Paris Mythbusters

Paris Mythbusters

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From Jim Morrison to Marie Antoinette, Paris may or may not be full of ghosts, but one thing's for sure: it's full of urban legends. Five tales illustrate the timeless stories that have grown up around the city and challenge Paris mythbusters.

In the streets of Paris (some of which are more than two millennia old), you'll walk over cobblestones that have seen it all, from riots to revolutions. Spend a couple hours in Paris and you'll see that this city is the perfect place for ghost stories, urban myths, and hoaxes to spring up. Separating myth from reality can be a difficult task; these five Paris urban legends illustrate how pervasive these stories, both true and false, can be.

Myth 1: A series of interconnected tunnels runs below the entire city of Paris

True. In the late eighteenth century, the cemeteries of Paris overflowed with bodies. As a solution, city authorities proposed a series of underground tunnels to house these bodies. Some of them are currently on view in the part of the Catacombs that have become a tourist destination. For a small fee, you can walk through this limited area and look at the skeletons of long-dead Parisians.

However, the catacombs extend much, much farther beyond the tourist area. Local residents have discovered parts of these labyrinths, and occasionally throw parties down there. Similar to New York's legendary "Mole People," a Paris urban myth tells of people who live in the Catacombs, only coming out at night for food. Though the tunnels are certainly there, these rumors are unsubstantiated.

Myth 2: Jim Morrison's ghost haunts Pere-Lachaise cemetery

Possibly true, probably false - Paris mythbusters can't confirm either way. In late 2009, a man had his picture taken by the famous grave in the huge Pere-Lachaise cemtery only to find, once it was developed, that a white, ghostly figure shaped exactly like Morrison hovered behind him in the background. Numerous experts have looked at this photo and affirmed that the image does indeed closely resemble Morrison, and that it hasn't been altered.

While scary urban legends like this are great for Paris' tourist industry, this particular myth still hasn't been resolved. But I'm betting the constant stream of visitors to Morrison's grave are willing to believe that it's true!

Myth 3: Nicolas Flamel, of the Harry Potter books, was a real person who lived in Paris

True. While this one's true, Paris mythbusters point out that it's not what you might think. Flamel didn't (to the best of any historian's knowledge) live forever! He did work extensively on the Philosopher's Stone, which turns lead into gold, and the Elixir of Life, which would guarantee eternal life. However, by all accounts, Flamel died around 1418. Nevertheless, his house has become a Paris urban legend in its own right: it is currently the longest-standing stone house in the city, and currently houses a restaurant, L'Auberge Nicolas Flamel.

Myth 4: The Quartier des Enfants Rouges was named after a group of medieval orphans

True. This neighborhood of Paris, in the 10th arrondissement near Place de la Republique, was featured in the famous film "Paris, je t'aime," with Maggie Gyllenhaal's scenes occurring here. The slightly spooky night time atmosphere of that extract certainly fits in with the history of the quarter and adds to the urban legend regarding the area's namesakes.

A sizable group of medieval orphans were all housed in the same orphanage, and they had to dress in red capes to distinguish themselves from the other neighborhood children so that they would be easily found. Centuries later, the area is still known as the "Quarter of the Red Children."

Myth 5: Marie Antoinette's ghost haunts Versailles

False. At the turn of the 20th century, two women walking in the gardens at Versailles claimed to see various figures. More specifically, they claimed to see figures they believed to be Marie Antoinette and her followers.

Though this story had a lot going for it at the time (around 1901, when they visited), they added a lot more detail to their accounts in 1906. Paris mythbusters point out that this was done only after they conducted extensive research on the queen and her time, debunking the ghost of Versailles legend - for the moment, at least.
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