so thank you for sharing and paying tribute to them with such a powerful post ! Happy Halloween and have a peaceful All Saint’s Day ! X

    • Oh, thank you for such thoughtful words. YES. My little tales were tributes. It was an interesting post to create. I studied old late 19th century and early 20th century newspaper archives. Some of the tales were horrifying. The good old days never really existed. (One gentleman dandy made the Eiffel Tower leap after his wife asked to give up gambling!) I also love Marie Taglioni’s shrine. Thinking of dancers, the Opéra Garnier is another favorite haunt. Self-tours are offered, so you can explore entire joint for hours. It’s a very moving experience. Especially on a dark, dreary day!
      T.

    • Well, thank you! I love, love the Musée de Cluny. The La Dame à la licorne tapestries broke my heart. Did you make it to gift shop? Or to the nearby the Brasserie Balzar (2-minute walk from the Cluny). “Le petit Lipp” has been open since 1895. I had no idea! Another classic French people-watching spot. I’m off now to find the cd I purchased at the museum! T.

  9. Terrific post. I’m a big Edith Piaf fan so have been to Pere Lachaise cemetery before, but I’ll be adding some of these places to my list of quirky things to do on my next visit to Paris.

    • Merci! Have you visited the Musée Edith Piaf? Located at 5 Rue Crespin du Gast (11th arrondissement), add it to your list! You’ll get to see the “Little Sparrow’s” black dresses, size 4 shoes, and pocketbooks. You’ll have no regrets. They even play her music while you tour the little flat. Worth the trek!
      T.

  10. Fantastic shots once again, T! Loved this grisly tour – it really cheered me up. I had no idea the Eiffel Tower was such a clog-popping hotspot – obvious really. Love Pere Lachaise – always found it curiously romantic. We visited on our honeymoon.

    • Clog-popping, indeed. Thanks, Richard!

      Pére-Lachaise is the perfect place to visit during a honeymoon. Have you seen “Paris, je t’aime” film (2006)? Wes Craven shot a five-minute short at the cemetery, starring Emily Mortimer, Rufus Sewell, and Alexander Payne. The couple is in Paris, celebrating their honeymoon. No spoilers here. It’s very sweet scene. I’ll dig up a link . . .

      Enjoy the weekend!
      T.

  11. Dearest Theodora
    Ah. Dalida. Paroles Paroles. Until at last there were no more words to say or sing. No talk left to talk.
    I remember a fabulous exhibition of her gowns at the Hotel de Ville a few years ago… an original.
    Wonderful recommendations all, though for spooks the catacombs would seem the surest bet, or the windows in the pavement near the Hotel Dieu where pedestrians could gather to watch human dissections, or the canal Saint Martin to remember all those who perished before the Bastille was stormed.
    Oh perhaps best of all the tomb of Abelard and Heloise at the cemetery.
    With time though, with time everything fades… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaSS2fA4b68
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Dear Perfumed Dandy,

      What epic weepie tracks and treats you presented! Where to start? Good. Golly.

      Abelard and Heloise’s tomb at Pére-Lachaise. Reunited and it feels so good, they must have whispered. Of course, I’ll add the 12th century star-crossed lovers to my list. And now lovers from all over the globe leave flowers, letters, and other tokens of appreciation. The pair deserves a post. Thanks for the push.

      Paroles. Paroles. Paroles. Now I can’t get the tune out of my head. Not that I’m trying. Dalida. Alain Delon. Their voices meshed well. Brilliant, Perfumed Dandy! I agree with you. The Dalida exhibition at the Hotel de Ville was fabulous. I had to wait in line for hours but, for the love of divas, it was worth it.

      YES. The catacombs (1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 14th arrondissement). What an experience. Immediately I started sobbing. I was surprised. And so were the guards! “Are you okay, mademoiselle,” the concerned guard asked. Avec le temps. Oh, yes.

      Merci!!
      T.

    • Thanks for such sweet words!! It’s always great fun to throw on the tour operator hat.
      Enjoy the weekend!
      T.
      (Your photographs inspire, by the way. Thank you!)

      • No, Thank You for your kind words, besides, you bring Paris to me!! :-) Have a great weekend too!!

  12. “From the get-go, folks have been jumping off it like there’s no tomorrow. ” LOL! This might just be my favorite post of yours, Theadora! Perfect mix of Paris, tale telling and photos. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Paul! It was an interesting post to create. I thoroughly enjoyed digging up old newspaper articles about the “good old days” in Paris. Oh, la la! T. (Your recent shot of the Statue of Liberty on the Île aux Cygnes in Paris is incredible!)

  13. Fabulous twists for all your entries – my favourite line is “they’ve never clearly settled whether it’s the departure spot or the point of arrival”… you had me laughing out loud…

  14. Magnifique, as always! I haven’t been around much to comment but I never miss popping in! Never a disappointment and when I get my act together I will definitely have you on my blog! p.s. – I’m still waiting for news you are writing the most comprehensive Paris travel guide ever! Do it!

  15. Pingback: Patricia Sands' Blog

  16. I’ve never heard those places were such jumping off spots! Now I might just be a little afraid to stand near them. :)

  17. I made the right choice. I discarded by green rubber boots. No sewers, no catacombs, no wandering the labyrinth of underground Paris. I am tripping through a Paris of sober thoughts, poignant memories, poetic suicide notes with T. I’ve left my ruby slippers – along with other satin slippers with Marie Taglioni. XX V/

  18. Great piece! Lots of interesting places with such colorful stories. Thanks, Thea. Enjoyed going around Paris with you again.

  19. Pingback: Paris Monuments: A-Haunting We Will Go | Denver Window Blog

  20. Pingback: Un peu de nostalgie ~ and some great blogs about France!

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