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Underneath the Opera Garnier. Yep, not creepy at all.

Underneath the Opera Garnier. Yep, not creepy at all.

Note: I’ve since discovered that the story of Erik is more urban legend than fact, but as it’s still an intriguing tale, I’ve decided not to delete the post.

Most people know Phantom of the Opera is a popular musical, and a few people realize the play was based on Gastón Leroux’s book Le Fantôme de l’Opéra.

But did you know the famous Phantom was a real man?

Erik was born in a small French village with a horribly disfigured face. His parents abandoned him when he was eight. A circus captured him, and for seven years he was their star attraction.

After escaping, he worked as an architect’s assistant for many years, until he returned to France and was hired as one of the contractors for the Opera Garnier. Erik was now a gentleman in a tailored suit and cloak, who hid his deformed face behind a mask.

Much like the fictional Parisian opera house in Phantom, the Opera Garnier has underground tunnels and an underground lake. Erik reportedly lived in an apartment underneath the opera house, and had his own box seats, where he could watch the performances without being seen.

He fell in love with one of the singers, but was rejected, presumably because of his deformity. In desperation, he kidnapped the singer.

She was found three weeks later and soon left the city.

Legend has it that Erik was so devastated by the loss of the woman that he walled himself up in his apartment and died of starvation. Years later, his remains were apparently discovered by some workmen, who identified the long-suffering man from the gold ring he always wore.

Some people claim that Erik’s ghost still haunts the famous French Opera House.

Have you seen Phantom of the Opera or read the book? Do you like the story? Has anyone been to the Opera Garnier?

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32 Comments

  1. How interesting and yet sad. I had no idea there was a book. I’m a fan of the musical, though. I’ll have to look it up. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Sara,

      Glad to let you know about the book. It’s not a bad read, although of course the musical is more dramatic!

      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  2. I knew it was based on a book, which I would really like to read, but I had no idea that it was based on a true story. You are killing my book budget this month!

    Reply
    • JH

      Ha! Always glad to encourage people to buy more books. 🙂

      Reply
  3. I knew the story from the musical, but never knew it was a real person! Fascinating.

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post. You might enjoy the book. It’s not a bad read.

      Reply
  4. I saw the play ages ago and loved it! Had no idea it was a book or that it was based on a true story.

    Reply
    • JH

      Always glad to spread the word, Madeline! It’s an interesting read.

      Reply
  5. I wish I could remember the author of “Phantom’. She was a woman. I loved that book so much and wish I still had it. It was extremely powerful and well written. So much love and longing in it. Pretty scary too … No, have not seen the film or show ..
    Do try to get the book …

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Susan,

      I’ve never heard of that one. I’ll look into it.

      Thanks!

      Reply
  6. Are you serious!? He was real?! Holy shiznit! My world just became a more awesome place. I’m sad though. Poor man.

    I’ve read the original book. The Susan Kay version, the sequel written by Frederick Forsyth. Have many of the songs from webber’s musical memorized . Have the musical as well as the original 1929 Lon Chaney movie versions too. Um, and watched the musical they did of the second book Love Never Dies. Also watched a few other movie versions too.

    Okay, I’m a little obsessed.

    The phantom is such a complex and fantastic character. Elvis both pitiless and to be pitied.

    Reply
    • How he is to be became Elvis I will never know.

      Reply
      • JH

        I’m guessing autocorrect? 😉

        Thanks Djinnia. It’s great to meet another fan of the phantom. Glad I could give you a tidbit you didn’t already know.

        Reply
        • You did. I thought he was only fictional.

          Reply
  7. I sure didn’t think he was a real man. So sad that he was abandoned and at that time the only place that would take him in was a circus so he could be a freak show. So terrible! His story sounds just like Phantom of the Opera, but how sad that he’s said to have walled himself up and staved to death. 🙁

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, it’s a very tragic story. He’s one of those “villains” you feel sorry for.

      The man who wrote it stayed pretty true to the actual story, down to the chandelier falling, which happened in real life as well.

      Reply
  8. I saw the movie, later knew about the book. The movie made me so miserable, my sister and I were crying for days, and here we are even the real story is still pretty much sad :”(
    P.S. the scene of the falling chandelier made us laugh so hard, it was like an airplane crashing, so it wasn’t all bad 😛

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m not sure how an airplane crashing is funny, but maybe it was one of those “had to be there” things.

      Reply
  9. I never knew it was a true story. The Phantom is my favorite of all operas. I found it romantic and heartbreaking at the same time. Everything Love in it.

    As I See It Daily

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, Katy! Hope to see you back here some time.

      It’s one of mine too. I saw it with Paul Stanley of KISS as the phantom. He was actually pretty good.

      Reply
  10. Amazing there was a real story behind it. I have seen the play, many years ago.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Alex. It’s a great musical.

      Reply
  11. I had heard that the Phantom was a real person…but I don’t think I’d heard the full story before. This was mesmerizing!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Stephanie! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply
  12. Wow. I didn’t know it was based on a true story.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yep, even the chandelier fell in real life, killing one person.

      Reply
  13. Now that is a truly tragic tale of a life. No matter how he tried to overcome his deformity, he was trapped by it or the rejection due to it. This makes me sadder than the play ever could.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, I think the true story is much sadder than the musical. The musical is more of a scary take on Eric.

      Reply
  14. I really enjoyed the book, and I absolutely love the 1925 film adaptation with Lon Chaney, Sr. The unmasking in that film is still one of the scariest moments in film history. I didn’t realize the Phantom was a real person.

    Reply
    • JH

      I really have to see that movie, Carrie-Anne. I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t.

      Thanks for the recommendation. I enjoyed the book too!

      Reply
  15. I have seen two versions of the musical, and I read the book. I find this story both sad and fascinating.
    Play off the Page

    Reply
    • JH

      Me too, Mary.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply

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