No Rest for the Wicked: Grim and Ghostly Goings-On in Paris

No Rest for the Wicked: Grim and Ghostly Goings-On in Paris
This is the second article in a series about haunted places in the City of Light. Read the first installment here As above, so below With its entrance at the sadly unassuming Barrière d’Enfer (Gates of Hell), visitors are invited to descend deep below Paris’ streets into the Catacombs. The Paris Catacombs are an ossuary filled with the remains of about six million dead, created in the 18th century as part of the effort to eliminate the city’s overflowing cemeteries. Some 200 miles of labyrinthine, skeleton-lined tunnels and chambers exist, but despite this vast length only a small two-mile section is open to the public. The official Paris Catacombs are the eeriest and most visited attraction in Paris. Urban adventure seekers have tested the limits of the Empire of the Dead, but getting lost in this creepy maze is beyond the imagination. Although the website makes no allusion to ghosts, it’s understandable why some believe these macabre tunnels containing the largest grave on record might be haunted. 1, Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (place Denfert-Rochereau), 14th Website Cabaret de l’Enfer (C) Wikipedia, Public Domain Drink with the living dead In 1892, an impresario based in Pigalle named Antonin Alexandre opened a club called Cabaret d’Enfer at 34 Boulevard Clichy, a café themed on Hell. Once through the yawning jaws of the entrance, eyewitnesses saw a giant cauldron suspended over a multi-colored fire, containing a combo of musicians playing a selection from Faust.  Imps, with seemingly red-hot tongs, prodded the musicians who lagged behind. The original location was purchased by the illusionist Dorville and with the addition of two cafes opened a cabaret macabre. The Cabaret du Ciel proposed mystical illusions, angelic musicians, liberal sprinklings of holy water, and a shrine to a golden pig. At the adjacent Cabaret du Neant – Cabaret of the Nothingness, of which the humble writer possesses souvenir postcards, the drinks were named after poisons or diseases and served in skull-shaped cups by waiters dressed up like monks or pallbearers. In a cavern lit with a chandelier of bones, the café created some alarming effects by means of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion, a well-used trick of light and mirrors. Seated on coffins, the guests watched a shrouded woman mystically decompose into a skeleton then slowly come back to life. These bars themed around hell and eroticism showed the attraction to the occult among Parisians at that time. That interest remains; it’s just gone a bit underground. Collection of the Museum Fragonard of the École nationale vétérinaire d’Alfort. Public domain

Lead photo credit : Catacombes (C) Wikipedia, Public Domain

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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.