Author Carolyn Campbell on City of Immortals, Père-Lachaise Cemetery

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Author Carolyn Campbell on City of Immortals, Père-Lachaise Cemetery
Carolyn Campbell is a writer, photographer, and arts and communications specialist who was born and raised in Washington D.C., has lived in Paris, and is now is a resident of Los Angeles. Her book, City of Immortals: Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, is a lavishly produced “armchair visit” to this famous Parisian landmark. The text is beautifully illustrated both with the author’s own photographs and those of renowned landscape photographer Joe Cornish. A labor of love that took more than 30 years to complete, City of Immortals is a deeply affectionate, intimate exploration of this world-famous cemetery, among the most visited in the world. In addition to three proposed walks through the cemetery, one chapter consists of the author’s “conversations” with a handful of the many famous people buried within its confines. A handy map that can be carried separately from the book is provided. There is also an app with a GPS tour. Campbell recently took the time to answer Janet Hulstrand’s questions about City of Immortals in this exclusive interview for Bonjour Paris.  Père Lachaise entrance. Photo © Carolyn Campbell, Janet Hulstrand: What inspired you to create this book?  Carolyn Campbell: Back in 2018, I was having a cup of tea with L.A.-based architecture and design author Michael Webb, who was writing about the genesis of my illustrated map of the cemetery, and the beta model for my GPS tour app. He asked me, “Why don’t you create a book with all these great images and material?” My focus from the very beginning has always been to share my knowledge with others. How that would exactly come about I left to the fates. I was just doing the work and not thinking about the results. It was Michael’s generous introduction to his publisher, Gordon Goff, that set things in motion. After a whirlwind month of emails and conversations, I was offered a publishing deal. Kismet. And here we are. City of Immortals book cover. Photo © Goff Books Publisher Janet: What do you think is the most common misconception about cemeteries?   Carolyn: I think some people would normally consider a cemetery an unpleasant or even scary place. That was certainly society’s perception up until the founding of Père-Lachaise in 1804. Thanks to its revolutionary garden-style design, all that changed forever. It became the model for many beautiful European cemeteries, like Highgate in London, as well as many in the United States, including Mount Auburn in Massachusetts.                                                Janet: What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of researching your book? Carolyn: It was fascinating to discover that we have the 19th century architects to thank for the pantheistic view of a cemetery that reflects a more peaceful concept of a sweet rest. After all, the earliest interpretation of the word cimetière was “a place where one sleeps.” Étienne Louis Boullée, one of the most admired architects of the period, and the mentor of Alexandre Brongniart, who designed Père-Lachaise, considered the commission to design a cemetery crypt one to covet. Boullée was also a proponent of the pre-Romantic celebration of nature. This view led to the changes in the image of a cemetery. It became a site of divinity, no longer a frightful place filled with dead bodies.

Lead photo credit : Fall in the "romantic section. City of Immortals : Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris by Carolyn Campbell - Courtesy Goff Books. Photo © Joe Cornish

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Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and teacher who divides her time between France and the U.S. She is the author of "Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You," and "A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France." She writes frequently about France for Bonjour Paris, France Today, and a variety of other publications, including her blog, Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. She has taught “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for education abroad programs of the City University of New York since 1997, and she teaches online classes for Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. She is currently working on her next book in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in Champagne.


  • Janet Tollund
    2020-11-05 08:53:19
    Janet Tollund
    I have always loved Pere LaChaise, and I so enjoyed this article, I bought Ms. Campbell's book - equally delightful - merci!