The Mystery of… The Star-Spangled Grave

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Where is the longest-flying star-spangled banner in Paris? It’s not hanging from the doors of the Embassy. It’s not on Place des Etats-Unis. Nor is it outside the American University campus. In fact, it has been flying in the corner of a small private cemetery in the 12th arrondissement since 1834. It wasn’t even taken down during the German occupation of the Second World War.

The Cimetiere Picpus is the largest private cemetery in France, constructed on land seized from the convent of the Chanoinesses de St-Augustin during the French Revolution. Prior to the creation of the cemetery the land was a community garden that became the site of a mass grave for hundreds of decapitated bodies. There are two enormous plaques outside a small chapel bearing the names, occupations and dates of death for the 1,300 people buried here. In fact the prerequisite to a burial in Picpus Cemetery today is having a family member who died by guillotine in that terrifying 1794 summer.

So with such a strong connection to the French Revolution, why would this peaceful place fly the American flag? The reason is simple: although he died of natural causes and survived the 1794 massacre, General Lafayette, a hero in the American Revolution is interred here.

Lafayette’s wife’s family were not lucky in 1794 and many of them are resting for eternity in the mass graves. As a result, on their return to Paris M. et Mme. Lafayette were granted a rare burial space in the cemetery.

Their grave is maintained by the Daughters of the American Revolution who have permission from the French government to fly the American flag at all times.

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To visit this unique part of American history in Paris, you can find the cemetery on the map below.

Cimetiere Picpus, 75012

Cimetiere Picpus, 75012

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