When Lorraine Soderquist of Ham Lake learned we had a story coming about off-the-beaten-path stops in the City of Lights, she made sure we knew about one of her favorite sites there.
“Have you ever written about the cemetery in Paris where General Lafayette is buried?” she asked by e-mail.
No, I had to answer. But I am rectifying that now.
Picpus Cemetery, in the 12th Arrondissement, has a thrilling history, and not just because the Marquis de La Fayette — or simply Lafayette — was laid to rest there, reportedly in soil brought over from the United States (either Bunker Hill or Mount Vernon, depending on the story). The French aristocrat fought in the American Revolutionary War. In honor of his ties to our country, an American flag flies over his stately grave.
But the cemetery and its now-tranquil environs had a grisly start. During the height of the Reign of Terror, as many as 55 people a day were guillotined. Executioners needed a place to dispose of the bodies. These grounds, just minutes away from the guillotine that was set up in what is now called Place de la Nation, served the cause. Two mass graves hold 1,306 victims, all executed in June and July of 1794.
Only descendants of those victims can be buried at Picpus Cemetery. Lafayette rests here beside his wife, who lost her grandmother, mother and sister to the guillotine.
Soderquist read about the cemetery in a Chicago newspaper in 1983. When she visited later that year, she carried a clipping of the story and showed it to the caretaker, whose picture appeared with the story. “He was very impressed and gave my husband and me an extended tour,” she wrote. “It was the highlight of our whole trip.”
The cemetery, at 35 Rue de Picpus, is open from 2-5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, except public holidays. Cost is 2 euros. For more information, go to tinyurl.com/n56thd2.
Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.