23 rue Jean Goujon Paris 75008
Exactly one year after the fire, the first stone of the memorial chapel, Notre Dame de Consolation- was laid where the bazaar had been located. The Neo-Baroque edifice was designed by Albert Guilbert and took about three years to complete. Today it still stands, between the Seine River and Champs Elysées, and a stone’s throw from the fashionable Avenue Montaigne.
Above the entrance sit two statues symbolizing charity and faith with the date of the fire and inscription “Don’t be as sad as those with no hope”. Inside the chapel is a gorgeous nef which sits under a majestically painted cupola ceiling that depicts the holy spirit as well as the likenesses of several well-known victims of the fire.
Surrounding the nef is a Way of the Cross, which lists the names of all who died at this site and several funeral urns. Four years after the devastating fire, ten family members of victims created the Association of the Memorial of the Bazar de la Charité, which still exists today. There is a memorial service here each year on May 4th, and a monthly conference visit, which I was able to join in December 2019. I was delighted to see the President of the Association, Madame Nelly Du Cray- was leading the tour, which was pretty special because she herself is the Great Great Granddaughter of a victim.
There were only about fifteen other people present, which made the 3hr long tour wonderfully intimate. Although many artifacts were sold off right after the fire as macabre souvenirs (an unclaimed bracelet that still held bits of charred human flesh was one item of popular interest), a few are preserved in a glass case. The objects were mostly made of metal, but they had been deformed due to the high intensity of the heat. Among them were a few heartbreaking items, like delicate dolls (which may have been for sale at the charité or more disturbingly, a much loved toy for a little girl who didn’t survive) and a watch, which curiously was stopped at 4:30. Apparently this was used to determine the start of the fire from between 4:20 and 4:25.
Madame Du Cray knows the story of each of the 125 victims and her precision on some of their details was extraordinary. You can read about a few by looking at the photos below, taken from the facebook page of the Association.
Top: Madeleine de Clercq, 9 years old. Came to the bazaar with a great aunt, her cousin, and her little brother. She became serperated in the chaos and died from being trampled on.
Below: Alice Jacmin, 16 years old. Daughter of the Inspecter of the East Railroad, she came with her mother and grandmother to help venders. She became seperated from them when her mother fell. Her mother and grandmother managed to find the exit and escaped. Her mother was on fire, but doused with water upon leaving the building, and was taken home with severe injuries. Alice’s body was identified the next day.
Above: Marie de Marbot and her daughters Antoinette (18) and Marguerite (16). When the fire started, all three ran towards a window but their mother fell, and told them to save themselves. The girls escaped but Marguerite died from a severe head wound the next day, and Antoinette died 10 days later.
Below: Dr; Henri Feulard and his daughter Germaine (10). Henri came to the bazar with his wife who was a vender, and daughter. He was able to escape with his wife, but in the frenzy they realized Germaine was not with them. Henri went back in, and on the way saved two nuns who begged for help. He did eventually find his daughter, but witnesses saw them both die when a part of the ceiling fell upon them. His body was later identified by his work keys, his daughter by her bracelet. The wife was especially devastated, she had lost already lost two young children unexpectedly before the fire. Now her entire family was gone.
Madame Emile Nitot came to the bazaar as a vender with her daughter Suzanne (8yrs old) and her friend Helen (23yrs old). When the fire started they were close to the exit, and Emile escaped by being pushed out with the crowd, but went back for her daughter. All three perished.
At 80 years old, Louise was the oldest victim. She came to the Bazar with her chambermaid Elodie Van Biervliet (20) to assist with selling. When the fire broke out, Elodie refused to abandon her, and together they made it to the back enclosed terrain. They died waiting to escape through the window of the Hotel du Palais. Louise dedicated her whole life to charity, particularily orphans.
Countess Christian de Malezieu came to the Bazaar with her four young children to help her mother in law selling. After the initial blessing at 15h, she left with her three youngest children, leaving her oldest, Suzanne (7) with her mother in law. When she heard of the fire, she came back for Suzanne and desperately found a way inside, where she died. In a cruel twist of fate, an unknown woman had escaped the fire with Suzanne, by wrapping the little girl in her dress. Suzanne was able to give the woman her address, and she was brought home safely.
One remarkable tale that made an impression on me was that of a young girl, who was found hours after the fire ended on the roof of a building directly next to the fire. Severely traumatized, she couldn’t recall anything of the fire, or how she arrived on the roof next door.
I spoke with some of the other visitors during the tour and several of them were descendants as well, a few having just found discovered distant ancestors from genealogy websites.I’ve attached a link below for a really interesting video on the fire with more in-depth explanations and a witness description of the fire from a survivor made in the 1950’s (its only in French but you can watch with subtitles) that I highly recommend. If you are interested in participating in a conference, you can sign up on the association’s website below.