In 19th Century Paris, just as with any other time in Paris, there were many suicides. In Paris, the Seine was a favourite, at a time when most could not swim the large river was often a death sentence. Whenever a body drifted onto the banks of the river, it was put in the care of the authorities. In 19th Century Paris they had a special practice to identify these damp deceased.
A cooled room was set up and up to 14 bodies placed within it. At one end of the room was a large window, any passer-by could peer inside and, hopefully, identify one of them. Parisians and travellers alike were fixated by the chilling sight, neatly arranged bodies only slightly too still to be sleeping. In the volume ‘Unknown Paris’ it was noted that:
“There is not a single window in Paris which attracts more onlookers than this.”
In the 1880’s there was one particular body. She was dragged from the Seine with not a scratch or spot. Suicide they said. The body was presented behind a window and the people peered at the restful smile which sat across the features. No name came and the body rotted, it was placed in an unmarked grave, but the smile remained. An unknown pathologist had been so taken by the beauty that they decided to take the beauty. A plaster cast mould of the face was taken and a death mask made, an object to preserve the image of one deceased. Through odd contrivances and circumstances now lost to time the mask got out and garnered a following. The face became famous. Read the rest of this entry »