Père Lachaise is the most-visited cemetery in the world. Founded in 1804, it's known for its beautiful mausoleums and tree-lined avenues, and for being the final resting place of famous figures such as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. But according to legend, it's also home to the centuries-old remains of a Russian countess who might not have foreseen the cemetery's popularity. Perhaps concerned about a lack of visitors during her eternal rest, she supposedly promised the family fortune to anyone who would spend a year and a day with her in her tomb.
The legend concerns Elisabeth Demidoff (sometimes spelled Demidov; born Stroganoff/Stroganov), descendent of a Russian industrialist family who made their money in salt and fur. In life, she married the Russian count Nikolai Nikitich Demidoff, who was also heir to an industrialist fortune, this time in iron. The marriage was not a happy one, however, and the pair eventually separated, at which point Elisabeth went to live in Paris. She died at the age of 40 in 1818, and in death, it's said, she made a most unusual request.
The story goes more or less like this: After Demidoff died, her relatives were shocked to discover that her will included a provision leaving millions of francs to the person who would spend a year and a day in her elaborate white tomb alongside her body, which was resplendent in a crystal coffin. More detailed accounts add that the walls and ceiling of the tomb were covered in mirrors, so that "whichever way the watcher might turn, he or she would always be confronted by the spectacle of the dead Princess," as one widely republished newspaper story put it. The tomb's living guest was not to have any diversion except "except that of reading by the funeral light at the head of the coffin, and was condemned never to exchange a word with anyone during the 365 days, not even with the person who was once a day to bring the watcher’s food." Only in the evenings, once the gates of the cemetery were closed, or in the very early mornings, were they allowed to take a stroll around the cemetery grounds.
While many people had attempted the countess's challenge, the request had yet to be fulfilled, in part because people were driven mad while trying by "unearthly and mysterious sounds"; at least one turned into a "jabbering idiot," the newspapers said.
Alas, the story—repeated today by Parisian tour guides and paranormal enthusiasts—seems to be nothing more than the fevered product of late 19th-century newspaper writers' imaginations. (Call it the Belle Époque version of fake news.) According to the author Chris Woodyard, who specializes in writing about macabre and unusual phenomena, the earliest version appears in an 1893 Chicago Daily Tribune article (notably, seven decades after Demidoff died). Under the headings "A Chance to Grow Rich; Queer Will of a Russian Princess," the Tribune piece spells out the legend and ends by noting, "The will makes no mention of foreigners being ineligible; there is every chance therefore for a strong-minded American who fears neither ghosts, ghouls nor gravestones to become rich in the short period of 365 days. Application to be made to the municipality of Paris."
An 1896 Les Temps article unearthed by Père Lachaise researcher Marie Beleyme attributes the origins of the legend not to Chicago, but to "third page of a boulevardier newspaper," presumably in Paris. Regardless of exactly which paper started it, the story—despite being fake—had real-life effects. According to Les Temps, which said "the fable ... was reproduced everywhere in France, in Europe, in America," thousands of people wrote to the curator of Père Lachaise offering to fulfill the request. In the Paris archives, Beleyme found remnants of the craze that still exist: six letters of application, all from 1893—from the United States, Norway, Croatia, Canada, and Germany. The letters continued into 20th century, much to the exasperation of those in charge of Père Lachaise.
Today, it's not the only legend that's grown up around the countess's tomb. Demidoff is now sometimes referred to as "Vampire Baroness of Paris," apparently because wolves and other symbols in her tomb indicate a Bram Stoker-worthy connection. Needless to say, no evidence exists of Demidoff ever puncturing anyone's jugular.
Elisabeth Demidoff herself would no doubt be surprised by the accumulation of myth around her final resting place, but one thing's for sure. With millions of tourists flocking to Père Lachaise annually, she's certainly not lacking for visitors to her tomb, even if they don't usually stick around.
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By this point, your eco-friendly pal probably has a reusable water bottle that accompanies them everywhere and some sturdy grocery totes that keep their plastic-bag count below par. Here are 10 other sustainable gift ideas that’ll help them in their conservation efforts.
