Did you know there really WAS a chandelier that crashed during a performance inside the Paris Opera House in 1896? This was one of the many strange occurences that inspired Gaston Leroux to write the story of The Phantom of the Opera. Here is a translation of the article depicting the horrid, yet mysteriously occurring scene that convinced the world there really was an opera ghost.
Article from Le Figaro, dated Thursday 21st May 1896
"A terrible accident occurred yesterday evening, at the Opera, during the performance of Helle. It was exactly three minutes to nine in the evening. The first act was ending. Mme Caron had just sung an encore, when a tremendous noise was heard. At the same time, a bright light appeared, like a flash of lightning and a cloud of dust rose from the top of the room to the flies.
First, the explosion was believed to be some anarchist attack. Spectators rushed to the exit doors. But with admirable coolness, Delmas, Mme. Caron and chorus members who were on the stage remained in place, hoping by their calm to reassure the public. They succeeded to calm the spectators in the pit (orchestra) and on the first two tiers. But, above, at the fourth level amphitheatere which was nearest to the supposed explosion, the panic was considerable. The spectators were jostling each other even trying to climb over the balustrade to jump into the pit. Police officer Guida, no 158 of the ninth arrondissement, Brigadier Grimaldi of the municipal guards, the two guards Levesque and Durand, and the caretaker of the auditorium, M. Vallerand, prevented them and guided them to the exit door. Thanks to them no new accident occurred.
Meanwhile, M. Lapissida, stage manager of the Opera had very calmly withdrawn the personnel from the stage. After that he said to the public that they had nothing to fear, and then brought down the curtain.
The evacuation of the amphitheatre (Jennie’s comment: the fourth level of balconies facing the stage) took no more than two or three minutes, and once this was completed, the wounded were taken care of, for there people who had been injured. First it was found that five or six people complained only of bruises and severe concussion. They could leave the room to receive medical treatment. Hopes were rising that the consequences of the accident had not been too severe, when cries attracted the attention of one of municipal guards. He retraced his steps and found a woman under a beam/girder. It was Mme. Senot, grocer, who lived at Rue de l’Arcade no 12. She had been injured in the leg and the right eye from the breaking of the beam/girder, under which she was trapped.
At the same time, a young girl, her face all covered with blood, began crying for her mother, who she said was under the rubble. The search revealed the horribly mutilated corpse of an elderly woman lying in a hole in the floor of the gallery, covered by blocks of cast iron.
It was the woman that the young girl was crying out for, Mme. Chomette, aged fifty-six, a concierge at 12 Impasse Briare, 7 Rue Rochechouart.
While officers were searching to see if there were any other bodies, a fire was seen to have started in the roof. The firemen on duty, promptly assisted by the firemen from Rue Blanche soon overcome the fire.
Until now, no one knew what had happened and the cause of the accident. By removing the body of Mme Chomette *TEXT MISSING* (probably “on s’en”) this was discovered. It had been caused *TEXT MISSING* (prob: “par la chute”) by the fall of one of the counterweights of *TEXT MISSING* (probably ‘chandelier’).
*TEXT MISSING* in the central hall is supported by eight iron wires, each one the thickness of a wrist, and each attached to a counterweight weighing about 700 kilos. Each counterweight weighs this much so that if one or several of the wires break, the chandelier will stay suspended.
Now apparently, along one of these wires, running in a flue or shaft, was a cable for the electric light. Probably through wear and tear, a contact between the wire and the electric cable started a fire, and this fierce spark melted the wire holding the counterweight.
The huge mass, tumbled through the shaft, first smashing through the ceiling, then the floor of the fifth gallery, fortunately in a place where no one was sitting, and finally crushed seats 11 and 13 of fourth gallery occupied by Mme. Chomette and her daughter. It even demolished the parquet floor underneath them before it stopped.
It was also the fall of the counterweight that pulled the circuit breaker, and caused the outbreak of fire.
Mme. Chomette’s skull was completely crushed, her right hand and leg torn apart. Her body was carried on a stretcher by municipal guards preceded by the doorkeeper with his lantern to the Opera stop/station (for carriages), where a town ambulance waited, to drive her home.
Her daughter, who works in a restaurant (“bouillon” in the article also means broth, but in this context it’s a simple restaurant catering for the masses) was injured in the face, but her condition is not serious.
Sitting beside these two ladies, in seats number 7 and 9, were M. Guillaume Murvoy and one of his friends. M. Murvoy received a severe electric shock and fainted. He complained of severe pain in his right leg. When he regained consciousness, his friend had disappeared.
The other injured people, as we have said, had only contusions.
The news of this accident and the arrival of the undertakers (“pompes”) , called upon from all sides, had caused great emotion. The public were exaggerating the seriousness of what was already being called a catastrophe. A large crowd besieged the outskirts of the Opera and M. Nadeaud, peace officer of the district, had to organize a special group to deal with it. The crowd did not disperse until an hour later, when was learned that the accident was less severe and certainly less comprehensive/general than previously thought.
M. Lepine, Head of the Police, accompanied by M. Gaillot, director of the municipal police, arrived at half past nine. M. Lepine learned the facts from Mr. Martin, Commissioner of the “police de service” (Jennie’s comment: am not perfectly sure about the meaning of this term, it may mean “police on duty” or possibly “police particularly attached to the Opera”. All input welcome). He himself examined the place where the accident occurred to verify the causes.
By order, M. Martin went at eleven o’clock in the evening to M. Atthalin, the public prosecutor, to inform him of the event that had occurred.
While awaiting the legal orders that must come, M. Girard, the head of the municipal Laboratories carried out a technical examination. The investigation was not yet finished at midnight, when we left the Opera.
New details tomorrow, if there are any.
"Cinq cents kilos sur la tête d’une concierge" (500 kilos on the head of a a concierge) was the same headline Leroux used in his novel during the chandelier scene. So cool to see that he pulled it from the real article! (Not cool, however, that the woman died and that several others were injured.)
I’ve looked for the original article in French, but was unable to find it. Can anyone lend a hand? (What the heck, I’ll ask in French, too. J’ai cherché l’article original en français, mais je ne le pouvais pas trouver. Est-ce que quelqu’un peut m’aider?)