The Diamond Guide and the Unknown Woman

The Diamond Guide for the Stranger in Paris is 384 pages in length, but there is one entry that makes me wonder if there wasn’t anything to preoccupy people in Paris in the 1850s. The Paris Morgue (or Dead House) was a gristly attraction that brought in tourists and natives alike and, if the morgue had not shut down, it would likely still be a hub of activity for what we’ve come to know today as dark tourism.

The Paris Morgue was located behind Notre Dame Cathedral and facilitated a real need. Many bodies were being found in the river and could not be identified. The bodies were fished out and set upon slanted marble slabs so that the public might identify the remains. Often, the clothes of the deceased would be hung on pegs next to the body just in case it might make identification easier for onlookers. The spectacle was designed to bring an end to the many unknowns being fished out of the river daily, but unfortunately, the morgue quickly became an attraction. You see, visiting the morgue was free and many took advantage of this fact given that a lot of attractions in Paris were not. I often check out the free events happening in Milwaukee on the weekend and it’s likely that if I’d lived in Paris during the operation of the Death House, I would have made regular visits. So, the crowds would file into the Paris Morgue, a cold room containing bodies kept behind glass and kept cool with a constant, thin stream of water flowing from the ceiling. This was the only cooling system until 1882 when the morgue was refrigerated. The front of the building had 3 doors, the centermost door was always closed, and the two outer doors were opened to allow visitors to filter in, make the rounds, and filter out. Bodies would arrive both clothed and naked, with and without heads, with and without arms and legs, with and without feet. The practice of displaying bodies pulled from the river also extended to random unidentified persons found dead on the streets and in the alleys of gay old Paris. Nice to know the morgue didn’t discriminate.

In an issue of the Harvard Crimson, a Sophomore named Arthur Mark Cummings gave this apt description of morgue gawkers.

“Men are crowding and elbowing each other; old hags are pointing toward the glass, and croaking to one another; pretty women are gazing with white faces of pity, but with none the less thirsty greediness, upon some fascinating spectacle; little children are being held aloft in strong arms, that they too may see the dreadful thing, and they do see, and they toss their tiny, wavering arms aloft and crow right gleefully.”

Cummings goes on to write, “Brutal, gashed, and swollen faces; wide gaping mouths, which opened for the last time to utter the death-shriek, dead, sodden eyes, ghastly smiles, faces of men and faces of women, faces of the young and faces of the old; faces which Dante, groping among the damned, might have dragged from hideous, steaming depths of Lethean mud, and flung forth to front the unwilling eye of day– such is the sight which greets the visitor upon his entrance to the Paris Morgue. Some of the corpses had been in the water a day, some a week, some-nobody knew how long.”

In 1907, the Paris Morgue closed its doors for good, citing moral reasons as the cause. Newspapers at the time were quite disheartened to hear the news given that they could simply pop in and get a visual account of every grotesque happening for their columns.

One journalist complained, “The Morgue has been the first this year among theaters to announce its closing. As for the spectators, they have no right to say anything because they didn’t pay. There were no subscribers, only regulars because the show was always free. It was the first free theater for the people. And they tell us it’s being canceled. People, the hour of social justice has not yet arrived.”

l'inconnue_de_la_seine_(masque_mortuaire)

Many unknown faces came through the morgue, both young and old, but there was none more memorable than L’Inconnue de la Seine (The Unknown Woman of the Seine.) She was identified as a young woman of around 16 years of age suspected of committing suicide due to the lack of physical injury or violence to her corpse. As the story goes (and I would take this with a grain of salt) the pathologist who first inspected L’Inconnue de la Seine was so taken by her visage that he made a mask of her face, a death mask that would forever capture and preserve her beauty for eternity. The mask became so popular that by the 1900s, copies had made their way into the homes of many Parisians.

“In the following years, numerous copies were produced. The copies quickly became a fashionable morbid fixture in Parisian Bohemian society. Albert Camus…” (a French philosopher, author, and journalist. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism) “…and others compared her enigmatic smile to that of the Mona Lisa, inviting numerous speculations as to what clues the eerily happy expression in her face could offer about her life, her death, and her place in society.

