Paris Tips: 7 Spooky Ghost Stories
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.
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.
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
(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.
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
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.
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?
At the end of rue d’Orchampt, 18th arrondissement
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.
5. Pont-de l’Alma, Princess Di
(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
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.
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
(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.
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.
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.”