Soulard's Bastille Day honors French heritage, with a twist

Soulard's Bastille Day honors French heritage, with a twist

SOULARD – Bastille Day may not be an official holiday in the United States, but residents of the Soulard neighborhood still celebrated in style this year with a pub crawl and mock beheading. 

As 5 p.m. hit on Saturday evening, sunshine beating down, the residents of Soulard gathered at the Ninth Street Deli to watch the chosen Bastille Day royalty arrive on the scene in a horse-drawn carriage. 

Bastille Day, an annual French national holiday celebrated each year on July 14th, marks the storming in 1789 of the Bastille, a fortress in Paris notorious for holding political prisoners. The incident was a turning point toward the French Revolution. And Soulard has developed its own way to celebrate in style while noting the neighborhood’s ties to French culture. The neighborhood is named for Antoine Soulard, a refugee from the French Revolution who arrived in St. Louis in 1794.

This is the fifth year that the Bastille Day parade has marched through Soulard in recent history, though decades ago it was a long-standing tradition. Each year the neighborhood nominates two people to act as royalty during the parade, which ends with a mock beheading in Pontiac Square Park. 

This year’s king and queen were Richard Eaton and John Durnell, decked out in royal finery. 

As the king and queen arrived in their carriage, Eaton as the king heckled the crowd, many of whom were appropriately dressed as peasants in keeping with the spirit of Bastille Day. 

Megaphone in hand, the king riffed on sitting president Donald Trump as he told the crowd, “We have made Soulard great again” and joked that he was planning on building a wall around the neighborhood. 

The crowd was in good spirits as they began to march off down 13th Street, some on foot and many more packed into decorated golf carts. 

Beth Hoops, a board member of the Soulard Restoration Group, which puts on the Bastille Day event each year, explained the link with Soulard’s French history. 

“’Soulard’ in French actually means ‘drunkard,’” she explained, in between using the megaphone to direct the ever-growing crowd. 

She said that the Soulard area of St. Louis was often compared to New Orleans and that the celebration of this truly French holiday honored the area’s similar French heritage. 

“This is our way to recognize the French influence of the neighborhood: to have a silly recreation, our version of Bastille Day,” she said.

Along with the mock beheading in Pontiac Square Park and the pub crawl through Soulard, the king tossed out Hostess cupcakes to the crowd, in a reference to Marie Antoinette’s infamous misquotation, “Let them eat cake.” Other festivities included live music and a performance by a sword dancer. 

The Bastille Day Beheading takes place every year on a weekend near Bastille Day. For more information about the event, visit http://www.soulard.org/#bastille.