Cover page of Le Petit Journal, 10 May 1897. “Incendie du Bazar de la Charité. Le sinistre.”
The Bazar de la Charité was an annual charity event organized by the French Catholic aristocracy in Paris from 1885 onwards. It is best known for the fire at the 1897 bazaar that claimed 126 lives, many of them aristocratic women, the most eminent of whom was Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Alençon, née Sophie Charlotte of Bavaria, sister of Empress Sisi.
The Bazar de la Charité was held annually in a variety of locations, by a consortium of charitable organizations that joined to share renting fees, reducing costs and grouping potential buyers.
In 1897 the Bazar was held in a large wooden shed, 80 by 13 metres, at Rue Jean-Goujon 17, in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. Within this shed a fantasy medieval street was built with wood, cardboard, cloth and papier-mache. Exits were not properly marked. These incidences would contribute considerably to the disaster.A novel attraction at this Bazar was a room where the new spectacle of the time could be admired, moving images projected by the Lumière brothers’ technology.
On the afternoon of 4 May, the second of the planned four days of the bazaar, the projectionist’s equipment (using a system of ether and oxygen rather than electricity) caught fire. The resulting blaze, and the panic of the crowd, claimed the lives of 126 people, mostly aristocratic women. Over 200 people were additionally injured from the fire. The disaster was reported nationally and internationally.
Some of the visitors fleeing through the courtyard were saved by the cook and manageress of the Hôtel du Palais, M. Gauméry and Mme Roche-Sautier (respectively), who helped them escape the fire through the kitchen windows to the adjoining building. The identification of charred remains by the use of dental records was a landmark in the early history of forensic dentistry.