A Tale of the Eiffel Tower
Louis was 8-years-old when the Eiffel Tower first stood tall in the distance. He could see the glimmering metal shining on the horizon from the window of his family’s apartment. It was the tallest building at the time and he couldn’t wait to examine the brilliant structure up close. Louis had heard his parents talking about the 1889 World’s Fair: an extraordinary event that would be taking place on the Champs de Mars in his hometown of Paris. This year’s celebration would be extra special because it was the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. Exhibitors from all over the world would be coming to show off their wares and the Eiffel Tower would be the crowning attraction.
Louis had asked his father why this new tower would be called Eiffel. Apparently, a grand competition had been held to choose the design for the massive structure. 107 artists entered the contest; Some outlandish designs were proposed, ranging from an enormous water sprinkler to a gigantic guillotine. Louis thought a guillotine would be a wonderful symbol of the revolution, though it might prove somewhat ominous. Come to find out that when Gustave Eiffel submitted the winning design, artists all around town were shocked and angered. Louis’s father talked about the cultural elitists who hated the new design and thought that Monsieur Eiffel was an engineer and builder, not an artist. Though they ultimately couldn’t stop the construction, many French detested the tower for years to come. The novelist Guy de Maupassant apparently hated the tower so much that he would frequently dine in the lower level restaurant, claiming it was the only place where he could completely avoid seeing the tower in the distance.
Louis thought the silhouette of the palatial pillar was nothing short of heavenly. The day his parents finally brought him to the fair was one of his earliest memories filled with excitement and bliss. He circled the massive building with awe and wonder rivaling the rest of the crowd combined. He could see the wrought iron beams and lattice girders, the 2.5 million rivets and 60 tons of paint glittering in the sun. He eventually learned that the tower is 324 metres tall and its square base measures 125 metres on each side. Louis was one of the 1,953,122 people who longed to see the Eiffel Tower in person. Even without working elevators yet, almost 30,000 visitors poured up the 1,710 steps to the summit. Louis peered through the metal grates as he moved closer and closer to the top, breathing in the oxygen so much higher than he was used to, filled with hopes and dreams.
Louis went to bed that night with a twinkle in his eye that would never fade. As the years went by, he continued to see the Eiffel Tower from his kitchen window and marvel at its beauty. He was infinitely grateful when a plan to tear it down in 1909 was thwarted. It was never meant to be a permanent structure and the country had had their fill. Fortunately, its skyscraping stature made it a perfect aerial for radio. Louis remembered this fortuitous decision during both world wars, when the tower intercepted enemy communication, sent alerts and messages for reinforcements. It even had an integral role in intercepting information that led to the infamous capture of the spy, Mata Hari in 1915. During World War II, Hitler notoriously called for its destruction but “La Dame de Fer” (The Iron Lady) would not be conquered.
Louis loved hearing about and sometimes even watching the pranksters and daredevils who saw the Eiffel Tower as one of their greatest potential feats. From parachutes to bungee cords, people were intent on vanquishing this mighty foe. In 1912, the French tailor Franz Reichelt used a “parachute garment” to attempt to fly down from the first level of the tower. Unfortunately, the device did nothing to prevent his fall and he plummeted 187 feet to his death. A happier ending occurred in 1923 when a notable cyclist and journalist, Pierre Labric, took a bet and attempted to ride down the steps of the Eiffel Tower on his bike. The authorities were waiting for him at the bottom. He not only won the bet, however, he also became future mayor of Montmartre. Louis always chuckled over that story.
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Louis’s favorite memories by far involved the luminescent lights so frequently associated with the tower. During the original exhibition, there were hundreds of gas lamps lit every night. Search lights illuminated other buildings around the fair and a beacon shot red, white, and blue light onto the exhibition scene. For almost a decade starting in 1925, André Citroën rented the Eiffel Tower for advertising and 250,000 lights to display the brand name. Louis took his wife, Madeleine, to the Art and Technique Exhibition in 1937 to see what was reported to be the largest chandelier in the world. It contained 10 kilometers of fluorescent tubes and thirty naval spotlights. Louis and Madeleine celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary under a shower of metal reflecting gold, blue and red. He had asked her to be his wife during the summer of 1907 in the exact same spot.
Louis didn’t see the sparkling millennium lights shining on December 31, 1999 but his granddaughter, Francoise, did: from the same window in the same kitchen that Louis stared out from in the summer days of 1889. Francoise got to see the 20,000 glittering lights bring in another thousand years of memories. She saw how, for the following years, they continued to illuminate the Parisian skyline for five minutes on the hour every hour after sunset until 1am. She saw how the dreams of a little French boy watching what was the tallest building on Earth in 1889 turned into the fulfillment of love in the city of light. The Eiffel Tower continues to be the most visited monument in the world, a testament to art and architecture, culture and love.