Did You Know About… The Paris Morgue?

What should we do tonight, honey?

If you were around in the 1800’s and needed a cheap form of entertainment, it’s possible that you’d bring the family to the Paris Morgue.

La Morgue was known as the “only free theater in Paris.” While the actors in this performance were all dead, it made for a gruesome spectacle that thousands of people visited every day.

Opening in 1804, La Morgue eventually moved to a larger building sixty years later. This new facility was set in the center of Paris on the edge of the Seine river. The location was perfect for attracting visitors and keeping a fresh rotation of dead bodies that were pulled from the river.

Without the aid of modern science and technology, bodies recovered from the river were nearly impossible to identify. The morgue officials believed that displaying them for the public would help expedite the process. Those same officials could not have predicted how the public would react.

Like a department store window

Once a body was found, it was stripped, inspected and frozen. From there the body was placed on tilted slabs made of marble and displayed behind glass. They would take the deceased’s clothing and hang it on a hook next to the body. In the early days of the Paris Morgue, bodies were kept cold by ice water that dripped down from pipes above. In the early 1880s, thankfully, refrigeration technology improved.

Each body was on display for no longer than three days. That’s when they would take a photograph, or in some cases, a wax cast.

Time to find a new place to hangout

The Paris Morgue officially closed its doors to the public in 1907. There were more forms of entertainment available and moral concerns began to win out. Local businesses and street vendors no longer appreciated that form of foot traffic.

Curated collection of illustrations

I’ve scoured the public domain for images and illustrations of ‘La Morgue’ and gathered them into one place. Enjoy… or be appalled and offended… whichever.

In the news

Newspapers in France would routinely run stories on the numbers for the year. How many bodies were shown compared to how many were recognized. There were also reports of pets unwilling to leave their owner’s sides and stories of nightmares coming to life when someone recognized a lost loved one.

A photo of ‘La Morgue’?

I’m unsure if this is a photo from the actual morgue or a recreation. Still, it’s interesting and gives you a good idea of what it would have been like to visit in its later years of operation.

A poet’s inspiration

According to his bio section on Bandcamp, Jimmy Dread is “the solo moniker of drummer and poet JR Rhine.” He describes his music as, “sonic alchemy.” His music sounds like something I would have swayed to in my late teen years while hanging out at Industry in Pontiac; musicians like Ministry and The Crow soundtrack.

He also uses the hashtags #Deadbeatnik and #horrorpoetry which is what led me to his poem, “The Paris Morgue” from 2018.

There are surprisingly few pieces of music out there that have used La Morgue for inspiration, but luckily we have Jimmy Dread.

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