The popularity of the figure is also of interest to the history of artistic media, relating to its widespread reproduction. The original cast had been photographed, and new casts were created from the film negatives. These new casts displayed details that are usually lost in bodies taken from the water, but the apparent preservation of these details in the visage of the cast seemed to only reinforce its authenticity.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27Inconnue_de_la_Seine

 

So Parisians hung her likeness upon her walls as a sort of morbid curiosity, but the story of L’Inconnue de la Seine doesn’t end there. In fact, her legacy continues. To this day, people gaze into the face of L’Inconnue de la Seine. In fact, an average of 12 million people per year. You see, the death mask of L’Inconnue de la Seine lives on as the face of Resusci Anne, also known as Rescue Anne, Resusci Annie, or CPR Annie. If you’ve ever taken a CPR course, you’ve worked to “revive” Annie. Isn’t it poetic that a young woman, a woman who supposedly took her own life, is still very much a part of the world of the living and that training with Annie can teach others how to save a life? I think so. It is also profoundly sad when you consider how many CPR students have shaken the likeness and asked, “Annie, Annie, are you okay?” And before you ask, yes the lyrics of Micheal Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” stems from American CPR training.

Skeptics believe that the face of a woman pulled from a river would be bloated and scarred beyond recognition depending on the amount of time she spent in the water and instead think that the popular mask from the 1900s was actually created on a living model. Others believe that the mask is indeed a likeness of the drowned woman, but that the mask was molded into a more aesthetically pleasing visage after it had been cast. Or perhaps the drowned woman posed for a sculptor in life and then drowned in the Seine. As Chief Brigadier Pascal Jacquin of the Paris river police told the BBC in 2013: “She looks like she’s just asleep and waiting for Prince Charming.” What do you think?

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

Insta: Blood Marmalade

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New Episode Available!

S3 Ep. 2: Any Dead’ll Do!

Haunt Heads returns for another creepy episode! This week, Janine takes us on a tour of the Paris Morgue of the 1800s and makes a connection to the modern day that might make your head spin when she talks about the “most kissed face in the world.” Katie tackles an unsolved murder in Elk Lake, WI, and introduces us to the spirit of 25-year-old Mary Schlais whose body was discovered in a snowy ditch near the shores of the Lake.

This episode contains a dollop of true crime and a murder most foul, shadow people, and a death mask from the 1800s put to use in the modern day.

Thanks to Fox and Branch for the use of their song St. James Infirmary for our intro/outro. Find more of their hot jams at foxandbranch.com.

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The Fork Was Never Found

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Likely one of the strangest figures in history was a man known only as Tarrare. A glutton, his ravenous appetite could not be satiated and he never gained weight although his abdomen became distended with each large “meal,” he toured the French countryside performing for anyone who would stop and watch as he gorged himself. Tarrare would eat large amounts of food and literally anything else that anyone asked him to ingest. Items ranged from pocket watches to cutlery and everything in between.

Although we are aware that the competitive eaters of today go through strenuous exercises to expand/stretch their stomachs in order to take in more food, the story of Tarrare is still unnerving and, ultimately, very strange indeed. Tarrare was certainly a medical anomaly and performed as a freak to support himself.

Born in France near Lyon around 1772, (his DOB is unrecorded and there is debate as to whether Tarrare was his real name or a nickname) Tarrare lived with his parents until his early teens. At this point, he could eat his weight in meat and his family just couldn’t manage to feed him. They forced him to leave. After this, he toured the country with a group of sex workers and thieves with whom he begged for and stole food. He eventually came upon a traveling charlatan who welcomed him into his show as an attraction. Tarrare would eat everything he could including refuse and stones. He would even eat live animals including live eels that he would consume whole and swallow basketfuls of apples one after another.

Around 1778, his work as a street performer brought him to Paris. In general, he had a successful career and drew fairly large crowds who would gawk and cheer until one of his acts went awry and he had to be carried to the Hotel-Dieu hospital by members of the crowd in order to have an intestinal obstruction removed. Powerful laxatives worked their magic and Tarrare was back in business, but not before he offered to swallow a surgeon’s watch and chain. The surgeon, M. Giraud, said that if Tarrare swallowed his belongings he would cut him open and recover the items himself.

Terrare’s eating habits didn’t affect his outward appearance at all. In fact, he was rather gaunt and at the age of 17 weighed in at a mere 100 lbs. His mouth is described as abnormally large and his teeth were heavily stained, no doubt from consuming pure refuse and other inedible items for show, and if he didn’t eat his skin would droop. His cheeks would sag and the skin of his stomach would deflate like a burst balloon. He could then wrap the skin completely around his waist like a flabby belt. Tarrare was essentially a combination of The Human Skeleton and The Elastic Man sideshow acts from early circus sideshows. In addition to these anomalies, Tarrare is also described as having a terrible odor that could be experienced from a distance of 40 paces, was always sweating heavily, and he was prone to terrible bouts of diarrhea. He would belch loudly, he would constantly swallow, and his eyes would become bloodshot if he didn’t eat. According to Wikipedia, “Hyperthyroidism can induce an extreme appetite, rapid weight loss, profuse sweating, and heat intolerance. […] Bondeson (2006) speculates that Tarrare had a damaged amygdala; it is known that injuries to the amygdala in animals can induce polyphagia.”

