It was the Easter period of 2018 that I ventured to the French capital for a hunt around the city looking for memorials to some of the major disasters that have struck Paris since the mid 1800s and incredibly they are more common than expected. I am going to start with a visit to a street near the River Seine called Rue Jean-Goujon. It is here that a church is around halfway up on the right hand side, the Notre-Dame-de-Consolation and this church itself is a memorial to what happened here. On 4th May 1897 a large warehouse containing a mock up medieval street known as the Bazar de la Charite was constructed with hundreds of people attending the event lasting several days. But a huge fire left 126 dead and over 200 injured, the entire site becoming a raging inferno that sent France into mourning. The outside of the church today (above) has very little evidence of something this big happening, but knowing the history of this place makes this place of worship as haunting as it gets.
Moving on to the train station at Gare de Lyon, you have to go deep underground for this next memorial. It is between Platforms 1 and 2 that a yellow monument stretches the length of the platform almost, right in the centre surrounded by a chain barrier. On here are the 56 names of the people who were killed at this spot when an out of control inbound train slammed into another one that was waiting to depart. 60 others were injured, the blame being laid on the train crew for their operating of the brakes after an emergency cord was pulled earlier in the journey.
But it is not just fires and crashes that have struck Paris railways, two terrorist bombs at Saint Michel station in 1995 and Port Royal in 1996 left a combined total of 12 dead, memorial plaques honouring those who died. Another terrorist attack at a small restaurant, the Chez Jo Goldenberg, by the Abu Nidal Organisation left six dead and 22 injured when the attackers threw grenades into the dining area and opened fire with guns. The restaurant was no longer there when I visited but the building was still the same. Again it is hard to imagine things like this happening in such quiet streets. Although these days France has become renown for suffering terrorist attacks in more recent years and for the next incident I had to visit several locations.
Finishing my tour of Paris, I had to board a train at the very busy Montparnasse, a major station that is probably the city’s version of Kings Cross or Waterloo. The structure has changed a lot but I knew that there was a famous photograph of this station, taken in 1895 when a train over-ran the platform and smashed through the walls. Continuing through the wall the engine and several carriages (still connected up) ended up in the street below, killing a pedestrian. Despite the amount of comedy posters that this photograph has been seen in, it is still a railway disaster and perhaps the sellers of such trivia need to remember that. To this date there is no memorial to this.