Ghosts in Paris: Haunted Places in the City of Light

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Ghosts in Paris: Haunted Places in the City of Light
It’s a crisp autumn night in Paris. The silhouetted gargoyles of Notre-Dame contemplate you from above. A tumble of leaves swirl around your ankles. It’s eerily quiet by the Seine with nothing but the sound of your footsteps… But wait, whose footsteps? A city as old as Paris would definitely be the haunt of some ghostly beings. Whether a believer or a skeptic, here are some mysterious happenings that might just put a tingly finger up the back of your neck. “Pleased to meet you – hope you guess my name” A native of Bath, U.K., George Augustus Sala recounted in his 1879 book Paris: Herself Again his sighting of a red-clad ghost atop the equestrian statue on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. With his back to the blackened ruins of the Tuileries Palace, Sala’s fearsome phantom was the most grotesque thing he’d ever seen. One eyed, with a humped back and cloven hooves, it had the most infernal grin out of which lolled a prodigious tongue. The creature became a shape-shifter, playing a mandolin and regaling him songs from past epochs, calling out the year as he sang. His garments changed as he hopped from location to location. The reader begins to understand that this performance piece is the creation of Sala’s overactive imagination resulting in the destruction sustained during the Siege of Paris. Nevertheless, Sala’s apparition had its basis in history. The Red Man, a specter familiar at the Tuileries, was Jean the Skinner, AKA Jean l’écorcheur, the henchman of France’s 16th-century queen, Catherine de’ Medici. Jean knew too much about the Queen’s intrigues and to silence him she had him executed outside her Tuileries palace. His abandoned corpse went missing. Queen Catherine’s astrologer claimed that Jean would haunt the Tuileries until the building was destroyed. And he did. Portrait of Catherine de Médicis, around 1560, atelier de François Clouet. Public domain Before long, there were sightings in the queen’s gardens of a man in blood red attire. His apparition foreshadowed the imminent death of an aristocrat. He was in attendance on the evening of Henry IV’s assassination in 1610. A few days before the 1792 storming of the Tuileries Palace, Marie Antoinette’s ladies in waiting received a visit from the Red Man. A newspaper account, 100 years after the ghostly story, appeared in the press. “Marie Antoinette’s women were sitting in the Salle des Gardes, when they became suddenly aware of the presence of a small man clothed from crown to heel in scarlet, who looked at them with such unearthly eyes that they were frozen with terror.” Before King Louis XVI’s 1793 date with Madame Guillotine, the Red Man taunted him wearing the red Phrygian cap of liberty. The storming of the Tuileries Palace on 10 August 1792 and the massacre of the Swiss Guard. (C) Jean Duplessis-Bertaux/ Public Domain

Lead photo credit : Gargoyle on Notre-Dame. Photo credit: crossine0/ Flickr

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • Beth Gersh-Nesic
    2021-11-04 08:05:26
    Beth Gersh-Nesic
    Excellent article, Hazel! Sends shivers down my spine. Merci beaucoup. Beth