Thursday, June 8, 2023

HGB Ep. 490 - Palace of Versailles


Moment in Oddity - The Great Potoo Bird

There are many strange and captivating animals on this planet. One of which I recently discovered is the Great Potoo bird. They are found in the Neo-tropics and look more like flying black eyed muppet child than an actual bird. There are seven species of potoo and the majority have eyes that look similar to owl eyes being that they are quite large for the size of their head and tend to have yellow or orange irises. However, the Great Potoo or Nyctibius (Nick-tih-BYE-us) grandis have very dark brown irises giving them the distinctive appearance of a black eyed child or demon possessed bird. They are fuel for nightmares. All potoos are nocturnal insectivores with a beak so thin it looks more like claw coming out of the center of its head, that is until they open their giant maw! Their mouths opens from ear to ear, giving them the appearance of being ALL mouth, the only thing one can compare this to is perhaps what Barbara, played by Geena Davis, does to her head in Beetlejuice. Thus displaying how she plans to scare off the new home owners. If the mental picture I'm painting for you isn't enough, then google their call and imagine hearing that in the pitch dark! Shivers! They are also able to camouflage extremely well, so basically you would just be left wondering what monstrous creature is preparing to eat you. I love all creatures and given the opportunity, would certainly interact with this bizarre, black eyed bird, but as you can tell from my descriptions, the Great Potoo, certainly is odd.

This Month in History - CA Proposition 13

In the month of June, on the 6th, in 1978, California voted in Proposition 13 by an overwhelming margin. This was an amendment to California's Constitution that signified the taxpayers’ collective response to dramatic increases in property taxes and a growing state revenue surplus. The amendment reverted the most recent assessments to the 1975 market value levels. This limited the property tax rate to one percent plus the rate needed to fund local voter-approved bonded indebtedness. It also limited future property tax increases to a maximum of 2% per year. Under Proposition 13, California properties would be reassessed to current market value only when there was a change in ownership or if the property had undergone new construction. This proposition led to the possibilities of significant variances in property taxes with the assessed values being based solely on the dates the properties were purchased. Long time owners could only be raised the 2% limit from year to year while a neighboring property of similar land and build that was recently purchased, could be significantly higher to approximate market levels.

Palace of Versailles

The entire estate that is part of the Palace of Versailles covers 1,978 acres. The grounds are immaculate and amazing and the palace itself defies words. What started as a simple hunting lodge, became the seat of power in France and is today a museum featuring the most exquisite artwork and craftsmanship of any palace in the world. The palace has also been the setting for a strange time travel story and for ghost stories. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Palace of Versailles. 

The earliest mention of Versailles is in a document dating to 1038. The lord of the village here was Hugo de Versaillis and that is whom it is named for and the word Versailles means "turn the soil." This was a small village, but it did manage to flourish because it was on a road leading from Paris to Normandy and so it benefitted from the trade along the route. The Plague and Hundred Years War devastated Versailles. King Louis XIII would make visits to the area to hunt and he grew a real fondness for the feudal village. In 1624, he ordered that a small hunting lodge should be built. This was a cozy chateau made from red brick and was designed by Philibert Le Roy. The western side of the chateau had an ornamental garden with a fountain and pathways. By 1632, the King was enlarging the chateau, adding exterior towers to the four corners and a dry moat. 

King Louis XIV would succeed Louis XIII and his getting into this world wasn't easy. His parents had been married for twenty-three years and his mother had suffered four stillbirths before she was able to carry him to full-term and birth. People called this a miracle and his name reflected that as it meant "God-given." On a side note, Louis XIII was said to have fathered an illegitimate son who was imprisoned during the rule of Louis XIV and is known most famously as "The Man in the Mask." King Louis XIV was known as the Sun King and he took the throne in 1643 after his father succumbed to tuberculosis. He had a love for Versailles, just as his father did. He made the palace his primary residence and brought the French Court and Government there as well in 1682. The foundations of the grand palace would be started during his reign, but the project would be abandoned when he died in 1715. The palace would sit neglected for several years, but King Louis XV would come in 1722 and he decided to complete his great-grandfather's work. What happened here is that Louis XIV's son and grandson both died before he did, so his successor became his great-grandson. Louis XIV had designed the palace to have large, public spaces inside and Louis XV didn't care for that, so he designed smaller, more private rooms. He also completed the Royal Opera House.

