Whats in a name? A lot if your name is: Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette. One of the unsung heroes of the American revolution is a young Frenchman commonly known as Maquis de LaFayette. Being a student of history, and an unashamed admirer of the founding fathers of the United States, we sought out the famed burial site of LaFayette during our recent visit to Paris. Luci calls me a LaFayette fanatic… Our quest to find the final resting spot of the Maquis was an adventure in itself.
Our quest started off back in the states, I had read a few blogs that had made mention of some of the folklore surrounding the burial place. Some of the tales are indeed true, most are not. Many of the blogs that I had read mentioned difficulty in finding the cemetery. This proved very true!
Armed with a few of the accounts on how to find the location, a metro pass, and a quarter (we will explain later), we set about our journey. The grave is located in the Picpus Cemetary in the 12 arrondissement of thecity of Paris. The first step is fairly easy. Take the sea green line and get off at the Picpus stop. The entrance to the cemetery is at 35 rue de Picpus. This is where we ran into trouble. You will be smack dab in the middle of housing developments. You will ask yourself, how can there be a cemetery here? Signage is limited. There is a large cement wall with a heavy wooden door. Once you get through the door, there is a small church, the Chapel of Our Lady of Peace. Behind the church is the small graveyard.
Our timing was poor, by the time we found the right place and figured out that we were supposed to go through the big door into the church yard, it was 12 pm. Cemetery closed. We walked up to a care taker explained our situation in limited French. He said, no, we are not open in perfect English. We open back at 3pm. We were devastated. We had come all this way to see the grave, we had such a hard time finding the place, and we were turned away! Cue fight! We went and dejectedly sat on the steps of the church to plan what to do. We couldn’t stay here for three hours. We were starving. What to do? As we sat “discussing” what to do next, the curator came over and asked us in French if we were from the states. We said “qi”. Why was he talking in French now? He went on to say a bunch of stuff that we didn’t understand, but one word we heard that we did catch was, “l’exception”. Yay!!! We thanked him in three of four different languages and headed behind the chapel.
Regardless of what country you are from, when you are in another country, and you see your homeland’s flag, it is special. From across the small graveyard we saw the stars and bars. It sent tingles down our spines. The American flag has flown over the grave since his burial. Even during the Nazi occupation! As a tribute to his service to Washington, visitors leave an American quarter dollar with George Washington’s image on his grave. In light of what the dollar is worth compared to the Euro, it is no wonder no one bothers to grab them!
One of George Washington’s wishes was to have Lafayette buried in the United States. He wanted to have a large tribute made to honor his service to the US. Lafayette refused. He wanted to be buried in his family’s plot in Picpus. In light of this desire, arrangements were made to send barrels of Virginia topsoil from George Washington’s estate at Mt. Vernon. Lafayette was buried in American soil.
A little history lesson for those of you wondering who in the world we are taking about. From our friends at Wikipedia: “In the American Revolution, Lafayette served as a major-general in the Continental Army under George Washington. Wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, he still managed to organize a successful retreat. He served with distinction in the Battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war he returned to France to negotiate an increase in French support. On his return, he blocked troops led by Cornwallis at Yorktown while the armies of Washington and those sent by King Louis XVI under the command of General de Rochambeau, prepared for battle against the British.”
The American people owe a debt of gratitude to the French people and particularly to the Marquis de Lafeyette. Bring a quarter and take a great side trip in Paris.