Paris Tips: 7 Spooky Ghost Stories

Notre Dame Photos by Theadora Brack

Who was M.J.?

By Theadora Brack

‘Tis the season to be spooky, so I’ve dusted off my slim leather-bound volume of ghost adventures in Paris. I repeat: You know the thrill. Grab the flashlights, popcorn, and sleeping bags while I light our fire. Play on, Debussy’s “Sirènes.” Boo la la.

Who’s there?!

1. Notre Dame
4th arrondissement (Métro: Cité or Saint-Michel)

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. 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.

Princess Anna and Prince Serge

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.

2. Eiffel Tower
16th arrondissement
(Métro: École Militaire or Champ de Mars)

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.

The 1,046-foot-tall stunner: Eiffel Tower

Back in May, Anna had married a certain Prince Serge 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? Nobody knows for sure, but obviously something had already gone astray between the lovebirds to make her decide to fly the coop so dramatically.

3. Arc de Triomphe
Place Charles-de-Gaulle, 17th arrondissement
(Métro: Charles-de-Gaulle)

Almost immediately after it was completed, women began heaving themselves off its rooftop parapet, after climbing all 284 steps to get there. Occasionally their skirts 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.

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.

Watch out for Rose at the Arc de Triomphe

Rose

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?

4. Dalida
At the end of rue d’Orchampt, 18th arrondissement
(Métro: Abbesses)

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 grave 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.

Lady Luck Dalida bust by pinup artist Alain Aslan

5. Pont-de l’Alma, Princess Di
7th arrondissement
(Métro: Pont de l’Alma)

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.”

6. Hôtel Cluny Sorbonne
5th arrondissement
(Métro:Cluny-Sorbonne)

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.

Pen Pals

In fact, in room 62 is where visionary poet Arty 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.

7. Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
20th arrondissement
(Métro: Père-Lachaise or Philippe Auguste)

In Pere Lachaise Cemetery, 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.

Handshake with the past at the Hôtel Cluny-Sorbonne

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.

Risky Business

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!

 

 

Allan Kardec’s gravesite at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Patch me through, Monsieur Kardec, Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Happy Autumn!

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99 thoughts on “Paris Tips: 7 Spooky Ghost Stories

    • Thanks! Sadly, I had to cut quite a few stories. Here’s one for the road: In 1921, the dashing French composer Jules Massenet’s spirit popped up at La Gaîté Lyrique in Paris during rehearsals. “At first I thought it was a hallucination. It was clad in the familiar gray frock coat, beat time with its hands and shake its head in approval or disapproval,” reported one of the stagehands. At the time, the theater was working on Massenet’s “Anurge” –one of the composer’s last works. Talk about micromanaging! T. (I do love his “Méditation from Thaïs.” Perfect for a gloomy day.)

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  1. I love the you-can’t-sue-us warning!! Opportunities for humor are few and far between right now as so much of the US is dealing with the after effects of Hurricane Sandy. In Ohio, we’re just on the edges and we even got slammed, although nothing like the east coast. Thanks for a nice break! 🙂

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    • Ah, thanks. Yes, I also love the city’s official “Risky Business” warning. How are you doing? Are you okay? Any damage? Sending you post-hurricane positive vibes. T.

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      • Fortunately we’re on the edges, but the edges were bad enough. We’re fortunate because we had no trees come down, no water in our basement, the house is fine, just had a few leaks due to the driving wind and persistent, driving rain. Our younger daughter in Philadelphia, which was right in the way, is fine and their building didn’t even lose power. My s-i-l in New York City is also fine and didn’t lose power. But lots of my friends in New Jersey are still without power although, thankfully, their homes seem to be fine. There so much destruction that it’s difficult to imagine. Thanks for asking and for your concern. 🙂 janet

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      • Hi Janet, I’m glad you and your family are okay. And no trees! What a relief. For work, I’m currently trekking back and forth between Paris and the east coast. So I’ve been checking in with friends and family all week long. Quite a few friends in NYC are still without power. Good luck with the leak repair. Take care! T.

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    • Thank you! I thoroughly enjoyed meshing the photographs with the tales. It’s the perfect season for such a task. I’m now obsessed. Enjoy your week and work! T.

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  2. I await your posts with bated breath. The stories are wonderful. The words are witty. The woman is whimsical. And I get to slip into my Paris mode. The Good Husband says when we go to Paris – along with the Tin Man – for of course we would not go to Paris without The Tin Man and his Partner – we shall sip some bubbly and exchange tales of wonder. Our own version of the witty round table founded so many years ago in New York. Virginia.

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    • Yes. Yes. Yes. Imagine. What a shindig! I’m with you. I can’t imagine the happening happening without Monsieur Tin Man, flying monkeys, and ginger snaps. We’d meet during the chilly autumn months, of course. We’d sip a few rounds of vin chaud while seated outdoors at a café with a view, falling leaves, and the heaters merrily humming. Lovely thought. T. (As always, thanks for the beautiful words. You always make my day!)

