10 Fast Facts About the Arc de Triomphe

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iStock

On July 29, 1836—30 years after it was first commissioned by Napoleon—Paris celebrated the inauguration of the Arc de Triomphe. Here are just a few of the stories that are hidden within the historic piece of architecture's walls.

1. BEFORE IT WAS THE ARC DE TRIOMPHE, THE SPACE WAS ALMOST DEDICATED TO A GIANT ELEPHANT.

Pre-Napoleon, French architect Charles Ribart proposed a three-level, elephant-shaped building that would be entered via a spiral staircase that led up into the elephant's gut. The furniture would fold into the walls and there would be a drainage system in the elephant's trunk. Ribart was all set to start building, but the French government ended up denying his request to erect the giant pachyderm. Go figure.

2. THE ARC WAS COMMISSIONED BY NAPOLEON IN 1806, NOT TOO LONG AFTER HIS VICTORY IN AUSTERLITZ.

It took 30 years to finish the Arc de Triomphe, and no wonder: it's incredibly elaborate. Relief sculptures at the base of each of the four pillars show four victories and war scenes; the top of the arch has the names of major successes during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. Less important victories can be found on the inside walls, plus the names of 558 generals. The underlined names are to show that the general died in battle.

3. NAPOLEON NEVER GOT TO SEE THE FINISHED PRODUCT.

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Arc de Triomphe wasn't completed until 1836, 15 years after Napoleon's death, so he never had the chance to see the final product. When he married second wife Marie Louise of Austria, he had a wooden replica of the Arc made so the two of them could pass through it as they entered Paris as a married couple. (No word on whether she was impressed or not.)

When Napoleon abdicated in 1814, construction on the Arc de Triomphe stopped for a few years. It resumed in 1826. Although he had already been dead nearly 20 years, Napoleon finally got to pass through the completed Arc in 1840—when his body was moved to its final resting place.

4. IT'S THE WORLD'S SECOND LARGEST TRIUMPHAL ARCH.

At 164 feet high by 148 feet wide, it's the second-largest triumphal arch standing today, and was the largest until 1982, when North Korea unveiled its Arch of Triumph. (If you're wondering, "How many triumphal arches can there be?" the answer is: quite a few.)

5. CHARLES GODEFROY FLEW HIS PLANE THROUGH THE ARCH. 

A few weeks after the end of WWI, Charles Godefroy flew his Nieuport fighter plane through the Arch to salute all the airmen killed in the war. It was caught on tape, which means, of course, it's now on YouTube (see above).

6. AN UNKNOWN SOLDIER WAS LAID TO REST UNDER IT.

As many countries do, France has a Tomb of the Unknown Solider, and this tomb happens to be under the Arc de Triomphe. The Unknown Soldier has been there since November 10, 1920, and lies under the inscription, "Here lies a French soldier who died for his fatherland 1914-1918." At that time, an eternal flame was lit to honor those who had fallen during the war. John and Jackie Kennedy visited the Tomb in 1961 and it inspired Jackie to have an eternal flame for her husband when he was assassinated in 1963.

7. THERE WAS A LITTLE PROBLEM WITH THE MARSEILLAISE RELIEF IN 1916.

It's said that on the day the Battle of Verdun—a major battle between France and Germany in WWI—broke out on February 21, 1916, the sword carried by the warrior who represents France on the Arc just snapped clean off. It was immediately covered up with tarps so citizens wouldn't interpret France's broken sword as a bad omen, but maybe it was: Nine French villages were completely destroyed during the fighting, more than a quarter of a million people died, and at least half a million were wounded.

8. IT HAS BEEN THE SITE OF AT LEAST TWO ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTS.

Charles De Gaulle narrowly escaped a would-be killer at the Arc de Triomphe during his terms (he survived more than 30 assassination attempts, so he was probably unfazed). And in 2002, a single shot missed Jacques Chirac at the same location. Chirac was reviewing troops in an open-top Jeep for Bastille Day when a gunman took a hunting rifle out of a guitar case and got a shot off before police took him down.

