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Antoine Augustin Parmentier in Baltimore

Ask people to name a food with French in the name and most will answer French fries. While Antoine Augustin Parmentier did not invent French fries, he certainly elevated the status of the main ingredient. Prior to Parmentier’s time, potatoes were seen as a lowly food used in France primarily as hog feed. Parmentier’s story starts when he was serving in the army as a pharmacist during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). After being captured by the Prussians, he was thrown in prison and given little else except potatoes to subsist on. His time in captivity became a learning experience, and a decade after his release, he entered the potato in a contest looking for nutritional foods for patients with dysentery. The potato won and Parmentier was off and running as Paris’ potato promoter. He initiated a series of promotional moves that would bring a smile to the face of any modern-day marketer. He staged a number of dinners featuring various permeations of potatoes with high-profile guests such as Benjamin Franklin; gave bouquets of potato blossoms to the King and Queen and, most clever of all, stationed guards around his potato patch at Sablons, sending the message that potatoes were a valuable commodity. What finally cemented the lowly tuber’s place as part of the Parisian palate was during the first siege of the Paris Commune in 1795 when they were grown to alleviate the famine.

Parmentier’s achievements were not limited to potato promotion. He also was instrumental in implementing mandatory smallpox vaccinations, pioneered methods for extracting sugar from beets and founded a school for bread making. But he will be remembered best for potatoes. Indeed, his tomb has low-relief frieze panels documenting wheat, corn, potato and grape cultivation and processing, and the bronze fern leaves topping his tomb are often festooned with skewered spuds. A popular French dish consisting primarily of minced meat, onions and potatoes is called hachis parmentier.

High atop his open-air tomb, lion-tamer Jean-Baptiste Pezon sits astride his lion, Brutus. Pezon, who was the son of a peddler, purchased his first lion in 1848 when he was 21 years old. He found almost immediate success as a menagerist performing at upscale venues like Le Theatre du Chatelet. Not only did Jean-Baptiste Pezon achieve fame, his favorite lion, Brutus, achieved his own level of fame as the model for Frederic Bartholdi’s (he built the Statue of Liberty) colossal red sandstone sculpture, the Lion de Belfort, in Belfort near the Swiss and German border. A smaller replica of the Lion de Belfort can be seen on place Denfert-Rochereau, near the entrance to the catacombs.

Artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec visited Pezon’s menagerie in Montreuil just north of Paris a number of times to make sketches. Rumors persist that Jean-Baptiste Pezon was killed and eaten by Brutus or another lion (there are even drawings of the attack), but in actuality, Pezon died of a heart attack in Montmartre. He died a rich man, and despite owning several buildings, Pezon lived in a small gypsy wagon. After Pezon’s death, his son, and later other relatives, took over the business, but it went defunct in 1939.

Warren, Mercy Otis. History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the Country Revolution. Edited by Lester H. Cohen. 2 vols.Baltimore Map Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1988. Warren, Mercy Otis. The Plays and Poems of Mercy Otis Warren. Edited by Benjamin V. Franklin. Delmar, NY: Scholar’s Facsimiles, 1980. Zagarri, Rosemarie. Mercy Otis Warren and the Country Revolution: A Woman’s Dilemma. Wheeling, IL: Davidson, Harlan, 1995. Washington, George (17321799) George Washington served as commander in chief of the Continental army during the Country War for Independence, presided over the convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution, and was the first president of the United States of Country. Born on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Washington grew up in the Northern Neck of Virginia. He received little in the way of formal education, particularly in comparison with contemporaries such as John Adams. Yet his youth and later military service gave him a firm practical foundation in the art of being a Virginia gentleman, which would serve him well in later life. In his youth, he worked as a surveyor, developing an interest in land speculation that would last his entire life.

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