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We’ll Always Have Paris
By: Lynn Whitney
I like walking through historic cemeteries. I don’t find them to be morbid or scary. I find them to be peaceful, quiet places of contemplation where family stories are gathered. Walking among the headstones, history and cultures reveal themselves. Voices call out from the inscriptions. Some sorrowful, some heartfelt, some humorous, such as the famous Key West Cemetery memorial, “I told you I was sick.” The markers themselves tell a story; an angel – a guide to Heaven, a broken bud – an untimely death, myrtle leaves – undying love. A walk through a cemetery is a tribute to those who reside there, “you are not forgotten.” So many of these resting places lie along riverbanks, a peaceful spot for those who visit.
It was that observation that led me to Le Cemetier des Chien in Paris – the world’s oldest pet cemetery. No, I haven’t been there, but I certainly would like to visit. It sits over the Pont de Clichy Bridge, on the banks of the Seine, just down river from where Seurat painted his famous, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” As the name suggest, it is dominated by dogs, but other beloved pets are buried there, such as cats, horses, monkeys and even a lion.
Le Cemetier was founded in 1899 by French feminist Marguerite Durand. Publisher of the feminist newspaper , “La Fronde,” she was an elegant woman of style, known for strolling the streets of Paris with her pet lion, Tiger, who later became one of the cemetery’s first residents.
Through the years, the cemetery has fallen into a somewhat neglected state, but that almost seems to have enhanced its atmosphere of sacred and peaceful seclusion for the tender memorials to cherished pets and companions. Wild cats roam freely, as if to keep the occupants company. The entrance is dominated by a huge sculpture of a St. Bernard carrying a child on his back. This is Barry, a Swiss mountain rescue dog for the St. Bernard Hospice. Born in 1800, his mission was to go out into snowstorms and rescue people trapped in avalanches. He is said to have rescued 41 people, the last being a young boy he found asleep in an ice cave. He warmed the boy by licking him, moved him onto his back and carried him back to the hospice. The boy survived. After 12 years of service, he was brought by a monk to Bern, Switzerland, to live out his life in peace. He died at the age of 14. His body is preserved and on display at the Natural History Museum in Bern. While he is not buried in Le Cemetier, his monument is a profound reminder of the loving bond between master and companion.
Perhaps the most famous resident is the German Shepherd Rin Tin Tin. Found as a puppy during WWI, in a neglected kennel, he was adopted by American serviceman Lee Duncan. Upon his arrival in America he became a box office hit and starred in 27 films. After his death in 1932, his remains were returned to France and buried in Le Cemetier. His grave is almost always blanketed in flowers from his admirers.
A walk among the headstones reveals not only grand memorials to pets of the famed and royal, but also heart wrenching testimonials to the loyal companions of ordinary people:
To a dog named Emma – “My only friend in my wayward and sorry life.”
To Kiki the monkey – “Sleep, my dear. You were the joy of my life.”
To Drac, pet of a Romanian Princess – “Loyal companion during tragic times. Precious friend in exile.”
To a dog named Hera – “Loved the Sea – Let the Seine rock you to sleep.”