9. IT HAS SEEN ITS FAIR SHARE OF DEFEATS, TOO.

Keystone/Getty Images

Although the Arc is meant to celebrate France's victories, it has seen a couple of horrible defeats as well: Germans marched under the arch in 1871 during the Franco-Prussian War and Nazis did the same during the German occupation of Paris in WWII.

10. CLEANING IT ISN'T EASY.

Giving the landmark a full-scale cleaning is no easy task. When it last received a full-scale cleaning was in 2011; it was its first in almost 50 years.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Fascinating Facts About Davy Crockett

State of Texas/Larry D. Moore Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
State of Texas/Larry D. Moore Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Born on August 17, 1786, backwoods statesman Davy Crockett's life has often been obscured by myth. Even during his lifetime, fanciful stories about his adventures transformed him into a buck-skinned superhero. And after his death, the tales kept growing taller. Here are 10 facts about Crockett that’ll separate reality from fiction.

1. Davy Crockett ran away from home at age 13.

When Crockett was 13, his father paid for him to attend a school. But just four days in, an older, bigger boy bullied him. Crockett was never one to back down from a fight. One day, he waited in a bush along the road home until evening. When the bully and his gang walked up the road, Crockett leapt from the bush and, as he later wrote in his autobiography, “set on him like a wild cat.” Terrified the schoolmaster would whip him for beating one of the boys so severely, Crockett decided to start playing hooky.

His father, John, was furious when a letter inquiring about his son's poor attendance arrived home. Grabbing a stick, he chased after Davy, who fled. The teen spent the next few years traveling from his native Tennessee to Maryland, performing odd jobs. When he eventually returned home, Crockett’s parents didn’t even recognize him at first. Following an emotional reunion, the family decided he would stick around long enough to help work off some debts. About a year later, all these were satisfied, and Crockett soon left for good.

2. Davy Crockett nearly died in a boating accident.

G.F. Nesbitt & Co., printer Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After serving under General Andrew Jackson in the Tennessee militia, Crockett entered politics, completing two terms as a Tennessee state legislator between 1821 and 1823. After losing his seat in 1825, he chose an unlikely new profession: barrel manufacturing. The entrepreneur hired a team to cut staves (the boards with which barrels are constructed) that he planned on selling in New Orleans. Once 30,000 were prepared, Crockett and his team loaded the shipment onto a pair of flatboats and traveled down the Mississippi River. There was just one problem: The shoddy vessels proved impossible to steer. The one carrying Crockett ran into a mass of driftwood and began to capsize, with Crockett trapped below deck. His mates on the other boat pulled him out through a small opening, and a traveling merchant rescued them all the next day.

3. Davy Crockett claimed to have killed 105 bears in one year.

If his autobiography can be believed, the expert marksman and his dogs managed to kill 105 bears during a seven-month stretch from 1825 to 1826. Back then, bear flesh and pelts were highly profitable items, as were the oils yielded by their fat—and Crockett’s family often relied on ursid meat to last through the winter.

4. A successful play helped make Davy Crockett a celebrity.

Crockett ran for Congress in 1827, winning the right to represent western Tennessee. Four years later, a new show titled The Lion of the West wowed New York theatergoers. The production revolved around a fictitious Kentucky congressman named Colonel Nimrod Wildfire, whose folksy persona was clearly based on Crockett. Before long, the public grew curious about the real man behind the character, and in 1833, an unauthorized Crockett biography was published.

Sketches and Eccentricities of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee became a bestseller—much to its subject’s chagrin. Feeling that Sketches distorted his life’s story, the politician retaliated with an even more successful autobiography the next year.

When The Lion of the West came to Washington, Crockett finally watched the play that started it all. That night, actor David Hackett was playing Col. Wildfire. As the curtain rose, he locked eyes with Crockett. They ceremoniously bowed to each other and the crowd went wild.

