François Bertrand: “The Vampire” of Paris

the vampire
View of Paris from Père Lachaise Cemetery, Author’s Collection

A series of grave desecrations happened in Paris between the summer of 1848 and March 1849. These desecrations were eventually blamed on an unknown person nicknamed “The Vampire” of Paris. At the time, The Vampire limited his operations to the cemetery of Père Lachaise, which overlooked Paris and where each night he forced open coffins, mutilated corpses, and scattered remains across the grounds.

To stop this horrid destruction, authorities hired guards at the Père Lachaise cemetery. However, despite the guard’s best efforts to capture the “mysterious figure” that flitted from grave to grave, they failed. Apparently, every time, just as the guards approached, the figure “disappeared like a phantom, and even the dogs that were let loose upon him stopped short and ceased to bark, as if they were transfixed by a charm.” Continue reading

Red Man: Tuileries Palace Ghost

Catherine de' Medici, Painting Attributed to François Clouet, c. 1555, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Catherine de’ Medici, Painting Attributed to François Clouet, c. 1555, Courtesy of Wikipedia

A famous legend exists about the “Red Man,” “L’Homme Rouge,” or the “Red Spectre” who inhabited the Palace of Tuileries (Palais des Tuileries).  The Red Man, an apparition variously called a devil, a goblin, or a ghost, allegedly first appeared in the sixteenth century. He supposedly haunted the palace’s corridors and salons. In fact, the story of the Red Man begins with Catherine de Medici. She was an Italian noblewoman who married Henry II and became Queen of France.

Two stories exists as to how the Red Man originated. The first story begins after the death of Catherine de Medici’s husband, Henry II. She supposedly hired a henchman to commit murders against her political foes. His name was Jean l’écorcheur (John the Skinner). Unfortunately for Jean, he knew various unsavory secrets about the Queen. To silence him, the Queen ordered his murder, which was accomplished by a man named Neuville in the Tuileries garden. Continue reading

Fishermen Superstitions

Fishermen superstitions
The Fisherman, by Charles Napier Hemy, 1888, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Similar to other people, fishermen had superstitious beliefs and believed certain things caused good or back luck. For instance, fishermen superstitions resulted in seafarers’s claiming a newborn’s caul would secure its wearer from drowning. There was also a belief that breaking up an old boat would bring bad luck and that those engaged in such a task were “sure to come to grief in some way or other.” Northern fisherman claimed it was positively “dangerous” to mention the word “horse” when at sea because bad luck would follow.

Continue reading

Belle Africaine: The First Giraffe In France

The first giraffe in France arrived at the port of Marseilles (Marseille in French) on 23 October 1826. The strange animal with spots, long legs, bulging eyes, eighteen-inch tongue, and horn-like structures on its head, was a gift from the Viceroy of Egypt to Charles X. Everyone who saw her thought she was marvelous. In fact, she excited the public’s curiosity for several days. One English reporter said the giraffe was something he had never witnessed, and he claimed there was nothing “more beautiful than the large, bright, and mild eyes of this elegantly-formed creature.”[1] Because of her undeniable beauty, the giraffe quickly acquired the nickname of “Belle Africaine” or “le bel animal du roi” (The Beautiful Animal of the King). Today, however, she is called Zafara. Continue reading

Reasons British Feared Napoleon in 1803

Maniac Ravings or Little Boney in a Strong Fit, by James Gillray, which ridiculed Napoleon and annoyed the French. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Maniac Ravings or Little Boney in a Strong Fit, by James Gillray, which ridiculed Napoleon and annoyed the French. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Despite a temporary peace that was achieved between France and Britain in 1802, the English remained on edge. They became more panicked when a new dispute with France broke out and resulted in Britain declaring war against France in 1803. Almost immediately rumors were rife about the ill effects Englishmen would suffer if Napoleon was victorious. In July of 1803, the rumors came to life when one concerned magazine published an article stating what they believed were Napoleon’s schemes.

According to the magazine, one of Napoleon’s main schemes was the confiscation of property, similar to what had happened in France during the first years of the French Revolution. Based on this idea of property confiscation, they also asserted that assignats (French money) were being prepared and would allow the bearer to bid for confiscated property as soon as the French set foot on English soil. Moreover, when the assignats were offered, Englishmen would have to accept them “on pain of death.” Continue reading

London Beer Flood of the 19th Century

A frothy mug of beer. Clip art.