When war broke out in 1792, Tarrare enlisted in the French Revolutionary Army. The FRA was known for its revolutionary fervor, poor equipment, and large numbers and Tarrare threw himself into a life of military service. Unfortunately, food rations would not satisfy Tarrare’s seemingly endless hunger and, although other soldiers would offer Tarrare part of their ration in exchange for services, it just didn’t fill him up. He took to eating refuse and scavenged through dung heaps for scraps. Eventually, Tarrare was admitted to a military hospital because he was suffering extreme exhaustion.   He was granted quadruple rations by hospital staff but still remained hungry and foraged in garbage cans and gutters, even leaving his bed at night to steal away into the apothecary cabinet and eat the poultices. Tarrare was ordered to stay in the military hospital and undergo psychological and physical evaluations devised by Dr. Courville (surgeon to the 9th Hussar Regiment)  and George Didier, Baron Percy, surgeon-in-chief of the hospital. Courville and Percy would watch as Tarrare consumed every item placed in front of him. In one instance, a meal was prepared to consist of two large meat pies, plates of grease and salt, and four gallons of milk, though the impressiveness of this particular consumed item depends on the definition of a gallon for the time period. From savoringthepast.net (https://savoringthepast.net/2012/07/02/interpreting-measures/), “In other recipes, the word “gallon” was used as a measurement. Now, this is a good example of how nomenclature has changed through the years. If you live in the United States, you expect a gallon to hold 128 ounces of liquid. It’s a measure that was officially adopted in the early 19th century from the old “wine” or “Queen Anne” gallon. It’s volume capacity precisely holds 231 cubic inches. But the term “gallon” in the 18th century was likely the “ale gallon,” which had a capacity of approximately 277-1/4 cubic inches — approximately 20% larger than the wine gallon. The ale gallon held precisely 10-pounds of water at 62 degrees (F). This measure later morphed into the “Imperial Gallon” that is still used in Great Britain and Canada. In addition to the wine and ale gallon, there is the corn gallon. This measure is still occasionally used today to measure grain. In the 18th century, it was also used to measure flour and bread. Its capacity is 268.8 cubic inches, or 16% greater than the wine gallon.”

Regardless of how large the gallon might have been, that’s still a fuck of a lot of dairy. Just sayin’.

Tarrare was also given a variety of other items to consume including snakes, lizards, and puppies. It is said that Tarrare also ate a cat alive, stripping the flesh from its bones and eating it whole. He later vomited up the fur and skin. When given an eel, he ate it whole after crushing the creature’s head between his teeth. Percy wrote of this scene, “ The dogs and cats fled in terror at his aspect as if they had anticipated the kind of fate he was preparing for them.”

It wasn’t long before the military began asking for Tarrare to be released and put back on active duty. Percy had no choice but to allow his patient to leave as he could see no medical reason for the man to stay under his care. Dr. Courville, however, approached General Alexandre de Beauharnais and suggested that Tarrare might be an asset to the war effort. Courville placed a note inside a wooden box and instructed Tarrare to eat it. Two days later, the box emerged in Tarrare’s excrement and the document was still legible. Courville told de Beauharnais that Tarrare would make an excellent courier of sensitive documents as enemy forces would find nothing if they searched him and he could pass undetected through their checkpoints. And so, Tarrare became a spy. A spy that could only speak French, but a spy nonetheless. Let’s just say he was no James Bond. I think I would have had reservations about swallowing a box containing sensitive military information, but I’m not a professional glutton. Also, Tarrare was paid handsomely with a wheelbarrow full of 30 lbs of bull lungs, liver, and testicles as a reward so it’s not like he didn’t get anything out of the deal. Something tells me he did get diarrhea, but that’s neither here nor there.

