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By Theadora Brack in Paris—
Snuggle tight, because it’s high time to throw a few ghost tales your way. It is, after all, Halloween today in the United States. So I thought we’d spend a minute discussing some of the women and men who haunt the most famous sights in Paris.
Grab the flashlights, marshmallows and sleeping bags while I light the fire. Boo la la! Who’s there?!
1. Eiffel Tower
16th arrondissement (Metro: 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 a farewell note was soon found in her bag.
Turned out that 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 the prince really Mr. Wrong or 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.
2. Arc de Triomphe
Place Charles-de-Gaulle, 17th arrondissement (Metro: Charles-de-Gaulle)
Almost immediately after it was completed, desperate women began heaving themselves off its rooftop parapet, after climbing all 284 steps to get there. Occasionally their skirts tangle and catch on a cornice, leaving the poor women dangling a few long moments above the horrified crowds below, before the seams give way and they plunge to their deaths.
Figuring out which police station to contact after one of these unfortunate incidents is always 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 proper determining factor in establishing jurisdiction.
Atop the Arc, keep your eyes peeled 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. She is said to repeat this every time a parade goes by.
Is it uniforms? The music? Just what is it about Bastille Day that makes folks want to make a real splash?
3. Notre Dame
4th arrondissement (Metro: 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 then women weren’t allowed to ascend without a chaperone.
What to do? She quickly spotted an elderly lady who was also touring the church and decided to make friends. After buying her breakfast at a nearby café, M.J. asked the old lady to tour the tower with her. The lady agreed and they headed back to the church.
By the time they reached the upper parapets, rain had started to pour. While the elderly woman sheltered in the bell-ringer’s room, the young woman 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.” As for the elderly lady who agreed to escort her, she seems to have disappeared into thin air. If you happen to be up on Notre Dame, keep an eye peeled for either one—they’ve both been seen flitting between the gargoyles.
4. Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, The Grave of Allan Kardec
20th arrondissement (Metro: 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. It’s worth buying a map at the entrance to help you locate them. The best time to catch 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 to their dead loved ones in his ear, but often also to put in requests for winning lottery numbers.
On the backside of the tomb is an official warning from the city of Paris (akin to the surgeon-general’s warning on a pack of cigarettes) that the municipal government can’t be sued if the numbers don’t win.
At the dead end of rue d’Orchampt, 18th arrondissement (Metro: Abbesses)
Not all spirits are from the days of yore. On May 3, 1987, Yolanda Gigliotti, better known as the great pop idol Dalida, took a handful of pills, put on her sunglasses and “left our world for another,” as the official fan website puts it.
Ever since, the house has never quite felt the same. Though no one lives there anymore, 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 rues Girardon and Abreuvoir. Pilgrims still visit all three shrines to the “female Elvis” of France.
6. Pont-de l’Alma, Princess Di
7th arrondissement (Metro: Pont de l’Alma)
One more for the road. 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, where 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 as if Diana’s ghost was trying to urge us to find the truth. And I was certainly not the only one to feel this.”
Cheapos, do you have a tale to tell?