Paris Morgue

Our Forensics: Anatomy of Crime exhibition closes on 21 June 2015. The show is split into five sections, one of which is “the morgue”. The modern morgue, or mortuary, was established as a dedicated building in the 19th century. Taryn Cain tells us about La Morgue, an unlikely public attraction in 1800s Paris.

If you were visiting Paris today, you’d probably find yourself walking past the Love Padlocks on the Pont des Arts, walking through Notre Dame and a mile on from there you’d be at the Louvre. If you were in Paris in the 1880s, there would be an altogether different attraction that you would almost certainly have found yourself in. The “only free theatre in Paris”, otherwise known as the La Morgue.

The morgue first opened its doors to the public in 1804 on Ile de la Cite, before moving to a new and larger building behind Notre Dame in 1864, where a memorial now sits. The location of the morgue was no accident: being in the epicentre of Paris and right next to the Seine, the morgue was in a good position to receive both the dead and the living. Many of the bodies, which were picked up off the streets or fished out of the Seine, were unidentifiable, so the public were ostensibly allowed in to help with their identification.

Street vendors on the Seine in Paris.

Street vendors on the Seine in Paris.

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