Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Black Dog of Père LaChaise

I’ve been reading The Beast of Bray Road, and there is a section in the book about supernatural black dogs, who guard certain graves.

Shawn and I have long been cemetery aficionados – to the point of having photographs hanging in our house of striking or interesting headstones. For me, cemeteries have always been peaceful, contemplative places. When I was a teenager, I used to bicycle out to the pauper’s cemetery on Campbell Road and sit in the shade of the oak tree just to be alone with my own thoughts. When Shawn and I lived on Girard Avenue in Uptown in Minneapolis, we spent a lot of time strolling the grounds of Lakewood Cemetery. I almost never find cemeteries to be spooky or creepy –with two notable exceptions.

The first was our trip to London when we visited Kensel Green. The problem with Kensel Green, despite the fact that it was WAY OUT (we had to take not just the tube, but the train) and we arrived at dusk (generally a creepy time of day), but also that it is as old as the more famous Highgate, but unlike it, it has remained open. Highgate, which is much larger, is filled. Once filled, they closed. Not so Kensel Green. Along one wall, we stumbled across moved or removed headstones. Plus, Kensel Green is old enough that when above ground crypts are in disrepair, there is a certain… shall we say, smell, which was made stronger by the classic London drizzling rain.


We searched for Charles Babbage, who is supposedly buried there, found Christopher Wren instead, and then left in a hurry.

The next year, in 1995, my parents, Shawn and I traveled to Paris. Shawn and I took with us a great guide book we found called Permanent Parisians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of Paris. Despite our Kensel Green experience, we had a lot of fun roaming the cemeteries of the London area. Plus, Paris has one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, Pere LaChaise, where many, many famous people are buried: Heloise and Abelard, Moliere, Balzac, Oscar Wilde, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stien, Proust, and, of course, Jim Morrison (of the “Doors” fame). The cemetery covers acres of land and has gravel roads (complete with street signs) intersecting it. It’s a gigantic necropolis. We were in heaven!

We got lost somewhere after finding Balzac and were paused on the road, consulting our map. That’s when I saw it. The black dog. It was running towards us, through the headstones, barking fiercely. Given how many cats run wild in the cemetery, the thought of a supernatural being never crossed my mind. Our only thought was: run, run away fast. We ran, keeping the dog in our peripheral vision. We crossed the next intersection and it was gone. I hesitate to use the word disappeared because, despite writing about the paranormal, I tend toward the rational. But, it was gone. “That was weird,” we said, and then we went on with our trek.

Only later did I hear about the legend of the black dog. Then, I started to wonder – had we seen one?

To this day, I don’t know.

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