France's two greatest Antarctic explorers have their final resting places in Paris. North of the Seine, in the Cimetière Montmartre, is the mausoleum of Jean-Baptiste Charcot (1867-1937). To the south, in the Cimetière Montparnasse, lies Jules-Sébastian-César Dumont d'Urville (1790-1842).
Both men died tragically. Charcot went down with his ship, the Pourquoi-Pas?, during a gale off Iceland. Of the 44 on board, only one survived. Dumont d'Urville's end was equally dramatic: He, his wife and his son were killed (along with 56 others) in a fiery railroad crash between Versailles and Paris. (The train was travelling at 80 km/hourthis in 1842!)
Neither grave have I seen but Jeff Rubin and George & Nancy Bates have kindly provided me with first-hand accounts and some photographs. Jeff reports that
"Dumont D'Urville's grave (168), though not marked on the free map given out at the Cimetière Montparnasse, is easy to find. It's on the west side of the cemetery's Avenue de l'Ouest, just south of a T-junction with the Avenue Transversale. The grave is in the second row back from the street.... Dumont D'Urville is buried with his wife Adele Dorothee and 16-year-old son Jules Eugene Hector Dumont D'Urville, both of whom died with him in the railway crash, along with another son, Adolphe Eugene Jules Dumont D'Urville, who died at 21 months in 1832. I have to disagree with Rosenman...it's really not that bad. [In the Biographical Note in volume I of Helen Rosenman's translation of Dumont d'Urville's Voyages, appears the observation: "...the Société de Géographie raised over the grave a particularly ugly monument that is still there and has been recently renovated."] It's a phallic-looking rounded pillar shape, not really an obelisk, about 20 feet tall. Though it was apparently red once, it is now quite grey, with a white base which appears to have been renovated relatively recently. Around the base are some coarse bas-reliefs showing the Venus de Milo, which Dumont D'Urville helped secure for France; his ship Astrolabe, in which he found debris from La Perouse's ship in Vanikoro; and Astrolabe and Zelee, in which he explored Terre Adelie and the Antarctic Peninsula's Terre Louis Philippe. This last bas-relief includes two childishly-rendered penguins. The base also incorporates a 60cm bust by Antoine-Laurent Dantan (1798-1878), known as Dantan aine (Dantan the elder). The monument was inaugurated November 1, 1844 and the architect was Constant Dufeux. Others buried in Montparnasse include Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, Brancusi, Brassai, Duras, Ionesco and Man Ray.[Exterior photos © George Bates. D'Urville detail © Jeff Rubin.]
"Charcot's mausoleum (169) in the Cimetière Montmartre is marked on the free map given out at the cemetery office. If you don't have a map, the mausoleum is located on the south side of Chemin Troyon between Chemin Baudin and Avenue de Montmorency. It's a squat, one-story building about the size of a small room, one in a row of similar mausoleums. It's marked "Sepulture Laurent-Richard" with Charcot written underneath, so perhaps the Charcot family had to share with the Laurent-Richards when it came to final resting places. If the sun is shining at the right angle, you can peer through the mausoleum's iron-grille door and see the names of the eighteen people buried inside, including Charcot (to the right), his world-famous surgeon father Docteur Jean Martin Charcot, his (second) wife, who was born Meg Clery and who was a Knight of the Legion of Honor, and their daughter Martine, who died in 1979 at the age of 68. Frankly, there isn't much to see here besides the names carved in the stone walls, but the cemetery is a pleasant, tree-filled place, the final resting place of Berlioz, Degas, Fragonard, Heinrich Heine, Nijinsky, Stendhal, Truffaut and Zola.