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The Dead of Paris

From Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles by Charles C. Fulton. Text written in 1873.

The whole arrangement for burying the dead, and furnishing coffins, carriages, and all the requisites for funerals, are in the hands of an incorporated company, no one else having the right to interfere with the business. In fact, it is, like the tobacco business, a source of large revenue to the government. The monopoly is granted to this incorporated  company under the title Entreprise des Pompes Funèbres , whose principal office is at 10 Rue Alibert, whilst it has branch offices in each in the arrondissements into which the city is divided. The officers of this company take charge of the body, and prepare for the funeral upon just such a scale and at such expense as the family may desire. Their schedule of prices is such as to suit the purses of all parties, and they are required to bury the very poor gratuitously.

A “first class funeral” is set down on a schedule as costing seven thousand  one hundred and eighty-one francs (about one thousand five hundred dollars), the cost of each item of expense being enumerated. There are other nine classes, the lowest costing eighteen francs and seventy-five centimes, including the religious ceremonies.

There are however no limits to the cost of first class funerals, as it depends altogether upon the means of the family and its desire for funeral pomp. The horses, hearses, carriages and drivers are all of a different character for each of these ten classes, the difference being in the age and spirit of horses, the good looks of the drivers, the quality of their clothing, the harness of the horses, the ancient or the modern built of the carriages, etc. The hearse is graded from a splendid structure down to a hand-cart, and the extremely poor are merely furnished with a hand-barrow to enable the friends to carry the body on their shoulders to the grave. The quality of the grave-clothes, of the coffin and everything else, is graded to the price, as they may be ordered form class No. 1 to class No. 2.

Besides getting the dead poor buried without cost, the government receives from the company thirty-three and a third per cent of the produce of funeral ornaments, and fifteen per cent on that of all other articles furnished. The revenue from these sources is quite large, and, as the cemeteries are also the property of the city government, the dead, as well the living, contribute their quota to beautifying Paris. The dead are allowed to occupy the ground for only five years, when their bones are carted off, probably for agricultural purposes, and the space they occupied is given to some new claimant for the privilege of the soil. There are three kinds of graves in the cemeteries, even for those who pay for the right of sepulchure. Some people purchase the perpetual right for their friends to occupy the soil, but it is generally conceded for five years or more, subject to renewal. If not renewed, the bones are taken up, and the ground is prepared to lease to some new-comer. In the common graves, or, as they are called, fosses communes, the poor are gratuitously buried four and a half feet deep in coffins placed close to, but not on top of, each other. This economizes space, as well as saves labor in their removal when the five years have expired.

Among the items of city receipts last year in Paris are the following: Dues on burials, 696,000 francs ($120,000); Sale of lands in cemeteries, 1,546,000 francs ($225,000). We do not, however, find any return for the sale of human bones, which is probably a perquisite of the grave-digger.

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From Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles by Charles C. Fulton. Text written in 1873.

 

At the celebrated dry-goods establishment Au Bon Marché, which is extensively patronized by Americans, a new feature has been introduced this season. It having been noticed that American gentlemen frequently get impatient whilst their wives and daughters are shopping, and sometimes hurry them off before they have obtained all they want, a well-fitted-up billiard-saloon has been provided for their amusement whilst the purchases are being made. It seems to answer the purpose well, as the gentlemen are always easy to be found when it is necessary for them to come up to the captain’s office and foot the bill.

An American lady tells us that she went to a hair-dresser’s establishment this morning to get her hair shampooed, and, asking the cost, she received the answer that it would be three francs. After the operation was finished she was presented with a bill for nine francs and upon demurring was told that three of the additional francs were for putting her hair up again, two others for the liquid used, and the fourth for the use of the combs and brush. Can any of our Yankee shampooers come up to this sharp practice?

We stopped in this morning at the horse-meat butcher’s shop to look at the meat. There were nice looking sirloin steaks, spare-rib and sirloin roasts, knuckle-joints for soup, and genuine “salt horse” in abundance. We could not have told it from beef, except that the meat was darker red. The gentleman whom we accompanied assured us that he had eaten it as an experiment, and was of the opinion that it was more tender, as a general thing, than ordinary beef. “But,” he added, “I expect you have frequently dined off of it since you have been in Paris, especially if you have taken any meals at the restaurants”. Well, perhaps we have, but “where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise”.

The Commune, during their possession of Paris, destroyed, among other things, all the official records of births and marriages. As most of them were family men and women without marriage, or unconscious of their own parentage, the object was to place all on a level of “equality” in this respect. The work of restoring the records is now in progress as all who are not recorded are regarded in the eye of the law as illegitimate. It has made brisk work for the lawyers.

The Parisians have a singular way of signalizing events in their history by the naming of streets. One of the magnificent boulevards branching off from the Grand Opera-House was named Boulevard 2nd December, the day of the Napoléon coup d’état in 1851. The name is now changed to the Boulevard 4th September, the day of the dethronement of the Emperor and the proclamation of the Republic. Should there be another Empire proclaimed, the name will doubtless be changed again to suit the date of its occurrence.

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