The Celebrity Graves of Pere Lachaise

POOR oul’ Marie Elisa Bullot. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or rather she was placed somewhere that over time eventually became wrong.

Marie Elisa is one of history’s next-tos. Her grave is beside that of Jim Morrison in Pere Lachaise in Paris. Pere Lachaise is one of the city’s most storied cemeteries. A lot of very famous people are buried there. It was opened in 1804 and originally Catholics didn’t want to be buried there because it was not consecrated. Then the authorities dug up some celebrities and reinterred them at Père Lachaise to give the place a patina of glamour. It’s a ploy that happened often during the boom when golf courses got ‘slebs’ to live in adjoining mews. Père Lachaise, however, is still solvent.

I was in the area last week (with what I loosely call work). Like all tourists, I ignored the thousands of other graves and went ... er ... straight for those of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Morrison’s grave has been such a magnet for fans over the years that now it has a barrier around it. It’s a token effort and it hasn’t prevented people from placing their tributes on his headstone. There are bottles of Jack Daniels, cigarettes and a surprising number of empty cans of Dutch Gold which proves that ‘people are strange’. Bullot’s grave has been scribbled on and knocked over.

If her spirit still wanders around the area, one could imagine her in 1971 looking aghast at what was happening to the neighbourhood. Like an old cottage surrounded by humdrum semi-ds she has been overtaken by the modern world. And now she is stood on without ceremony by a load of tourists trying to get a better snap.

History is full of next-tos. The next-tos in photos of Michael Jordan have even given rise to a new word ‘Posterised’ — the experience of the basketball players rooted to the ground while his Royal Airness sailed above them. These leaden-footed mortals were forever commemorated in posters on the walls of 11-year-olds in the 1990s.

We have to feel sorry for the figurative next-tos — the people on Cloud Eight, those who are in Sixth Heaven, where the craic was eighty-nine. Even drag queen Panti Bliss’ powerful speech — the ‘Noble Call’ at the end of Abbey Theatre’s final performance of The Risen People — has a next-to: the people who did it on the nights before Panti. They must have thought “that went quite well”. Then Panti gave one of the most important speeches of this generation and all others pale by comparison.

There’s nothing less meritorious about any of these next-tos. It’s just that subsequent or adjacent events have eclipsed them.

So in the interests of the next-tos, I decided to spend €19.99 — see? proper journalism — on the French ancestry website ancestry.fr to find out more about Mme Bullot. She was born in 1820, married Leon Gambier in 1837, had a daughter called Mathilde and as far as I can see, this is the end.

But next time you’re putting a can of Tuborg on Jim Morrison’s grave, mind your feet.

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