Race to the Finish

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Before the Indy 500, and before the Grand Prix, there was the Gordon Bennett Cup, Europe’s first great car race which ran for 6 years from 1900 until 1905. For the last two years of the race, 1904 and 1905, Leon Thery (16 April 1879 – 8 March 1909), a mechanic and race car driver, won the competition.

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Thery’s first big race occurred in 1899—the Bordeaux to Paris Race. He drove a tiller-steered Decauville a whopping 19 miles per hour to come in second on the 351 mile course arriving exhausted, delirious, and suffering from amnesia. These early days of racing were hair raising with cars careening around mountains on unpaved roads, dodging pedestrians, other racing cars, and farm animals. However, occasionally, the drivers were befallen with bad luck. In 1902, a brake failure around a mountain pass and the misfortune of Thery hitting a hog going full speed ended his hopes for winning the Ardennes Cup.

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In spite of Thery’s early misfortunes, he continued on and eventually won the Gordon Bennett Cup, not once but twice, driving a Richard-Brasier to the finish line and becoming a French Race Car hero. Though Thery continued to race he never again won a race. He died at 29 of tuberculosis and was buried at Le Père Lachaise with a monument that honors his racing career.

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Rub it

For single Parisian women who are yearning to get married or married women who are wanting a better sex life there is one monument in Le Père Lachaise that can help, or so the legend goes….

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Yvan Salmon was born July 27, 1848 in Attigny, Vosges, France. Yvan adopted the pen name of Victor Noir and moved to Paris to work as a journalist for the La Marseillaise newspaper. La Revanche and L’Avenir de la Corse, two newspapers on the tiny island of Corsica became embroiled in a duel of words which eventually spilled out into the streets of Paris. The Paris newspaper that Victor worked for La Marseillaise sided with La Revanche which had printed incendiary criticisms of Napoleon I. Prince Bonaparte wrote to the offending editor of the newspaper and called them cowards. The imbroglio eventually involved Parschal Grousset who was challenged to a duel by Prince Bonaparte. Grousset sent Victor Noir and Ulrich de Fonvielle as his seconds to work out the details of the duel—time, place, etc. But instead of working it out with the Prince’s seconds as custom would have dictated, the two men went to the Prince’s home to speak to him directly. Something happened at the Prince’s home, the details are disputed, but Victor Noir ended up dead, shot by the Prince. Those against King Napoleon III’s unpopular regime were outraged and saw the Prince’s actions and acquittal as royal privilege.

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January 11, 1870 in Paris, this little known newspaperman became a cause celeb—thousands of Republicans followed his casket to his first grave in a cemetery in Neuilly, France.

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That September the King was overthrown and eventually France established a Republican government. In 1891, Noir, not forgotten by the Republicans, commissioned Jules Dalou, the great French sculptor, to create a bronze statue to honor the fallen journalist and his body was moved to Le Père Lachaise.

The monument to the fallen hero is that of a fallen man. Victor Noir is depicted laid out flat, top hat next to him. Dalou sculpted Noir, as was his practice, very realistically. But the folds in Victor’s trousers make it appear as if he has an erection or at the very least, is a very well-endowed man. A myth grew up around the statue that if a woman kissed his lips and rubbed his “talisman” they would be rewarded with fertility and a better sex life. Some versions of the myth promise single women marriage within a year if the women also leave a flower in his hat.

The myth became so popular that for a time the cemetery officials fenced Victor’s statue to preserve it. But the outcry was so great the fence was removed and women once again made the pilgrimage to Victor’s grave. It is clear from the burnished parts of the monument where the patina has been rubbed off that the myth is alive and well.

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Stylistic Juxtaposition

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Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix (26 April 1798 – 13 August 1863) was a French romantic artist, influenced by the round and plump figures painted by Reubens, is now most famous for a painting he created titled, Liberty Leading the People. The painting portrays a bare-breasted woman, the allegorical figure of liberty, who carries the Tri-color and leads the French peasants in revolt in 1830 against Charles X.  Delacroix’s version of events depicts the peasants as heroic characteristic of his romantic style and in stark contrast to the neoclassical style that was also in vogue at the time.