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      • Hmmm We running out of time this year …but perhaps next autumn we will all gather at the round table. Note to self – remind TinMan we have an assignation with the beautiful and mysterious Theadora.

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      • Hmmm We running out of time this year …but perhaps next autumn we will all gather at the round table. Note to self – remind TinMan we have an assignation with the beautiful and mysterious Theadora.

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  3. T, you’ve really outdone yourself. This compilation of spooky tales will haunt me tonight as I hand out candy in Dallas. Are there trick-or-treaters in Paris or is that just a stateside tradition?

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    • Monsieur Tin Man, YOU are amazing. Oh, I bet you and Virginia have quite a few tales up your sleeves. And gorgeous beaucoup recipes, too. I loved your “flying monkeys” shot. Cute. Cute. T. (Also, dear Pop Quiz Master, I’m cooking up a little Franco-American riddle. The others don’t stand a chance!)

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      • If at first I do not respond you your riddle………we shall be traveling until the 12th of November and when traveling I oft forget to check ze computoor……..off to your marvelous Baltimore in the AM staying on the Inner Harbor, will toast you while there!!

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      • OH. Lucky you!! Bon Voyage!! Don’t visit Baltimore without visiting Fells Point, located near the Inner Harbor. Here you’ll find antique and junk shops, plus old eateries. Bertha’s Mussels is always, always warm and cozy. Ah, I’ve always loved this place. There’s a bar and a restaurant. Here’s the address: 734 S. Broadway. The soups are fabulous, along with the mussels, of course. They used to give out bumper stickers. There’s a bar and a restaurant. John Steven’s Tavern at 1800 Thames Street is another pet spot. Enjoy your trip! T. (Here’s one for the road! The Sip & Bite diner is also fun. They’ve been open since 1948. Address: 2200 Boston Street in Fells Point-Canton.)

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  4. Just came back from a host walk in our little town. And then I get to hear ghost stories from Paris. Brought back memories from my visit to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise . Thanks for the stories and the memories!

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    • Hands-down, rain or shine, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is one of my favorite spots on the planet. Who did you visit with during your jaunt? I usually spend time with Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. Inspiring. Soothing! T.

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    • Thanks! What’s missing? A few cat tales, perhaps! Edith Piaf stayed at the nearby at Hotel Clermont on 18 Rue Véron in the early thirties while performing on the streets of Pigalle and Montmartre. This street is also where I found my little stray cat named “Kitty.” La Vie en Rose! T.

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  5. Your terrific photos remind me that Paris is still great even when it’s dreary outside–in too many cities, gray weather is just crummy and miserable, but Paris instead becomes “brooding,” “moody,” “melancholy,” “spooky,” or even “atmospheric.” Thanks for taking us there once more!

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    • Yes, Martino. I completely agree with you. Even in the pouring rain, Paris has a moody-bluesy feeling about it. It flaunts a romantic and jazzy vibe, to boot. Your photographs are also beautiful. T.

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  6. What wonderful stories, Mlle B.! The accompanying images reinforce the spookiness of these little historical notes…especially the hand reaching for M Kardec’s beautiful bronze bust…speaking of which, Dalida’s is simply, merveilleux…what a gorgeous beauty she was (with a very gorgeous voice also)! Merci beaucoup, Mlle B., pour un tour fantastique!

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    • Thank you! I also adore Dalida. AND WE are not alone. I always spot folks from all over the globe outside her house and at Place Dalida. At the flea market, I just scored a few 45 records. The covers are fabulous! B. (I’m sure the Congress Hotel in Chicago has a few spirits hanging out in its hallway and grand lobby. I got goosebumps as I slowly made my way to my room. Or perhaps, perhaps it just the squeaky floor? I love this hotel. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. A Chicago treasure!)

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      • I hope to be back downtown sometime next week…and will get inside some of these great spots to do some shooting (with permissions, of course!)…I’ve never been in the Rookery, the Trump Tower, The Intercontinental, so I figure I’ll work my way up from the Congress and capture as much as possible! Until then…Merci beaucoup, aussi, pour les tours de Paris et bon achat!

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      • Fingers crossed! I’m looking forward to seeing your photographs!! YES. I lost my heart in Chicago. I also lost my memory chip in Chicago (with the pix of the Congress Hotel). Tears were shed! B.

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  7. ”Boo lala!” indeed you naughty woman…almost making sides split from prolonged chuckling and guffaws, making this one of my most dangerous Hallowe’ens to date… your research is impeccable (pronounced in French of course, for more deserved effect), and the jeune Princesse et les autres belles dames have now achieved more fame due to the recognition of their last valiant efforts in this blog. A delicious piece of writing, with the usual – expected – high quality to match…and Dalida…goodness!
    Ah, but 5 minutes strolling down a rue Parisien with you must be such a pleasurable moment!

