Because of health concerns, cemeteries were banned inside Paris beginning in 1786 when the Cimetière des Innocents closed. In the early nineteenth century, new cemeteries began to open and replace the closed ones. Among the new cemeteries were Montmarte Cemetery in the north, Père Lachaise Cemetery in the east, and Montparnasse Cemetery in the south.
Montparnasse Cemetery opened on 25 July 1824. It was created from three farms that initially consisted of 30 acres and was originally known as Le Cimetière du Sud (Southern Cemetery).
Over the years, many interesting things have happened at Montparnasse Cemetery. For instance, the street Rue Emilie Richard was placed through the middle of it in the late 1800s, thereby dividing the cemetery in two. There were also a series grave desecrations by François Bertrand, called “The Vampire” of Paris, in the late 1840s. In addition, many interesting people have been buried at Montparnasse Cemetery, including the following thirteen people during the 1800s:
One well-known person buried at Montparnasse is the celebrated surgeon and gynecologist Jacques Lisfranc de St. Martin. St. Martin was buried there in 1847. He is known for having pioneered several operations, including removal of the rectum, lithotomy in women, and amputation of the cervix. He also worked as an assistant to Guillaume Dupuytren (a French anatomist and military surgeon) and became Dupuytren’s self-declared rival, whom, Lisfranc freely described in his lectures as “This brigand from over the water.”
One of the most conspicuous crosses in the Montparnasse Cemetery is that indicating the grave of Sister Rosalie Rendu, who received “the cross of the Legion of Honour in recognition of her unwearied and disinterested labours in the Crimea.” Rendu passed away on 7 February 1856 after a brief but acute illness. She was always in fragile health made worse by periods of sustained seclusion and a lack of physical exercise.
The well-known French poet Charles Baudelaire spent the last two years of his life in a semi-paralyzed state before he died in 1867. Baudelaire developed a highly original style of prose-poetry and influenced a whole generation of poets including Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé. Baudelaire is also credited with coining the term “modernity. ” Although Baudelaire’s tomb is in division 6, a cenotaph to him was constructed between divisions 26 and 27.
Another famous tenant of Montparnasse is Hégésippe Moreau. He was a young French poet born in 1810. He moved to Paris in 1830, participated in the July Revolution of 1830, embraced a Bohemian lifestyle, and died of tuberculosis on 20 December 1838. Baudelaire knew of the young poet but was not impressed by his works. In fact, he declared Moreau’s work to be pompous and derivative.
Jean-Antoine Houdon, famous for his busts and statues of philosophers, inventors, and political figures of the Enlightenment, died in Paris on 15 July 1828 and was buried at Montparnasse. Among his subjects were Voltaire, Marquis de Miromesnil, Denis Diderot, Jacques-Jean Rousseau, and Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as several Americans including George Washington, Paul Jones, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Fulton, and Benjamin Franklin.
The celebrated French literary critic, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, died in October of 1869. When he saw his end approaching, he forbade priests from attending his bedside, ordered that neither the Academy nor the Senate be at his funeral, and added:
“Finally … I wish to be carried straight from my home to the cemetery of Montparnasse, and to be placed in the vault where my mother lies, without passing through the church, which I could not do without violating my sentiments.”
His dying wish was granted.
A well-known nineteenth century dramatic actress is also buried at Montparnasse Cemetery. Her name is Marie Dorval, and she became orphaned while a teenager. At age fifteen, she married a much older man, and, when he died, she began acting on stage but did not achieve fame until the age of 29. Her career began to fade in her forties because audiences demanded younger actresses, and, so, she began traveling with a troupe of actors. Unfortunately, by the age of 51 Dorval suffered health problems and could no longer travel with the troupe. She died on 20 May 1849.
Aristide Boucicaut, the creator of the first modern department store, Le Bon Marché, is another famous person buried at Montparnasse. He opened his first store on 14 July 1810 and introduced many innovative marketing ideas. Among these ideas was a reading room for husbands, prizes for children, and seasonal sales that included the famous “white sale.”
Alexandre Charles Guillemot died in 1831. He was a pupil of the famous French painter Jacques-Louis David, who painted the famous Parisian socialite and salonist Madame Récamier showing her reclining on a Directoire style sofa wearing a simple Empire dress with short hair “à la Titus.” Guillemot was a fresco artist who painted portraits and religious and mythological subjects. He won the Prix de Rome in 1808 and received a medal for his picture of “Christ Raising the Widow’s Son at Nain.”
Another person buried at Montparnasse is Henri Grégoire. He was deputy to the States General, and one of the first of the clergy who swore fidelity to the new constitution in 1790. He was afterwards the Bishop of Blois and a member of the Council of Five Hundred in 1795. In 1815, Louis XVIII deprived him of his bishopric and he was excluded from the Institut, and upon his death on 28 May 1831, the Archbishop of Paris refused him a Christian burial because he declined to retract his oath.
Guy de Maupassant, a French writer known for mastering the short story and for writing many stories set during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s. His stories described the futility of war and the suffering of innocent civilians. Maupassant died on 6 July 1893 and was buried at Montparnasse in Section 26. He penned his own epitaph:
“I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing.”
Antoine Boulay de la Meurthe was a French politician and served three times as President of the Council of Five Hundred. In 1808, he was created Count of the Empire. He supported the coup d’etat of 1799, devoted himself to Napoleon Bonaparte, and helped draft the Code Napoleon. When Napoleon fell from power, Boulay tried to bring Napoleon II to power, so when the Bourbons returned to power in 1815, he went into exile. In 1819, Boulay returned to France but thereafter removed himself from politics and died on 4 February 1840.
Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville, a distinguished admiral and explorer, made several voyages around the world. He also named Adélie Land in Antarctica after his wife. D’Urville, his wife, and his only son were among those involved in the horrible Versailles railway accident of 1842. D’Urville was burned so badly he could only be identified by a cast made of his skull. His wife was worse as she could only be recognized by her teeth. They were buried at Montparnasse and a tombstone is erected in his honor.
-  Edwards, Henry Sutherland, Old and New Paris, Volumes 1-2, 1893, p. 250.
-  Baedeker, Karl, Paris and Its Environs: With Routes from London to Paris, Paris to the Rhine and Switzerland: Handbook for Travellers, 1874, p. 228.
-  Edwards, p. 253.
-  Bryan, Michael, Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Volume 1, 1886, p. 611.
-  Gullason, Thomas A. and Leonard Casper, The World of Short Fiction: An International Collection, 1962, p. 73.