Let's Go to Paris!
My dearest mad hatters:
Last month I girded my loins, dove into the EU travel bureaucracy, strapped on a KN94, and went to Paris! For a whole week! It was incredible! I saw plenty of weird shit and I could not wait to get home and write a gothic travelogue for you.
Paris is surprisingly light on ghosts. For a city that’s survived so much gruesome violence, there aren’t many ghost stories floating around to remind us. I wonder if the Revolution, and the Reign of Terror that followed, just exhausted the superstition out of everyone. In prep for the next newsletter (ALL ABOUT THE CATACOMBS), I read about how the French took out their rage on the monarchy and noble caste - literally digging up their bodies from mausoleums and setting them on fire. Maybe they don’t need ghosts to remind them of the lessons of the past, because they processed them contemporaneously. Rage didn’t fester among the masses after the Revolution, it ignited the city and burned through thousands of citizens.
France is very proud of its secular culture, and when I asked a local guy about ghost stories, he said those were irrational, old world tales heard only in the villages. Of course, that was part of the Revolution as well - to do away with the stranglehold of the Church and embrace Enlightenment values - and it pops up today in debates about assimilation into French culture.
All that being said, the number one ghost that people seem to want to see is Marie Antoinette. This is not surprising!! She’s arguably the most famous French woman, and her story is full of pathos and schadenfreude. People claim to catch her phantom at Versailles, where she lived, but the place that really feels *haunted* by the decapitated queen is the Conciergerie - where she was imprisoned.
The Conciergerie is on the Ile de Cite - right down the street from Notre Dame. It was an old prison, and the courts are still located in that complex. In fact, a terrrorism trial is currently being held there during the week. The site is beautifully restored, but the dread there is palpable. Thousands of people were held in the cells, and executed on the guillotine, during the Revolution and the Reign of Terror. Marie Antoinette was one of them.
At Conciergerie, you can see her cell (apartments), some artifacts from her imprisonment, and a timeline of her arrest, imprisonment, trial, and execution. The site has been turned into a chapel and shrine of sorts to the deposed Queen, which was kind of jarring to see. People seemed to really fucking hate the woman, and she was viciously maligned and beheaded - but now her initials are painted all over the walls?? There are stained glass windows with her name and her bonnet is on display?? It feels strangely false and retrograde. It feels like something made for tourists before they were even a thing. And yeah - that shit feels haunted!
Rue des Chantres
Rue des Chantres was one of my favorite experiences in Paris. It’s a tiny little street that is said to be haunted by the ghosts of drowned orphans. OBVIOUSLY IT WAS MY FAVORITE. The street is a tiny one that ends at the banks of the Seine.
In the early 20th Century, it was the location of the Hotel Dieu, a hospital. Children with tuberculosis were quarantined on the ground floor of the hospital when the Seine overflowed and flooded the street, killing them all. As the story goes, the kids were locked in and couldn’t escape. IT’S GRIM. People say they hear kids playing and laughing on the street, which I guess is better than screaming in fear and agony???
I loved walking on this little street. It was totally empty and quiet, and I didn’t get a bad feeling despite how closely I was listening for the pitter patter of tiny ghost feet. I did walk away with a mysterious scratch on my hand so I’m chalking that up to a phantom interloper that just wanted to hold my hand, ok?!
OK this site is not haunted per se but I made tracks for it as soon as we arrived in town. We were jetlagged and disoriented and this site was close to the hotel, but we had to walk up and down the street like sixteen times before we found it. It turns out Atlas Obscura was right about the location, but Google Maps was like “qu’est-ce que c’est the fuck lady are you for real” AND the street sign was covered up with some delightful feminist graffiti which did not help.
ANYWAY if you look on the ground at this intersection, you can see the footings for the original Guillotine! And there’s a plaque with some cheerful cartoons of men in jaunty hats sauntering up to the death machine of the Terror which is all very French. And while I have you, let’s talk about the guillotine!
The guillotine was named for a doctor, Joseph Ignace Guillotin, who argued for its use as a more humane method of execution. Back then, people were broken on wheels, drawn and quartered, hanged - all kinds of gnarly shit. The device was humane-ish but also *too* efficient - which led to some definitely inhumane shit. It was so easy and fast to execute people that it sped the process into a frenzy. During the Reign of Terror, SEVENTEEN THOUSAND PEOPLE were executed by guillotine. I said this site wasn’t haunted but who the fuck knows, that is A LOT OF PEOPLE.
Now there’s like, a Starbucks on the corner. Viva la France!
Notre Dame BONUS CONTENT
As you probably know, the Cathedral of Notre Dame is closed while they restore it from the recent fire. AS YOU MAYBE DID NOT KNOW, restoration workers found a mysterious sarcophagus there BURIED AMONG THE PIPES.
Yeah dude!! It was buried three feet below ground and according to an endoscopic camera, it contains skeletal remains, fabric, leaves, and some other shit. Experts think it is from the 14th Century and demonstrates “an rare burial practice.”
LOLOLOL I would say yes. Archeologists plan to open it and examine the remains, which has led to some amazing end of the world, curse of the mummy fanfic on Twitter. The sarcophagus is vaguely human-shaped, which is unsettling and creepy. It’s made of lead, which wasn’t cheap. CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT’S INSIDE!!
Until next time!