Although Louis XV clearly enjoyed the Palace of Versailles, he never officially lived there. He was nearly killed in 1757 when a man named Robert-Francois Damiens stabbed him between the ribs. Thankfully it was really cold and the King was layered up , so the knife wasn't able to penetrate deeply. Damiens was tortured, drawn and quartered. Perhaps some people might see this as a fitting punishment for trying to kill the King, but the Parliament didn't care for it and neither did much of the French public. Historians point to this moment as being the start of the downfall for the French monarchy. Louis XV was succeeded by Louis XVI. Louis XVI would be the last king of France. He was born in 1754 and he became king in 1774. A few years before that, in 1770, he married Marie Antoinette of Austria. He was 15 and she was 14. 

Louis was ill prepared to be king. He was the second son and never meant to be king, but his older brother died when he was only nine-years-old. Both his parents had died from tuberculosis by 1767. King Louis had some good ideas at the beginning of his reign. He wanted to abolish serfdom, which didn't please the French nobility. Louis also embraced non-Catholics, removing the land tax and labor tax and he abolished the death penalty for deserters. But he also had some bad ideas. He deregulated the grain market and before long, bread prices were way up and there was food scarcity. And although we Americans appreciated his support of our fight for independence, he drove France into debt and a financial crisis helping the colonists. Riots began in the streets as the French people became more displeased with the monarchy represented by Marie and Louis. And the public saw Antoinette as an unwelcome foreigner. They disliked the alliance with Austria.

King Louis was born at the Palace of Versailles and that is where he lived. He and Marie had four children and adopted six children. Marie was a fashion icon who loved to wear her hair big and she loved jewelry and her wealth. Her annual clothing budget was $3.6 million in today's dollars. She had trouble with learning as a child and some called her simple minded, but part of who she was came from being raised to be an aristocrat and she was continuously waited on hand and foot. Although history has credited her with saying that the French people could eat cake when she heard that there was a bread shortage, she never made that statement. Marie also got embroiled in a scandal over a very expensive stolen diamond necklace that she actually had nothing to do with, but the French people still blamed her for it. The Petit Trianon on the palace estate became her personal estate and she embellished it greatly with artwork and furnishings. Now while she seems like an out of touch rich woman, Marie was generous. She had houses built on the estate for the poor to live in and she took part in charitable endeavors. But all that good couldn't heal the rift that was growing between the monarchy and the French people. 

By 1789, the public had had enough. A meeting of the Estates-General was convened to discuss raising tax money. The representatives of the people of France were known as the Third Estate. Whenever there was a vote the First Estate, which was the Clergy, and the Second Estate, which were the nobility, usually would join forces to vote against the Third Estate. The Third Estate was done with this business and they proceeded with a new general assembly to write a new constitution. King Louis allowed the assembly to go forward, but he also gathered his troops. This worried the people and eventually an angry crowd stormed the Bastille fortress in July of 1789. This was the beginning of the French Revolution. 

Women marched to the Palace of Versailles in October of 1789 and they demanded that the starving people be given bread. Thousands soon joined them and the palace distributed bread, but it soon ran out. By the next morning, the protestors had broken into the palace. The Marquis de Lafayette rescued the Queen and escorted the royals back to Paris. A former lover of the Queen's, the Swedish Count Von Fersen, helped the royal couple escape the palace where they were imprisoned in Paris. The couple dressed as peasants to throw off the guards and boarded a carriage headed to the French border. Marie and Louis made horrible peasants and they drew too much attention to themselves and soon a man recognized Louis from his face on the paper money of France. The couple were arrested and taken back to Paris. Legend claims that Marie's hair turned to white from her fear and shock. King Louis was guillotined in January of 1793 and nine months later, Marie was also guillotined. Many people soaked their sleeves in her blood. The monarchy of France was finished. The Palace of Versailles, fortunately, was left undamaged.

Many of the royal possessions were taken to museums and much of the other stuff was auctioned off. Napoleon became Emperor of France in the early 1800s and he decided not to live at the palace because he didn't want to give an image of the monarchy. He lived at the Trianon. The palace property was converted into a museum and sometimes served other roles for the national government. It played host to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, that ended WWI. The Palace has been expanded and renovated through the years and usually gets around eight million visitors a year. There are over 2,300 rooms in the Palace and the property includes the Great Stables, vast gardens, the Royal Chapel and the Estate of Trianon. In 1979, the Palace was named a World Heritage site.