5. Davy Crockett received a few rifles as political thank you gifts.

Over the course of his life, Crockett wielded plenty of firearms. Two of the most significant were named “Betsy.” Midway through his state assembly career, he received “Old Betsy,” a .40-caliber flintlock presented to him by his Lawrence county constituents in 1822 (today, it’s in the Alamo Museum in San Antonio). At some point during the 1830s, the Whig Society of Philadelphia gave Crockett a gold-and-silver-coated gun. Her name? “Fancy Betsy.”

If you’re curious, the mysterious woman after whom these weapons were christened was either his oldest sister or his second wife, Elizabeth Patton.

6. Davy Crockett put a lot of effort into maintaining his wild image.

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

For somebody who once called fashion “a thing I care mighty little about,” Crockett gave really detailed instructions to portraitists. Most likenesses, the politician complained, made him look like “a sort of cross between a clean-shirted Member of Congress and a Methodist preacher.” Before posing for John Gadsby Chapman, Crockett asked the esteemed artist to portray him rallying dogs during a bear hunt. He purchased outdoorsy props and insisted he be shown holding up his cap, ready to give “a shout that raised the whole neighborhood.”

7. Davy Crockett torpedoed his political career by speaking against Andrew Jackson’s Native American policy.

Jackson was a beloved figure in Tennessee, and Crockett’s vocal condemnation of the his 1830 Indian Removal Act didn’t win him many friends back home [PDF]. “I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure,” the congressman later asserted, “and that I should go against it, let the cost against me be what it might.” He then narrowly lost his 1831 reelection bid to William Fitzgerald, who Jackson supported. In 1833, Crockett secured a one-term congressional stint as an anti-Jacksonian, after which he bid Tennessee farewell, famously saying, “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”

8. Davy Crockett really did wear a coonskin hat (sometimes).

Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett TV serial triggered a national coonskin hat craze in the 1950s. Suiting up for the title role was square-jawed Fess Parker, who was seldom seen on-camera without his trusty coonskin cap. Children adored the rustic hat and, at the peak of the show's popularity, an average of 5000 replicas were sold every day.

But did the historical Crockett own one? Yes, although we don’t know how often he actually donned it. Some historians argue that later in life, he started wearing the accessory more often to capitalize on The Lion of the West (Col. Wildfire rocked this kind of headgear). One autumn morning in 1835, the frontiersman embarked upon his journey to Texas, confident the whole Crockett clan would reunite there soon. As his daughter Matilda later recalled, he rode off while “wearing a coonskin cap.” She never saw him again.

9. There’s some debate about Davy Crockett’s fall at the Alamo.

Crockett was killed during or just after the Battle of the Alamo in 1836—but the details surrounding his death are both murky and hotly contested. An enslaved man named Joe claimed to have spotted Crockett’s body lying among a pile of slain Mexican soldiers. Suzannah Dickinson, whose husband had also perished in the melee, told a similar story, as did San Antonio mayor Francisco Ruiz.

On the flip side, The New Orleans True American and a few other newspapers reported that Crockett was actually captured and executed by General Santa Anna’s men. In 1955, more evidence apparently surfaced when a long-lost diary written by Lieutenant Colonel José Enrique de la Peña was published. The author writes of witnessing “the naturalist David Crockett” and six other Americans being presented to Santa Anna, who promptly had them killed.

Some historians dismiss the document as a forgery, but others claim it’s authentic. Since 2000, two separate forensics teams have taken the latter position [PDF].

10. During University of Tennessee sporting events, a student dressed like Davy Crockett rallies the fans.

Smokey the hound dog might get all the attention, but the school has another mascot up its sleeve. On game days, a student known simply as “the Volunteer” charges out in Crockett-esque regalia, complete with buck leather clothes, a coonskin cap, and—occasionally—a prop musket.