When a Fire Hits the Taxidermist


What happens when a legendary French taxidermy shop catches fire? "From Ashes, Reviving a Place of Wild Dreams" is the story of Deyrolle, a 177-year-old store once populated by stuffed zebras, bull heads, and preserved butterflies. When Deyrolle caught fire earlier this year, destroying much of its taxidermied contents, Parisians stepped in to help.

Deyrolle’s stuffed menagerie – from black crows to big-game animals – its cases of butterflies and beetles, its signature pedagogic posters and century-old prints have made it a place of pilgrimage.

So after a short circuit triggered a fire in the shop, Paris seemed to come together in an unusual display of solidarity.

French soldiers on a routine patrol smelled the smoke and tried to secure the building. They were joined by dozens of firefighters and hundreds of police officers in battling the blaze. The French Army opened one of its nearby military depots as a warehouse for the burned animals and objects.

Michel Dumont, then the mayor of the Seventh Arrondissement, where Deyrolle is, rushed to the scene and lamented the store’s demise, saying, “It’s a catastrophe, the end of an institution.”

Ninety percent of the shop’s stock, including most of the animals, a celebrated fossil collection, an antique skeleton of a Nile perch and a 19th-century diorama of more than 100 birds, was lost. The dark-wood cabinets that housed birds, butterflies and beetles went up in flames.

But the 18th-century building remained intact. Prince Louis Albert de Broglie, a former banker who created a national conservatory with 650 varieties of tomatoes at his chateau, had bought the financially troubled Deyrolle in 2001 and eventually restored it to solvency. He vowed to rebuild.

"From Ashes, Reviving a Place of Wild Dreams" and a slide show.


  1. How ironic, another fire. My entire house, car, pet cat, everything my family and I owned, were engulfed in flames Thursday night due to the Montecito Tea fire, reducing our lives to a smoldering pile of ashes. Another reminder of how much fires suck, yay! Gorgeous pictures, although they hit too close to home at the moment.

  2. Fantasmaglow, how awful. I’m so sorry.

    How does a fossil collection burn, if that’s not a stupid question?

  3. Iscah, rocks exposed to heat crack. Also add cold water (used to put out a fire) on a hot stone not really designed to withstand quick changes in heat/cold and there you have it.

  4. @Jack: the prince DOES have a tomato museum, or rather a living museum of tomatoes, called le Conservatoire National de Tomate, and you can visit it from April through October at his castle, le Chateau de la Bourdaisiere in the Loire Valley. He also sells elegant garden tools online, under the name Le Prince Jardinier, with a clever coat of arms he designed himself: a garden fork and spade, crossed, surmounted by a straw hat:

  5. Also, some of the best fossils are simply a thin layer of carbon found between layers of sedimentary rocks. Fire puts its own layer of carbon over the entire rock.

  6. @ schorsch,

    yes, since the 1995 subway bombings soldiers do routinely patrol the streets, especially near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, round the corner from Deyrolle. You see plenty of military patrols sporting submachine guns on the subway or at train stations.

    In addition to taxidermy Deyrolle was also a publisher of educational posters for French schools, with everything from natural history to the danger of alcoholism such as http://ebayimages.goantiques.com/dbimages/KZZ9157/KZZ9157GH1409.jpg
    or this one http://live.universal-collectibles.com/product_images02/19692-1.jpg

  7. How does a fossil collection burn, if that’s not a stupid question?

    Depends how it’s stacked, but I’d bet fossils make great fuel. ;D

  8. This made me truly sad. I was in there just 3 weeks before the fire. It was (and will be again) a fantastic environment and a true piece of Parisian History.

    Also, I have never seen “military patrols sporting submachine guns on the subway” in Paris…at the train stations yes, but on the Metro, no.

  9. Wow.. what a loss. Think about it.. some of those animals were probably the first of their species ever seen by Europeans.

    Or an even sadder thought… maybe newly discovered species that are now extinct.

    I’m not one for displaying stuffed animals, but this seems like a much classier way to present them than just their heads next to a neon “Coor’s” sign.

  10. Taxidermists used to use arsenic as a preservation ingredient, leading to health problems: ” In one recipe, laid down by the 18th-century French taxidermist Becoeur, arsenic was mixed with white soap, camphor and salt of tartar and lime to form a preservative known as arsenical soap. This not only preserved skin and prevented the decay of remaining flesh, but was also effective against some insect attack.”

    Museums are advised now to check for arsenic in any stuffed animals they display, as the dust can hold arsenic. I wonder if the residue of this fire could cause problems.

  11. #7, It wouldnt surprise me.
    The Prench police and government have had sweeping powers of the type that Americans are just now experiencing post 9-11.

  12. What a loss. I visited this amazing place a few years ago and spent more than an hour walking the isles and rooms. The shop has a history of being the go-to taxidermy shop for hunting aristocrats, but had a nice democratic touch–for just a few Euros anybody could go home with a beautiful object (I picked up two beetles mounted in a frame). It was free to wander the many rooms and the staff was very friendly. Hope to see it reborn from the ashes!

  13. Fantasmaglow, my house was destroyed by fire two years ago. The pictures hit me, too. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    It seems like what water doesn’t get, fire does.

  14. For a place with a history and stature like that, you’d think they’d have a half-decent fire suppression system. Understandably, it wouldn’t have saved everything perfectly, but

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