Adventure in a Parisian Cemetery

We’d bought a map in a little kiosk just off to the left of the iron-gated entrance to Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris .  Alan, my ex-husband, and I had picked out the names of the honored dead whose monuments we wanted to find; Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer who died disgraced and penniless in Paris, now resting under a striking Art Nouveau monument; Abelard and Heloise, real-life star crossed lovers from the 12th century, separated in death by the walls of their adjoining tombs;  Frederic Chopin, the composer of deeply romantic melodies.

Oscar Wilde's Grave

These are kisses covering Oscar Wilde’s grave

The year was 1988 and we were living in an apartment in the 16th arrondisement of Paris, thanks to Alan’s employer.

We spent hours that day exploring. We discovered that this is an old place, a cramped place, a place of decayed crypts with broken windows, doors incapable of closing, vines growing on the interior walls, obscuring the messages of veneration carved at the orders of grieving families.

This is an autumnal place; the trees mostly bare, their leaves tumbling and crumbling under our feet on the cracked concrete of the narrow paths, the sky gray, threatening a cold Parisian rain; a good place to pay respects to the long-gone poets, politicians and playwrights, the lawyers, lovers and laborers interred at Père LaChaise.

We still had one more poet to whom we wanted to pay tribute.  But his name wasn’t on the map.

The missing name was Jim Morrison, lead singer and founder of the rock group, The Doors.

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes again…….

Paris was indeed his end, for he was found dead at the age of 27, in a bathtub, in the same hotel where Oscar Wilde died.  They died in the same hotel and are buried in the same cemetery.

We wound back over the same paths, headed off in new directions, cross and criss-crossed our routes, but found no grave for Jim Morrison.  Finally, tired and hungry, we  declared defeat and headed back for the exit.

Five feet, five mere feet from leaving the cemetery and never finding his grave, they appeared.  They stepped right out of the time machine, the year 1968, and landed in 1988, right in front of us;  a couple with long hair, dressed in leather pants, loose shirts and floppy hats.  As they passed, I heard bells tinkling somewhere on their clothes and smelled that sweet scent of marijuana.  I grabbed Alan, said, “Follow them! They’re on a mission.  They’ll take us there,” spun both of us around and set off.

Jim Morrison's Grave

We never would have found Jim Morrison’s grave without this couple

As we got closer to his grave, I understood why it wasn’t on the map.  We started seeing arrows scrawled on graves with the name, “Jim Morrison,” written next to them.  When we got to his grave, all those surrounding it were covered with graffiti. The guardians of Père LaChaise had tired of the desecration and hoped by making this spot hard to find, they’d minimize the damage.

They didn’t count on the degree of reverence with which this poet is held.

When we finally walked back out the iron gates of Père LaChaise, Alan said, “You did it again.  I never would have thought a thing about those two, much less followed them.  Thanks to you, we were able to say, “Rest in peace, Jim Morrison.”

11 thoughts on “Adventure in a Parisian Cemetery

  1. Most today know little of the Doors let alone Jim Morrison, the poet of the rock era. Not sure the gap he left has ever been filled.

    • Hi Bob: Both he and Oscar Wilde were tragic poets who died much too young. If you could meet one, and only one, of those two, which would you pick?

  2. In more recent years, there are fewer persons who are moved to deface other graves with comments or directions relating to Morrison’s resting place, which is rather plain. Many others, such as Abelard and Eloise, have elaborate tombs, very affecting in their beauty and/or dramatic tone.

    Morrison’s grave is a short distance from another American, long buried but under his wife’s family name until the 1930s, when the Paris Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy placed a marker suitably identifying the final resting place of Judah P. Benjamin – noted trial lawyer, first practicing Jew to serve as a United States Senator, Attorney-General, Secretary of War and then Secretary of State of the Confederate States of America, who fled America in 1865, pursued further legal studies in Britain and rose to Queen’s Counsel, and was the author of Benjamin on Sales, a legal hornbook on what is now called Commerical Law and which stood as THE publication on the subject for many decades.

    • Hi Robert: You’ve clearly visited Pere LaChaise more recently than I have. When were you last there?

      Thanks for sharing this information about Judah Benjamin. Do you know how he came to be buried in Paris?

      • Georgia, I was last in the cemetery near the Benjamin, Morrison, Chopin, Abelard and Bernhardt tombs in May, 1998. I don’t get by there on every visit, but I sometimes hear from friends about current condition of the cemetery.

        Benjamin had a long, strange marriage to a French Catholic woman who only resided with him at odd intervals. He was famous for purchasing a wonderful home for her in a Washington, DC neighborhood (when he was a US Senator), filling it with the finest French furniture – and then she only resided there a few months. Benjamin died in London, I think, but his wife insisted on burying him in her family’s plot in Pere Lachaise. If he expressed any preference, we don’t know about it.

          • Benjamin has always been one of those historical figures I found more compelling and interesting. He repeatedly remade himself and found new and greater success, first as a lawyer, then as a United States Senator, then as a Confederate official and stateman who was the closest friend, confidant and advisor to Jefferson Davis, and then finally as an English barrister. He had a remarkable mind, saw and thought past many common limitations of his era..yet bore much scorn, primarily for being a Jew. He’s one of those singular gems one finds when wading deep in American history.

  3. They both lived such tortured lives. Does it take pain to create such art? I love their art. But would I want to hang with either of them in the flesh?

    • Hi Currious: You’ve given me a challenge – come up with some happy, well adjusted, genius writers. There must be some.

      Or maybe I should just pass this challenge along to the Diary’s readers, who are such a smart, well educated lot. Can anyone name a great writer who was stable and well balanced?

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