So Tarrare was employed officially as a spy for the Army of the Rhine and was immediately sent on a covert operation. “Tarrare was ordered as his first assignment to carry a message to a French colonel imprisoned by the Prussians near Neustadt; he was told that the documents were of great military significance, but in reality de Beauharnais had merely written a note asking the colonel to confirm that the message had been received successfully and if so to return a reply of any potentially useful information about Prussian troop movements. (Wikipedia) Tarrare made his way through Prussian lines in order to deliver the return message and dressed as a German peasant in order to blend into his surroundings. Remember how I said he wasn’t James Bond? Well, Tarrare couldn’t speak a lick of German so of course, he began to arouse suspicion with the locals who alerted Prussian authorities. He was almost immediately arrested, but even after hours of whipping, he refused to disclose his mission. It wasn’t until a full 24 hours later that he finally relented. “He was chained to a latrine, and eventually, 30 hours after being swallowed,[17] the wooden box emerged. Zoegli was furious when the documents, which Tarrare had said contained vital intelligence, transpired only to be de Beauharnais’s dummy message, and Tarrare was taken to a gallows and the noose placed around his neck.” Some believe that Tarrare actually passed the box with the message, but retrieved it from his stool and ate it again. Yep.

“At the last minute, Zoegli relented, and Tarrare was taken down from the scaffold, given a severe beating, and released near the French lines.” (Wikipedia)

At this point, Tarrare was desperate to be free of military service and returned to Percy at the hospital. He begged Percy to find a cure for his relentless eating and Percy conceded. The doctor would feed Tarrare large amounts of soft boiled eggs, but this failed to suppress his appetite. If Tarrare smelled bad before, it was all downhill from here. Tarrare would leave the hospital and rummage through the garbage outside butcher shops and fight stray dogs for scraps in the gutters and rubbish heaps. Percy would catch Tarrare drinking the blood of patients who were undergoing bloodletting. Tarrare would also creep into the mortuary at night and consume body parts of deceased patients. Percy’s colleagues insisted that Tarrare was mentally ill and should be immediately committed to an asylum, but he refused to believe that he could not somehow help the man. It wasn’t until a 14-month-old boy went missing that Percy had had enough and demanded Tarrare leave the hospital and never return.

Four years later, in 1798, Percy would receive a call from M. Tessier of Versailles Hospital claiming that he had a patient in his care that was very ill. The patient had asked that Percy be called. The patient was Tarrare. Percy visited with Tarrare who was sure he was suffering what he believed was an intestinal blockage. He’d eaten a gold fork during one of his performances and, to the best of his knowledge, had not passed the item. One look at Tarrare was all Percy needed. Clearly, the man was in the advanced stages of tuberculosis and was not long for the world.

Tarrare passed away a month later. His corpse rotted so quickly and gave off such a stench that the doctors at the hospital refused to be anywhere near it. Tessler, however, dissected the remains because he still had a fork to find. Upon close examination, he found that he could open Tarrare’s mouth and see all the way down into his stomach. Additionally,  his body was filled with pus and his liver and gallbladder were enlarged. His stomach was enormous and covered in ulcers, but Tessler could not find the fork inside Tarrare.

The story of Tarrare the glutton seems too fantastical to be believed, but there is evidence of another such individual capable of such grand consumption. A man named Charles Domery

“Charles Domery was a man born in Poland in 1778. Domery joined the Prussian army when he was young, but was very dissatisfied with the rations. He even went over to the French army just for the food. Once he went through all of the French’s food, he turned to cats. Reportedly, Domery ate 174 cats in a single year. Other unimaginable feats of his include eating 5 lbs (2.3 kg) of grass per day, and attempting to eat the severed leg of a fellow soldier. Domery’s incredible eating abilities is due to a medical condition called polyphagia, which involves excessive appetite. One time, the British army gave him the following items just to see if he could eat them: 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of meat, multiple bottles of wine, a raw cow’s udder, 2 lbs (0.9 kg) of candles. He did.” (Curiosity.com)

Were Tarrare and Domery one and the same? We will likely never know.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

Facebook: Haunt Heads Podcast

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Sources

http://www.biusante.parisdescartes.fr/histoire/medica/resultats/index.php?p=99&cote=90146x1805x09&do=page

https://curiosity.com/topics/the-insatiable-appetite-of-charles-domery-curiosity/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarrare

 

S3 Ep. 1: Forked Up & Haunted

 

Welcome back for another creepy season of Haunt Heads!

This week, Katie’s hitting the thrift shops and bargain basements and talking about the objects we find at second hand stores and the energies they hold. Janine visits 17thcentury France and tells the (often disturbing) tale of Tarrare the glutton.

This episode contains some awesome podcast recommendations, a disappearing fork, transference of spiritual energy, and a massive gastrointestinal upset.

WARNING: This episode might be a little much for some of our listeners. Janine’s piece begins at roughly 59 minutes in. If you can’t handle the insanely creepy and grotesque (including cannibalism and a brief mention of infanticide) , we understand. You’ve been warned.

Our theme song is St. James Infirmary by Fox and Branch. Find more of their music at foxandbranch.com.