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    • AH—Ha. You caught me using my pet “Boo-la-la” yet again. Guilty as charged! I couldn’t help myself, I’m afraid. Your tribute to our “jeune Princesse et les autres belles dames” made me weepy. Thank you for such thoughtful words, as always. You and your work always make me smile. It’s true. Let’s not forget to mention your fabulous wit! Merci for the visit and the pep talk, too. I appreciate it! T.

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  8. I just love your posts, Theadora, and this one is no exception. Absolutely marvellous!! I must visit that cemetery next time I’m in Paris. Graveyards are some of my favourite places to photograph. Thank you for a very entertaining article. Bless you.

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  9. This was so interesting and so intriguing! I so enjoyed reading the this history but with a Halloween spooky twist. The writing and images were superb! ~Thank you Theadora from you blogging friend Theadora!

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    • Well, thank you!! I thoroughly enjoyed the research phase of the project. I now need to organize my notes and drafts. The problem? My desktop is a complete mess! The solution? Move the “Ghost Adventures” docs and pix to files! Tomorrow! Signed, Lazy T.

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  10. Traveling with you is always fun, even when talking of tragedy! Pity poor MJ, Anna, and your others, though–they were compelled to leave, and in such painfully dramatic fashion. I love Massenet’s Thais, and your Happy Autumn photo, and you know I have a thing for perfume bottles. I like your shots of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower too; you have Such an artful eye, Theadora! ~ Lily

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    • Thank you, Lily!! What thoughtful words! I listened to Yo-Yo and Kathryn Stott non-stop while working on my story. It was very soothing and inspiring, too. Do you play music while writing your poetry? Or is it a distraction? T.

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      • Sometimes I do have music in the background when I write, like you Theadora, but more often when I paint (esp. classical). I also like to listen to music (blues, jazz) when I cook so that I can dance around the kitchen! ~ Lily

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    • As always, thank you, Deanne! I also love the 1956 shot of Jeanne Herring. She is so glamorous. I love her style. Stay tuned for more shots! T. (Do you collect found photography?)

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      • Jeanne Herring – hadnèt heard of her. Must go0gle.
        I wouldn’t say I collect found photography, although I do have a few, and I semi-collect vintage postcards.

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      • Jeanne Herring – hadnèt heard of her. Must go0gle.
        I wouldn’t say I collect found photography, although I do have a few, and I semi-collect vintage postcards.

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  11. So very cool – I wish I would have known these stories before I went to Paris. Glad I’ll know them for next time. As always great blog post – I love all of your stories. They are all so different and interesting.

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  12. You do tell the best stories!
    And these ghostly ones are among your finest efforts: the blend of irony, gravity, skepticism and wit is irresistible.

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  13. Great post! Really enjoyed reading your stories, Theadora, especially the Eiffel Tower.

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    • Thanks, Frank! Last week, I updated the post with a few new stories and pics. Yes, the Eiffel Tower story is a sad one. I think she slipped. According to her friends and cousins, the Princess hated heights. In fact, she had recently fainted while touring a newly-built skyscraper in New York City.

      Enjoy the week!
      Theadora

      (I’m looking forward to seeing more of YOUR photographs!)

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  14. So many famous names and stories. Unfortunately, once I’ve witnessed person’s jump from the 20th floor of the building. It was horrible picture.
    Thanks God, human memory does not store for a long time bad things. Even from the unpleasant events we keep only good feelings and memories.
    Theadora, you mentioned in your lovely post Dalida and this name exploded my brain with the lovely memories of 60-70’s French movies and music. In my young years we fell in love with Édith Piaf, Mireille Mathieu, Dallida, Charles Aznavour, Yves Montand, Salvatore Adamo, Joe Dassin etc. I cannot tell you how many french movies I’ve watched. There were so many names like Brigitte Bardot, André Bourvil, Fernandel, Louis de Funès, Jean Gabin, Marcel Marceau, Gérard Philipe, Jean Marais, Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Romy Schneider, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Anouk Aimée, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Annie Girardot, Lino Ventura, and many others. Unfortunately, here in North America all of those awesome actors and singers almost unknown.
    I grew up with the European music and cinematography and missed it a lot. I love to read your articles because every single of them generates kind memories and impression deep in myself.
    Thank you!

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  15. Spooky indeed. 🙂 And well documented. A note as an “émigré” Parisian, I still have to climb the Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame’s tower… 🙂
    And thank you for mentioning Dalida’s sculpture (very Aslan). I didn’t know it. Will visit her on my next trip. Bon week-end ma chère.

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  16. Theadora – you are obviously having such fun in Paris – both my husband and I wish we could be there again, right now. But, maybe next year??? will now print this out incl. all those superb comments by your other readers. Some real gems there. Have a wonderful weekend. Carina

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