The Phantom of the Opera: Who Was Gaston Leroux's Ghost?
The Phantom of the Opera was first published in Le Gaulois magazine in 1909 in parts. One year later, in 1910, The Phantom of the Opera (Le Phantom de L'Opera in its original language, French) was published aa a book. Gaston Leroux wrote many more books before and after his masterpiece, including journalist Rouletabille's stories (which inspired even authors like Agatha Christie). The Phantom of the Opera, however, is the one that gave Leroux recognition for his talent all over the world while still alive. So, what was the inspiration for Leroux's iconic novel? Was it a true story or not?
The Phantom of the Opera, as most people know thanks to Leroux's novel's success, its movie adaptations and the countless musical performances based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage adaptation of the classic story, is about a ghost (phantom) living by a lake under Palais Garnier opera house, in Paris. The ghost is a disfigured man, dressed so that not a single part of his body (like a finger) can be seen. He wears a mask, trying to hide his face - which has been disfigured by acid.
As The Phantom of the Opera story evolves, we come to realize the Phantom is a real man, in flesh and blood. The entire theater's cast and crew are scared of him. His love for young Christine Daae finally results in the girl's death and the Phantom's disappearance.
The Phantom of the Opera's setting, Palais Garnier, is the oldest opera house of Paris. "Palais" is the French word for "palace" and "Garnier" is the name of the architect in charge (Charles Garnier). Its construction started in 1861 and ended in 1875.
When the construction began, in 1861, and the workers proceeded with the foundations of the building, they came before a surprise: an overwhelming swell of water. The amount of water was finally gathered in a large tank and so the building of Palais Garnier went on. So, there actually was water under the theater - and there still is, in this tank. It's just not a lake - and no one knows how it's been before 1861.
The Rise of a "Ghost"
The Phantom of the Opera was written by Gaston Leroux thanks to the inspiration he drew from the rumors in Paris about a ghost in Palais Garnier. How did the people of Paris result in believing in the ghost of Palais Garnier though?
It all started in May 20, 1896. The audience in Palais Garnier was enjoying the opera Helle by Etienne-Joseph Floquet. For reasons unknown until today, a fire started in the roof of the theater. The theater crew was probably trying to deal with the situation - I suppose, as we don't have inforamtion on this either. Soprano Madame Rose Caron was finishing an aria when the fire caused the wire holding the counterweight of the central chandelier to crash on the floor. Now, the central chandelier wasn't a toy! We're talking about a luxury construction of the 19th century! It has been mentioned it weighed 7 tons and it consisted of bronze and crystals - numerous of them. So, the counterweight holding it up must have weighed some tons as well! As a result, it killed a woman in the audience and injured a lot more people, raising an overwhelming cloud of dust.
The Phantom of the Opera, in other words the ghost of Palais Garnier, was a rumor that started after the lethal accident in the theater. Many claimed it was the ghost that caused the accident, or that they heard a scream before the shocking crash. Maybe they didn't consider it could have been a crew member close to the roof, seeing the counterweight heading to the ground!
A Phantom Loved for Decades
No one ever saw anything close to the ghost in or around Palais Garnier. The legend, however, caused by the horrific accident, lasted for a few years and brought fear in human hearts. Gaston Leroux loved in Paris during this time. So, it wasn't hard for his sharp, creative mind to conceive the legendary, iconic story of fear and love.
The Phantom of the Opera might not have been a real-life character. But the the actual waterbed under Palais Garnier is enough to give as goosebumps of excitement that there is something of the thrilling story there.