1. Reusable Produce Bags; $13
The complimentary plastic produce bags in grocery stores aren’t great, but neither is having all your spherical fruits and vegetables roll pell-mell down the checkout conveyor belt. Enter the perfect alternative: mesh bags that are nylon, lightweight, and even machine-washable.
Saying goodbye to disposable tea bags calls for a quality tea diffuser, and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be shaped like an adorable animal. This “ParTEA Pack” includes a hippo, platypus, otter, cat, and owl, which can all hang over the edge of a glass or mug. (In other words, you won’t have to fish them out with your fingers or dirty a spoon when your loose leaf is done steeping.)
Typing your notes on a tablet or laptop might save trees, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of writing on paper with a regular pen. The Rocketbook, on the other hand, does. After you’re finished filling a page with sketches, musings, or whatever else, you scan it into the Rocketbook app with your smartphone, wipe it clean with the microfiber cloth, and start again. This one also comes with a compatible pen, but any PILOT FriXion pens will do.
It’s hard to compete with the convenience of plastic wrap or tin foil when it comes to covering the exposed end of a piece of produce or an open tin can—and keeping those leftovers in food storage containers can take up valuable space in the fridge. This set of five silicone Food Huggers stretch to fit over a wide range of circular goods, from a lidless jar to half a lemon.
Swiffers may be much less unwieldy than regular mops, but the disposable pads present a problem to anyone who likes to keep their trash output to a minimum. These machine-washable pads fasten to the bottom of any Swiffer WetJet, and the thick microfiber will trap dirt and dust instead of pushing it into corners. Each pad lasts for at least 100 uses, so you’d be saving your eco-friendly friend quite a bit of money, too.
A fondness for fizzy over flat water doesn’t have to mean buying it bottled. Not only does the SodaStream let you make seltzer at home, but it’s also small enough that it won’t take up too much precious counter space. SodaStream also sells flavor drops to give your home-brewed beverage even more flair—this pack from Amazon ($25) includes mango, orange, raspberry, lemon, and lime.
There’s a good chance that anyone with a pet (or just an intense dislike for lint) has lint-rolled their way through countless sticky sheets. iLifeTech’s reusable roller boasts “the power of glue,” which doesn’t wear off even after you’ve washed it. Each one also comes with a 3-inch travel-sized version, so you can stay fuzz-free on the go.
Even if you keep a compost pile in your own backyard, it doesn’t make sense to dash outside every time you need to dump a food scrap. A countertop compost bin can come in handy, especially if it kills odors and blends in with your decor. This 1.3-gallon pail does both. It’s made of stainless steel—which matches just about everything—and contains an activated-charcoal filter that prevents rancid peels and juices from stinking up your kitchen.
Nobody likes starchy, scratchy clothes, but some people might like blowing through bottles of fabric softener and boxes of dryer sheets even less. Smart Sheep is here to offer a solution: wool dryer balls. Not only do they last for more than 1000 loads, they also dry your laundry faster. And since they don’t contain any chemicals, fragrances, or synthetic materials, they’re a doubly great option for people with allergies and/or sensitive skin.
While plenty of devices are rechargeable themselves, others still require batteries to buzz, whir, and change the TV channel—so it’s good to have some rechargeable batteries on hand. In addition to AA batteries, AAA batteries, and a charger, this case from Panasonic comes with tiny canisters that function as C and D batteries when you slip the smaller batteries into them.
Some treatments of old, like the ones in this piece adapted from The List Show on YouTube, will make you especially thankful for science and modern medicine.
1. Cure Rabies with Raw Veal
In Ancient Rome, people thought they could treat rabies. According to Pliny the Elder, a naturalist and author, anyone bitten by a mad dog should be treated by having their wound cut open and covered with raw veal. Then, the patient should eat a diet of lime and hog’s fat—and then the patient would then drink a concoction made with wine and boiled badger dung.
2. Treat Asthma with a Diet of Boiled Carrots
In Primitive Physick, or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases, first published in the late 1740s, British evangelist John Wesley suggested “a fortnight on boiled carrots only” to treat asthma.
