During the Paris Commune many building were destroyed – some by fire, some by bombardment. The Vendome Column was destroyed by raw physical power — men with strong ropes pulling the statue to the ground. A symbol of Napoleon’s imperialism, the column was built in the early years of the 19th century of bronze taken from captured cannons from the Austrian and Russian armies. Writing in his memoir My Adventures in the Commune, Ernest Alfred Vizetelly says:
On the summit was set a statue by Chaudet representing Napoleon in classic garb, with a laurel crown round his head, and, in his hand, a small winged figure of Victory, standing on a globe.
Leaders of the Commune saw the column as a monument to war and tyranny and were determined to destroy it. Michael Hill, author of Elihu Washburne: The Diary and Letters of America’s Minister to France During the Siege and Commune of Paris, writes:
To prepare for the tremendous shock which would come from the fallen column, tons of manure and straw were piled at its base and ‘shop windows within half a mile were pasted over with strips of paper to prevent their being broken.’
I wrote a scene about this incident with Mariele, one of two main characters, and her mother attending the event. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it through this last round of editing.
“I’m going, Maman. I don’t care what Tante Isabelle thinks. These despicable people have already destroyed so much. I want to bear witness when the Vendôme Column falls.”
“But it won’t be safe.”
“Nothing is safe anymore. But I agreed, when you asked me to stop nursing last week, didn’t I? Papa would go if he were here.”
The Journal Officiel, the official newspaper of the Commune, announced that the Vendôme Column would fall that day at two p.m. Cast in bronze and with a statue of Napoleon at its peak, the column stood more than one hundred and forty feet high and was almost fourteen feet in diameter. Members of the Commune had prepared for weeks to destroy this symbol of Napoleon’s imperialism. A suggestion had even been made that in its place would be a statue honoring republicanism.
“If you insist on going, I will come with you,” her mother said.
“Come with me? Of course, Maman, but you haven’t been out for weeks.”
“I know, but my seclusion has achieved nothing. Robert [Mariele’s brother] would want me to go, and your father would want me to look after you. We can tell them about it when they return.” Her mother’s voice trailed off to a whisper, and Mariele squeezed her hand.
By the time Mariele and her mother arrived, the Rue de la Paix was a sea of bobbing heads straining for a glimpse of history. Every balcony was full and faces peeped out of every window overlooking Place Vendôme. Bands played and people sang. Leaders of the Commune arrived wearing gold-braided uniforms and colorful sashes. The people waited more than two hours until finally the massive column, the top lashed with thick ropes pulled by hundreds of men, began to tilt. The column moved slowly at first but then with more speed as it tumbled over and with a wrenching sound split into three pieces.
The ground trembled, buildings shook, windows rattled, women screamed in fright. Particles of manure and sand, put in place to cushion the blow, flew into the air like a thick cloud. “Vive la Commune!” people shouted as others waved red flags and still others rushed forward to touch the giant monument, and the bands played once again.
Mariele held Maman’s hand and blinked away her tears. That such a powerful symbol of France’s place in the world could be demolished shocked her to the core and stirred a passion she hadn’t known she possessed for her country and her city. If I were a man, I would take up arms against these people who have destroyed so much and seem determined to destroy so much more.
Last week while doing the last bits of tuning, I decided that this scene didn’t really advance the story, even though the event fascinated me on a personal level.
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.