The word “flood” comes from the Old English word “flod.” Hundreds of myths exist about floods with claims that either a deity or deities would destroy civilization with a flood. Yet, one of the most interesting floods proved not to be a myth and did not happen with water. Rather it consisted of beer and became known as the London Beer Flood.

The London Beer Flood occurred in the parish of St. Giles, London, England, at the Meux and Company Brewery. The brewery was located in central London on Tottenham Court Road. It sat in the middle of a squalid and tightly packed area of poor houses and tenements, known as the rookery. Established in the mid-1760s under the name of Horseshoe Brewery, the brewery passed through several owners, but, eventually, in 1809, Henry Meux and his partners acquired it under the name of Henry Meux and Company. Continue reading

An American Plot to Save Marie Antoinette From the Guillotine

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette, Author’s Collection

On a slightly misty day on 16 October 1793 the Queen Marie Antoinette was guillotined. However, before it reached that point, there were a variety of plots to save the Queen. One plot to save Marie Antoinette is legendary and may or may not be true. It involves a home built in Maine in 1774 located on Jeremy Squam Island (now called Westport Island) but relocated one winter to the shores of Edgecomb. The plot also supposedly took effect in 1792 while Marie Antoinette was imprisoned at the Temple.

The plot is alleged to involve a number of colorful characters. One character was James Swan. Swan was a financier, a Scotsman, and a member of the Sons of Liberty. Moreover, he had participated in the Boston Tea. He emigrated from Fife, Scotland, to Massachusetts in 1765 and, in the late 1780s, moved to France. While living in France, he developed a successful trade business. The business involved exporting shipping masts and spars to France and importing French goods that were then sold in Boston. Continue reading

Torture in 18th Century France: An Irishman’s View

Joseph Ignace Guillotin, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Joseph Ignace Guillotin, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Before the guillotine was proposed by Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin in October of 1789, an Irish gentleman visited Paris, France, in 1787. While in Paris, he wrote a number of letters to a friend in Ireland. He noted in the letters that Frenchmen used various methods of torture in 18th Century France. This torture was applied to criminals and what he claimed was an “idea of the administration call[ed] la justice Françoise.” Among the letters the gentleman wrote was one dated July 25th, which described various types of punishment meted to French criminals.

Here is that letter verbatim: Continue reading

History of Princesse de Lamballe’s Passy Home

Benjamin Franklin, Author's Collection
Benjamin Franklin, Author’s Collection

In the mid 1770s, Passy was about three miles outside Paris. It drew wealthy people, because of its bucolic setting. Located on the hillside of the Seine’s right bank, Passy also had a renowned mineral spring owned by Passy’s first mayor, Louis-Guillaume Le Veillard. The spring purportedly had healing waters described as “copious blue.” Moreover, its location made Passy the perfect distance between Versailles and Paris. That was part of the reason that the United States’ first Ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin, called it home for the nine years—1776-1785, and why the Princesse de Lamballe purchased a home in Passy in February of 1783. Continue reading

France’s Perfume Center: The History of Grasse or the Scented Slut

Catherine de' Medici, Painting Attributed to François Clouet, c. 1555, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Catherine de’ Medici, painting attributed to François Clouet, c. 1555. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

France is famous for its perfume. One area in France that became a prospering perfume area was picturesque Grasse, located in the Alpes-Maritimes department on the French Riviera. However, before Grasse perfume became famous, Grasse was famous for its leather and tanneries. Leather gloves produced there had bad odors, so a tanner named Galimard came up with the idea to scent them. Thus, people in the countryside began to grow flowers that he used for the scent, and the flower growing of the people was aided by the area’s microclimate and the fact the Moors brought jasmine into the area.

The woman who made scented gloves popular was Catherine de’ Medici. She loved them so much, she helped spread the idea of fragrant gloves worldwide. It also resulted in some of France’s most eminent bishops referring to the area of Grasse as “Gueuse Parfumée” or the “scented slut.” Eventually, high taxes on leather and competition from Nice resulted in a reduced demand for gloves, and the fragrance demand ceased.

Continue reading