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His black granite sarcophagus is modeled after the Roman tomb of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus. The Scipio sarcophagus was erected around 150 BC.  Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus (died c. 280 BC) was one of the two elected Roman consuls in 298 BC. Scipio’s tomb is now preserved in the Vatican Museum in Rome, Italy. Though Delacroix led the romantic painters into creating a newer style, his tomb is decidedly classical.

Le Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Le Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

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A Long Layover in Paris

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A walk through a cemetery rarely brings you to an equestrian memorial, but Le Père Lachaise is not an ordinary cemetery. In section 94, there it is an equestrian statue that honors General Antranik Ozanian, (February 25, 1865 – August 31, 1927) the great Armenian revolutionary, who ended up years later dying in Fresno, California, and was buried in the Ararat Cemetery in that city.

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That burial was temporary—a short stay on his way back to his Armenian homeland. However, on his way back in the late 20s his body was stopped in Paris because the Russians were not going to allow his body to enter into Armenia. So, Antranik was laid to rest again, this time at Le Père Lachaise on January 29, 1928. He remained buried there until he was re-interred at the military cemetery at Yerevan, Armenia, on February 20, 2000.  The statue remains, though, the tomb is empty, a reminder of his long layover in the storied cemetery.

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Pieta

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The Del Duca Family monument in Le Père Lachaise features a bronze sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the limp dead body of her son, Jesus Christ. In this sculpture Mary is lifting His body down from the Cross. Many of the pieta sculptures show Jesus lying on Mary’s lap, but this dramatic version depicts the moment Jesus was brought down, His suffering and sacrifice over.

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Works of art, usually sculptures, depicting this subject first began to appear in Germany in the 1300s and are referred to as “vesperbild” in German.

Clear Creek Christian Church Cemetery, Bloomington, Indiana

Clear Creek Christian Church Cemetery, Bloomington, Indiana

Images of Mary and the dead body of Jesus began to appear in Italy in the 1400s.  The most famous of these sculptures is Michelangelo’s pieta which he sculpted for St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, carved when he was only 24 years old.

Pieta is Italian for “pity.”

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The grave can’t hold him

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GEORGES RODENBACH

1855 – 1898

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I took pictures of hundreds of gravestones at Le Père Lachaise and I think my favorite is the dramatic tomb of a little known poet and writer—Georges Rodenbach. Rodenbach is best known for his novel, Bruges-la-Morte, a story about a man who walks around the streets of Bruges mourning his dead wife when he spots a woman who is the spitting image of her. This novel is notable for it was the first time a work of fiction used photographs. He wrote other works, including eight volumes of poetry and three other novels, as well as, short stories and essays—all while working as a lawyer in Paris.

The tomb has a sculpture of Rodenbach himself busting out of a large block of rough-cut granite. His tomb is meant to be a symbol of how even the grave cannot hold his spirit. He defiantly holds up a flower in one hand as if he is mocking death.

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The Bat

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Today’s post is dedicated to Tom Stryker, a fellow gravestone enthusiast and fan of Le Père Lachaise, the great Paris cemetery. Tom challenged me to write 10 posts about my tour of the cemetery. Not sure I will write that many, but here is my first.

As any devotee of graveyards would do, I spent my entire first day in Paris roaming the avenues of Le Père Lachaise, map in hand, searching for the famous graves of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf. Oscar Wilde, and others too numerous to list. But it is the ordinary that also claims my attention—the tombs built by ordinary families. One such tomb was built by two families—Lautru and Margot. The tomb is a common one found in Le Père Lachaise—they look like telephone booths—vertical and small, often with a single iron door with some decoration on the front of the door. What is not common, however, is the decoration found on this tomb—a bat.

The bat is a rare graveyard symbol. Like many symbols it represents one thing in Eastern cultures and quite another in the West. To the Eastern cultures the bat is seen as a symbol of good fortune. Not so in the West. Since Medieval times, the bat has symbolized demons and evil spirits. In cemetery symbolism the bat is associated with the underworld. Think how often the bat is used as a Halloween decoration—it is definitely part of all things spooky, creepy, and the macabre.

And here is the bat on top part of the door to this family tomb.

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