One of the most impressive areas of the palace is The Hall of Mirrors. This is the most famous room in the Palace. There had once been a large terrace here that opened onto the garden that was between the King's Apartments and the Queen's Apartment's. That terrace had been designed by Louis Le Vau and it was certainly not something to add to his resume because people thought it looked awkward and it was susceptible to bad weather. It was demolished and replaced with the Hall, starting in 1678. The hall would take six years to complete and was designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in the Baroque style. The Hall has 17 windows on the wall facing the park and on the opposite wall are 17 mirrors. These mirrors were made from 350 individual mirror surfaces and added a great effect of mirror the park into the interior of the Palace. These mirrors were a sign of the wealth of the monarchy as producing mirrors was expensive. These mirrors have a dark legend connected to them. The French didn't know how to make mirrors, so they hired Venetian artisans to create the mirrors. The Venetian government didn't want the secrets of the mirror-making techniques to be known, so they had the artisans assassinated. We don't think this bloody tale is true as the order for the mirrors went to a French factory and this broke the monopoly Venice had on mirror-making.

The Hall is lit by massive chandeliers and there is lots of gold coloring everywhere. Originally, 3,000 candles would be used to light the Hall. The vaulted ceiling features 30 paintings by Le Brun that pay tribute to France's economic and political successes. There are Rouge de Rance pilasters topped with capitals of gilded bronze. Le Brun designed these as well, incorporating the national emblems of a fleur-de-lis topped by a royal sun between two Gallic roosters. Originally, there had been solid silver furniture in here that was melted down and coined by Louis XIV to finance the War of the League of Augsburg. The other original furnishings were lost during the French Revolution. The furniture in there today is from the 19th century. Sculptures in the room are marble and porphyry busts of eight Roman emperors and then there are Greek and Roman deities that have been paid tribute to, which include Venus, Hermes, Bacchus, the Muses and Diana. Louis XIV visited the Hall every day, which makes sense since it was mainly a tribute to him. Court festivities were held in here like balls and weddings. This is where Louis XVI and Marie were married.

The other jewel of the Palace is the Royal Chapel, which has been under restoration for several years. This is said to be the spiritual legacy of Louis XIV and this was his last major building project. It was announced in 1682, but work didn't start until 1699 and took eleven years to complete. The Chapel stands taller than the Palace at nearly 132 feet. Hardouin-Mansart designed the Chapel. The stonework facade is interrupted by large windows, there are Corinthian pilasters and there are 30 statues made by 16 sculptors on the balustrade. The roof has decorative lead work that was once covered in gold leaf. The interior has frescoes on the ceiling, stained glass windows and several free-standing columns. A large ornate organ, which was designed by Clicquot, provided music. This was decorated with a relief of King David. There is a balcony with the royal gallery where the king and his family sat. The ladies of the court sat in side galleries.

Other highlights of the Palace include the Gallery of Great Battles, which covers nearly the entire first floor of the South Wing. The Gallery is decorated with marble and is lit by glass ceilings in the vault. There are 30 paintings that depict 15 centuries of French military successes and 80 busts of officers killed in battle. Bronze tables feature the names of princes, and other officers who were wounded or killed. This is the largest room in the Palace and was completed in 1837. There are several historic galleries to visit like the Empire Rooms, Coronation Room, Crusades Rooms and the North and South Attics. And the King's State Apartment and the Countess Du Barry's Apartments are not to be missed. The Countess was Louis XV last mistress. The apartments are lavish and reached by the King's Staircase. They open up onto the Marble and Stag Courtyards.

The most well known paranormal story connected to the palace has been described as a time travel event. For us, a ghost encounter could just simply be a time/space slip and so that could be what had happened here. Charlotte Anne Moberly was the headmistress of St. Hugh's College for Women in Oxford. Her assistant had been a former student of the college named Eleanor Jourdain. These two English ladies decided to take a trip to France and they couldn't resist the opportunity to visit the Palace of Versailles. It was a hot summer day in August of 1901 when the ladies arrived at the palace. After touring the palace, they decided to walk over to Trianon. They got a bit turned around and asked a couple of men for directions. They were struck at the look of the men. They looked like they were dressed in costumes: green coats and three-cornered hats. They also were carrying spades. As the women continued along their route, they both started to feel a bit distressed and they couldn't explain why. They ran into another man who was sitting near a Chinese kiosk and he stared at the women in a menacing way. Miss Moberly felt even more distressed after this, but then another man with curly hair and dark eyes came up to them and he spoke in a language that was hard to understand and he seemed to be telling them to continue along a path to the right. A bit down this way, the ladies saw a woman who was wearing a period dress and white hat, drawing a picture. Miss Moberly was very disconcerted at this point.

