The Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris has more than its share of celebrities: Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde are the first that come to mind. But there is a strange story behind the monument pictured here that you may not know. In 1875, three balloonists ascended to 28,000 feet in the Zenith to study atmospheric conditions …and to break the altitude record. Joseph Croce-Spinelli and Théodore Sivel did not survive the lack of oxygen. Gaston Tissandier, the sole survivor, came to as the balloon was plunging to earth.
The Zenith crash landed in Ciron, France, and Sivel and Croce-Spinelli were found with their faces blackened and their mouths filled with blood. They were widely celebrated as heroes who gave their lives for progressing aviation. A May 2, 1875 New York Times article declared them as "martyrs to science." A monument was erected in Ciron where the Zenith had fallen and the elaborate grave sculpted by Alphonse Dumilatre was installed in Père Lachaise Cemetery as a memorial to the two French balloonists. Gaston Tissandier is also buried in the Paris cemetery, although he lived until 1899. Now fallen leaves gather around Croce-Spinelli and Sivel's linked arms and sometimes someone places a rose in one of their extended hands as they continue to slumber from the sleep they drowned into from such great heights.