3. Take Care of Heart Palpitations with a Vinegar-Soaked Rag
For heart palpitations, Wesley's treatments included “drink a pint of cold water,” “apply outwardly a Rag dipt In vinegar,” and “be electrified.”
4. Cure Toothaches with Electricity
Wesley also suggests that patients with toothaches be electrified. The idea of electrotherapy was fairly new in the 1700s, but it was used regularly until the early 1900s for illnesses like epilepsy, paralysis, impotence, tapeworms, and more. Some people just got electrotherapy for general wellness.
5. and 6. Prevent Nosebleeds with the Aid of a Red-Hot Poker or Bloodletting
To prevent nosebleeds, Wesley recommends, “hold[ing] a red hot poker under the nose or steep[ing] a linnen rag in sharp vinegar, burn[ing] it, and blow[ing] it up the nose with a Quill.”
In Wesley’s day, someone with nosebleeds might also get blood removed from another part of their body. There is documentation going back to around 200 CE recommending that someone with nosebleeds have their elbow bled. Back then, it was believed that every person had four humours in their body: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood—and any illness could be boiled down to an imbalance of humours. Bloodletting was one of the therapies that was supposed to put them back in balance. During medieval times in Europe, bloodletting was used for the plague, smallpox, and gout.
7. Treat Malaria with a Magic Word
There are a lot of strange historical treatments for malaria, but one of my favorite cures was a magical charm recommended by a Roman physician in the 3rd Century CE. Patients were told to write Abracadabra over and over on a piece of paper with one less letter on each line, until the letters formed a triangle with just an A at the bottom. Then, they had to tie the paper with flax and wear it around their necks for nine days before tossing it into an east-running stream. If that didn't work, they were supposed to rub themselves with lion fat.
8. Cure Rabies With Ground Liverwort and a Cold Bath
Back to rabies, which was a huge concern in Europe during the 1700s. There was this treatment from The Book of Phisick, written around the same time, that advised, “Tak[ing] 40 grains of ground liverwort and 20 grains of pepper in half a pint of milk ... take this quantity four mornings together, then use of Cold Bath, every other day, a month.”
9. Treat Epilepsy with a Powder Made of Hair and Deer Bones
The Book of Phisick also contains a remedy for patients with epilepsy. Cook a strong man’s hair with a deer leg-bone, turn it into powder, then eat it leading up to the new moon. (For a long time, people have debated whether the moon affects seizures. As recently as 2004, there was an article published in the journal Epilepsy and Behavior titled “The influence of the full moon on seizure frequency: myth or reality?” For the record, they found no connection between the full moon and the frequency of epileptic seizures.)
10. Cure Bible Cysts with a Dead Man's Hand
In 1743, German anatomist Lorenz Heister wrote down treatment options for Bible cysts, which appear on the hand or wrists. They included strapping a bullet that had killed an animal to the cyst or touching it with a dead man’s hand. But one of the treatments he recommended, hitting it with a heavy book, is still in use today. That’s why they’re called Bible cysts—the Bible was supposedly a good book to whack them with because it’s so big. But medical professionals probably don’t want you doing that.
11. Treat Asthma with Cigarettes
Asthma cigarettes were popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and were made with a number of toxic ingredients, including stramonium, belladonna, and tobacco.
12. and 13. Use Saffron to Sober Up—and Cheer Up
The Red Book of Hergest is a Welsh manuscript from around 1382 that contains some herbal remedies, including one to remove drunkenness that involves “eat[ing] bruised saffron with spring water.” Sadness could be cured by saffron, too, at least in moderation—according to Hergest, “If you would be at all times merry, eat saffron in meat or drink, and you will never be sad: but beware of eating over much, lest you should die of excessive joy.”
14. Cure Everything from Arthritis to Impotence with Radium
Radium was once considered a legitimate medical treatment. The ailments it supposedly cured included arthritis, impotence, and aging. The Revigator, an early 20th century crock that combined water with radium, was placed in hundreds of thousands of American households. Now we know that radium doesn't cure aging; it puts people at risk of radiation sickness. Users of the Revigator also had arsenic and lead leach out into their water, which wasn't great.
