Sophie Blanchard's balloon

Madeline-Sophie Blanchard, Madame Blanchard, was not the first woman aviator but she was the first woman to pilot her own balloon. When her husband, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, one of the earliest balloonists, died in 1809, she opted to make a career of ballooning and in fact became a regular barnstormer at fairs and special events around northern France.

She was reportedly most famous for her self-designed basket shaped like a bathtub, as seen inhere in an ascent she made from the Champ de Mars on June 24, 1810:

It was during a performance on July 19, 1819, in the Tivoli Gardens, where the Saint-Lazare train station is now located, that her balloon caught fire and she fell out of the basket onto a nearby roof and broke her neck.

She's buried -- by herself apparently -- in division 13, Pere Lachaise Cemetery. And yes, she's one of my favorites. (Jane Avril in division 19 is another, if you must know.)

Back in Pere Lachaise

Well I'm back in Paris untill the end of October and of course one of the first things I had to do was to go to Pere Lachaise cemetery, particularly I now that live just about 10 minutes away!

Anyway I wanted to pay my respects to several of my favorites: Jacob Robles (7th div.), the aeronaut Madelaine Sophie Blanchard (1778-1819, 13th div.):

To Jane Avril (1868-1943, 19th div.), one of Toulouse-Latrec's most well-known models and one of the great caberet dancers of Paris:

And to Fernand Arbelot (1880-1942, div. 11), whose one desire in death was to forever gaze on the face of his wife:

Last walk through Pere Lachaise and last goodbyes

The bust of Rene Piavit not missing after all. Apparently the conservation at Pere Lachaise has instituted a policy of removing any unstable bust for safekeeping until they can be returned to the gravesite and affixed to the pedestal. A pretty good policy we'd say.

And speaking of missing busts the police have reportedly recovered most of the busts stolen from a number of Parisian cemeteries over the past several months. That's the good news; the bad news is that not all the recovered busts can be identified! It's always something!

I met up with Marie yesterday (Saturday) afternoon for a last stroll through the cemetery and to track down a couple of gravesites that have since eluded me: Preault in 49, Castiglione in 85 and Fresnel in 14. Marie found Preault for me and together we found Castiglione but Fresnel still remains that one elusive grave. . .

While waiting for Marie I caught sight of five young women just outside the cemetery entrance, four with devil horns on and one dressed like an angel with wings and halo; I have no idea what was going on here but they seemed very lively, happy and just out being goofy and enjoying life.

Not a bad way to go through life. And what better place than outside a cemetery to promote such a worldview, eh?

As Marie and I chatted and strolled through the cemetery I said let's swing through divisions 13 and 19 so that I could pay my respects to two of my favorite women: ballonist Sophie Blanchard (div. 13) and Moulin Rouge dancer Jane Avril (div. 19). (Photo top of Lautrec's poster of Jane.)

More than a century before there were barnstormers flying their biplane aircraft over county fairs in the United States, showing off their daredevil acrobatic skills, there were people in France doing pretty much the same thing but with balloons. In 1785 Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American Dr. John Jeffries were the first to cross the English in a ballown (they almost didn't make it). After Jean-Pierre died in a ballloning accident in 1809 his widow Sophie carried on the family tradition, becoming one of the first women aeronauts. During one show in 1819 her balloon caught fire from the fireworks and although sghe landed successfully on a nearby house, she was blown off the roof by a gust of wind and killed. Sophie was buried in division 13 of Pere Lachaise. (Photos left and below)

Jane Avril was one of the best known and in her day one of the most famous dancers at the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre as well as a number of other caberet shows. Jane replaced the incomparable Louse Weber (La Goulue) at the Moulin Rouge and became a sensation. She died in 1943 in a seniors' home in near poverty in 1943, largely unforgotten.

After we left the cemetery Marie and I met up with Philippe at a nearby cafe for coffee and later they took me next door to the 20th Arrondissement's Maire (city hall) across the street where the once-every-two-years' festival of associations was underway. Every organization, society and association in the arrondissement was out in force trying to persuade people to take a peek at what they had to offer the public and to consider joining. Naturally the Friends of Pere Lachaise had a booth as well.

It was a wonderful afternoon and a grand way to spend my last tour in Pere Lachaise. I will miss Marie, Philippe and of course the quiet streets of Pere Lachaise.

Wish I was there,