This post is dedicated to my friend Gilles Thomas, for his tireless devotion to preserving the work — and honoring the memory — of Charles-Axel Guillaumot.
Suppose you’ve been hired to oversee a vast and vital railroad network. Now imagine that, on the very first day of your new job, one of the trains on your network derails and plows through a house.
Something similar actually did happen to Charles-Axel Guillaumot on Thursday, April 24, 1777.
A few months earlier, one week before Christmas in 1776, a catastrophic event had stunned Paris. According to Graham Robb, in Parisians, An Adventure History of Paris:
… the roofs of the buildings … changed their angle slightly in relation to the skyline. A second later, there was the sound of a giant heaving a great sigh and stretching his limbs. The cattle that had passed through the [Barrière d’Enfer toll] gate panicked and…
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