15. Treat Syphilis with Mercury
From about the 16th century to the 20th century, mercury was the primary treatment for syphilis, either eaten or applied to the body. It was also used to treat less severe illnesses, like constipation. In fact, Lewis and Clark’s men consumed so many pills containing mercury chloride that historians and archeologists can find the places where they camped just based on the mercury content of the area.
By the 18th century, doctors were aware of mercury poisoning, but they continued using it to treat syphilis—they just limited the amounts that were used.
16. Treat Hay Fever with Cocaine
Dr. Thomas Jefferson Ritter's Mother’s Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remedies from Mothers of the United States and Canada, published in 1910, contains many remedies that have been phased out—like the one for hay fever, which called for spraying a “four-percent solution of cocaine” up the nose. That was relatively normal back then; cocaine was prescribed for indigestion, fatigue, eye pain, and hemorrhoids.
17. Use Chloroform to Treat Asthma
The book also recommends inhaling chloroform for asthma. Chloroform, like cocaine, wasn’t an unusual treatment in the United States, where it was used as an anesthetic. We now know that it’s toxic.
18. Fix Chapped Hands with Old Sour Cream
Dr. Ritter has an interesting fix for chapped hands: Put sour cream in a cloth, bury it outside overnight, then unearth it and apply the sour cream the next day.
19. Treat Ringworm with Gunpowder and Vinegar
To heal ringworm, Mother's Remedies recommends a paste made of gunpowder and vinegar be applied to the infection. If the first time doesn’t do the trick, repeat until the ringworm disappears.
20. Use Nux Vomica for Headaches
For certain headaches, Dr. Ritter suggested mixing a drop of tincture of nux vomica in a teaspoonful of water. Today, nux vomica is best known as the primary source of strychnine, which is poisonous, and often used to kill rats.
21. Get Rid of Bruises With Powder Made From Human Bodies
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the use of human bodies in medical remedies became more popular than ever in Europe. They appeared in medicine for headaches, epilepsy, and more. Egyptian tombs and graveyards were looted for the bodies. If you had a bruise or other ailment, you were supposed to put it on your skin or turn it into a powder and ingest it via a drink. French King Francis I and Francis Bacon both used it.
22. Take Care of Colic With "Soothing Syrup"
Between the mid-1800s and early 1900s, 25 cents could get you a bottle of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for your baby. It was advertised as a solution for colic, teething, diarrhea, and any pain. And it worked, because it contained a whole lot of morphine.
23. Use Periwinkle Flowers to Treat Cataracts
There’s one known copy of Bald’s Leechbook, a medical textbook from around the 10th century, which can be found at the British Library in London. For cataracts, it suggests putting burnt periwinkle flowers and honey in the eyes.
24. Cure Swollen Eyes with the Eyes of a Crab
According to Bald's, to treat swollen eyes, take a live crab and cut its eyes out, throw the crab back into the water, then apply its eyes "on the neck of the man who hath need."
25. Treat Swollen Body Parts with a Fox Tooth
Similarly, a live fox to is needed to heal swelling: Take one of its teeth out, secure it in a fawn’s skin, then place the skin on the swollen body part.
26. Cure Typhus Through Prayer
Typhus had a more religiously oriented treatment in the 10th century. A patient should go outside, write a prayer on a piece of paper, then hold it to their left breast.
27. Avoid Tipsiness Using Ground Up Bird Beaks
In ancient Assyria, bird beaks were ground up, combined with myrrh, and eaten. Supposedly, this helped you avoid getting tipsy, though it seems more painful than a hangover.
28. Eat Pickled Sheep's Eyes to Cure a Hangover
During Genghis Khan’s days, the Mongols ate pickled sheep’s eyes for breakfast to get rid of a hangover. The practice continues today, though the eyes are followed by a glass of tomato juice.
29. and 30. Cure a Hangover with Tea Made of Poop or Owl Eggs
Legend has it that one popular Wild West hangover cure was rabbit poo tea. Pliny, meanwhile, suggested drinking owl eggs mixed with wine for three days to get rid of a hangover.