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.