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The Fireworks Disaster of 1770
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Author:  History Detective [ Tue Jan 22, 2013 4:22 am ]
Post subject:  The Fireworks Disaster of 1770

Hi, everyone! Here's an interesting account of the fireworks tragedy that occurred in celebration of Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste's wedding. I found it in a book titled Old and New Paris by H. Sutherland Edwards (London: Cassell and Company Limited, 1893). The book shares some details about the creation of the Place Louis XV (Place de la Concorde), then says:

The open space was now to be marked in by ornamental limits; and the architects were working at the railings and walls, when, on the night of the 30th of May, 1770, a frightful catastrophe took place. To celebrate the marriage of the Dauphin, afterwards Louis XVI, with the Archduchess Marie Antoinette of Austria, the town of Paris had prepared a magnificent fĂȘte, of which the principal attraction was to be a display of fireworks under the direction of the famous Italian pyrotechnist, Ruggiers, perfecter of an art first introduced into France (like so many others) by his ingenious countrymen.

...All was going well, when suddenly a gust of wind blew down among the crowd some rockets only partially exploded. Fireworks, like so may inventions of Italian origin, were still, to the mass of the French public, a comparative novelty; and this, together with the positive inconvenience and even danger of a fall of blazing missiles in the midst of thousands of excited and closely-packed spectators, was quite enough to account for the terrible confusion, resulting in many hundreds of fatal accidents, which now ensued.

There was, in the first place, a general rush towards the Rue Royale, far too narrow to receive such an invasion; and in the crush numbers of women fainted, fell, and were trampled to death. To make matters worse the stream of persons pressing into the Rue Royale was met by a counter-stream, advancing, in ignorance of what had taken place, to the Place de la Concorde. Even these, who were not in imminent peril, were now affected by a panic which soon became universal. In the midst of shrieks and groans some desperate men drew their swords and endeavoured to cut for themselves a passage through the dense mass by which they were surrounded. "I know many persons," says Mercier, in his "Tableau de Paris," "who thirty months after these frightful scenes still bore the marks of objects which had been crushed into them. Some lingered on for ten years and then died. I may say without exaggeration that in the general panic and crush more than twelve hundred unfortunate persons lost their lives. One entire family disappeared; and there was scarcely a household which had not to lament the death of a relative or friend." On the other hand the official returns put down the deaths at 133, already an immense number.

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