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Cyparis dungeon

Historic site and monument, Listed or registered (CNMHS) in Saint-Pierre
  • The dungeon of Cyparis is a stone vaulted dungeon located at the back of a courtyard in the eastern part of the ruins of Saint-Pierre prison, Prison Street, in the Centre district of Saint-Pierre (near the old theatre).

    Of regular rectangular plan, the dungeon of Cyparis was built in vaulted stones in the middle of the 17th century and has a single door, once made of solid wood, on the right of which there is a small wire mesh bay. It stands at the back of a courtyard a few metres from a basin in the eastern part of the prison.

  • History

    Louis-Auguste Cyparis, known as Samson, generally considered the only survivor of the disaster of Saint-Pierre, was originally from the village of Le Prêcheur. Sometimes a sailor, sometimes a farmer, he is sentenced to one month in prison for having wounded a comrade with a blow of cutlass knife during a dispute.

    Having escaped to participate in a feast, then having returned to be constituted prisoner, he was punished by eight days of dungeon and it is during this period that the...
    History

    Louis-Auguste Cyparis, known as Samson, generally considered the only survivor of the disaster of Saint-Pierre, was originally from the village of Le Prêcheur. Sometimes a sailor, sometimes a farmer, he is sentenced to one month in prison for having wounded a comrade with a blow of cutlass knife during a dispute.

    Having escaped to participate in a feast, then having returned to be constituted prisoner, he was punished by eight days of dungeon and it is during this period that the eruption of May 8, 1902 fell on the city of Saint-Pierre. The thickness of the walls of his dungeon saved his life. Its location at the foot of Morne Abel, its position almost leaning against the east wall of the prison's fence, its rare south-west facing openings, in contrast to the fiery cloud moving from north to south, protect the dungeon from the effect of the blast due to the explosion of Mount Pelee and spared the prisoner direct contact with a massive entrance of burning gas.

    Louis-Auguste Cyparis, a survivor of the disaster, testified: "It was 8am. They had not yet come to bring me the ration of the day when suddenly a formidable noise was heard. Everyone was screaming for help, I burn, I die. After 5 minutes, no one was screaming, except me, when smoke rushed violently through the small window of my door. This smoke burned so much that for a quarter of an hour, I jumped to the right, to the left, in the air everywhere to avoid it. After 15 minutes, there was a terrible silence. I was listening, screaming to come and save me. No one answered. Then all of St. Pierre must be crushed under the earthquake, in fire."

    On May 11th, rescuers from Morne-Rouge, a village bordering Saint-Pierre, heard his calls and cleared the entrance to the dungeon. His fame is due to original circumstances (he had his life saved because he was in prison) and to the fact that he later became one of the attractions of the American Barnum Circus, where he showed his body and face covered with scars from his burns. He would have died in oblivion and probably in misery in Panama.

    The dungeon of Cyparis is listed as a historic monument by decree of July 25th 1979.
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