The women returned to Paris and Miss Moberly asked Miss Jourdain, "Do you think the Petit Trianon is haunted?" Without hesitation, Miss Jourdain answered, "Yes." They discussed everything they saw, compared notes and decided that something strange had happened to them. The women had each noticed little things that seemed off. Not just in regards to the people they met, but with their surroundings. There was no wind and everything seemed flat about the landscape. A woman standing outside of a house with a jug seemed almost to be a wax figure. As Miss Moberly thought about the woman who was drawing, she became convinced that the woman had been Marie Antoinette. They returned to the location several times and tried to retrace their steps and never found a landscape or buildings that matched what they had seen during their first weird visit. The two women decided to risk ridicule and wrote of their expierience in a book they published in 1911 under the title "An adventure," translated as “Les fantômes de Trianon” in French. The book was actually very successful. And while many people believed that the women just made up the story, a discovery lends credence to their story. An old architectural plan of the Trianon was discovered and it revealed that a Chinese kiosk had indeed existed in 1774 as did a bridge the women suggested they crossed that was no longer on the property. 

Skeptics have debunked the story as a possible hallucination or embellished story. Each time the story was printed, it did seem to be more embellished. Art historian and biographer Philippe Jullian wrote in his 1965 biography about an aristocratic French poet named Robert de Montesquiou. He apparently lived near the palace grounds and he liked to host fancy dress parties in which his friends would wear costumes, particularly period costumes. Jullian reasoned that the women simply stumbled upon one of his parties. Brian Dunning of Skeptoid wrote of the experience, "It was only after much discussion, note-sharing, and historical research that Moberly and Jourdain came up with the time period as 1789 and assigned identities to a few of the characters they saw, including Marie Antoinette herself as the lady sketching on the lawn." Dunning figured since the ladies were lost that they had stumbled upon another property and that was where the bridges and kiosks they had described were located. So what happened here?

There is another account that claims some similar weird happenings. That account goes that Miss Jourdain and Miss Moberly were not the only witnesses to the time slip phenomena at Versailles. An English family who lived for two years in an apartment overlooking the gardens observed similar happenings throughout their residence and when they returned later for a visit it became evident that they had never seen the modern (early 20th C.) Versailles while they were living there. They also observed the painting lady while in the gardens, and she pulled her canvas away when the son of the family (himself an artist) tried to get a closer view.

So maybe these were all ghosts that the women had seen or maybe it was some kind of weird time slip or maybe it was nothing supernatural at all, but that isn't the only paranormal thing that has happened at the palace. Former occupants may be here now in spirit form. The most infamous couple to live here, of course, were King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Lots of trauma is connected here. We have this couple being whisked away by an angry crowd and they were ultimately beheaded and then there was the French Revolution. Visitors and staff claim to feel cold spots and to see white mists by Marie Antoinette’s bed in Petit de Trianon. Apparitions are seen in the Queen’s apartment and this is where Marie's spirit seems to spend most of her time. Marie's ghost does get around too. She is also said to haunt the La Conciergerie, where she was held captive for five weeks until her beheading in 1792. This is Paris' oldest prison and the Queen's sobs are said to still be heard to this day.

King Louis XVI's apparition roams the halls of the palace. Some wonder if he is looking for his family. Orbs have been seen, cold spots have been felt and other apparitions have been seen. One of the other ghosts is said to belong to Benjamin Franklin. He had visited the royal couple in 1778 and perhaps he so enjoyed his stay that he likes to hang around in the afterlife. Former President Charles de Gaulle had used  the Northern wing of Grand Trianon as his offices during his Presidency and his spirit has been seen a few times. The Grand Trianon also hosts the spirit of Napolean Bonparte who stayed there with his second wife on several occasions.

Maree wrote, "I visited Versailles in 2007 and I assure you that there are ghosts in that place. I felt really bad in Marie Antoinette's room, I felt cold, I had the feeling of extreme sadness, fear and a lot of anger. I heard voices, sounds of metal banging, things breaking and footsteps. And yet, I was alone, on a stairway near the queen's room. I dragged myself to one of the gardens, where there was a fountain and this garden was dead; the air is heavy, there are no animals like birds, butterflies, nothing. Only this heavy silence. It is oppressive and that experience scared me to death. I'll never be in this place again."

The Palace of Versailles was the setting for some important historical events, not just for France, but for the world. Did a bizarre time slip occur here? Are there spirits wandering around the property? Is the Palace of Versailles haunted? That is for you to decide!

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