The Russian Countess Who Supposedly Wanted Company in Her Tomb

Elisabeth Demidoff's tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
Elisabeth Demidoff's tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
Pierre-Yves Beaudouin, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

A portrait of Elisabeth Demidoff, born Stroganoff
A portrait of Elisabeth Demidoff
Robert Lefèvre, Wikimedia // Public Domain

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.

Wrap Yourself in the Sweet Smell of Bacon (or Coffee or Pine) With These Scented T-Shirts

adogslifephoto/iStock via Getty Images
adogslifephoto/iStock via Getty Images

At one point or another, you’ve probably used perfume, cologne, body spray, or another product meant to make you smell like a flower, food, or something else. But what if you could cut out the middleman and just purchase scented clothing?

Candy Couture California’s (CCC) answer to that is “You can!” The lifestyle brand offers a collection of graphic T-shirts featuring scents like bacon, coffee, pine tree, strawberry, and motor oil. If you have more traditional olfactory predilections, there are several options for you, too, including rose, lavender, and lemongrass. There’s even a signature Candy Couture California scent, which is an intoxicating blend of coconut, strawberry, and vanilla.

candy couture california bacon shirt
Candy Couture California

According to the website, CCC founder Sara Kissing came up with the idea in 2011 while working in the e-commerce fashion industry, and her personal experience with aromatherapy led her to investigate developing clothing that harnessed some of those same benefits. The T-shirts are created with scent-infused gel, which “gives off a delicate, mild smell—just enough to boost your mood.”

So you don’t have to worry about your bacon shirt making the whole office smell like a breakfast sandwich, but you yourself will definitely be able to enjoy its subtle, meaty aroma whenever you wear it. The shirts are also designed to match their scents—the chocolate shirt, for example, features chocolatey baked goods, while the coffee shirt displays steaming mugs of coffee.

candy couture california chocolate shirt
Candy Couture California

The fragrances don’t last forever, but they’ll stay strong through 15 to 20 washes before they start to fade. CCC recommends using unscented detergent so as not to conflict with the shirt’s aroma, and you can further prolong its life if you’re willing to wash it by hand.

Prices start at $79, and you can shop the full collection here.

UFO Enthusiast Donates 30,000 Sighting-Related Documents to Canadian University

mscornelius/iStock via Getty Images
mscornelius/iStock via Getty Images

For most of human history, people have observed unusual phenomena in the sky. Unidentified flying objects are mysterious by nature, but thanks to a new collection at the University of Manitoba, they're now a lot easier to study. As Live Science reports, science writer and Canadian ufologist Chris Rutkowski has donated 30,000 documents related to UFO sightings to the school.

Rutkowski has been collecting reports of UFOs since 1975. In the past 40-plus years, he has published articles and 10 books on the subject of unidentified flying objects, with most of his research highlighting Canada's history of the strange happenings.

Many of the items he's donating focus on one case in particular: the Falcon Lake incident. On May 20, 1967, amateur geologist Stefan Michalak was looking for quartz near Falcon Lake in Manitoba when he spotted two glowing, cigar-shaped objects floating in the sky. One landed nearby, and when he approached the craft, he was scorched by hot gas that set his clothes on fire and left a grid of welts on his body. He was admitted to a hospital in Winnipeg to be treated for the burns and experienced headaches, blackouts, and diarrhea for weeks after the encounter. The Falcon Lake report is considered one of the best-documented UFO cases in Canadian history.

When the new collection becomes available as part of the University of Manitoba's archives, the public will be able to read documents related to that incident and others like it for the first time. The collection includes photos, research notes, reports, publications, and UFO zines Rutkowski has amassed over the years. Twenty thousand items are UFO reports filed over the past several decades, and 10,000 are UFO-related documents from the Canadian government.

To make the files accessible to even more people, the university is launching a crowdfunding campaign to support the digitization of the collection. You can donate to it here.

[h/t Live Science]