How a failed dam legalized marrying the dead

Originally published at: How a failed dam legalized marrying the dead | Boing Boing


Merde ce barrage!


I though France had legalised this during WW2, so children whose parents were unmarried and whose fathers were killed in action could be born legitimate.

According to the article, I was wrong: it dates back to WW1.

Indeed, the practice of marrying the dead actually dates back to the First World War, when grieving girlfriends wanted to assure the legitimacy of their children whose fathers had died on the front before being able to tie the knot.


Makes so much more sense than destigmatizing bastardy.


If, like me, you went to the original article looking for the reason of the dam’s collapse, you’ll be disappointed. So here’s what I found elsewhere:

We actually don’t know with absolute certainty why it failed, but general consensus seems to be that there was an undetected tectonic fault line in the gneiss bedrock. It wasn’t found in the surveys because the budget for them was cut and the surveys were rushed. Another hypothesis is that they misjudged the angles at which water pressure would lay on the dam, thus making the structure shaped incorrectly for the loads. It sounds like, in general, the whole project was rushed.

It’s also not quite true that they didn’t open the spillways to relieve the pressure. They knew the dam was in big trouble, but misjudged how long it would take to drain the level back down. The spillways were open for hours, but it was only enough to drop the level a few cm. Not enough to relieve the pressure in time.


French inheritance laws are (or used to be), as I understood it, very strict and prescriptive as to who inherited what, and in what proportion. Not being a legitimate heir might, I speculate, cause problems and allowing an occasional exceptional legal ceremony to address this was probably easier than trying to rewrite very long-standing inheritance laws, an exercise which would become highly political in all probability.


Instead of a priest, the mayor will conduct the ceremony reading aloud the Presidential decree instead of the deceased man’s marriage vows.

I thought that church weddings weren’t a thing in France anyway because of secularism- you can have one if you want, but you have to have the mayor perform a ceremony as well.


I thought I’d check here first. And I’m glad I did. Thank you for taking one for the team.


This catastrophe has similarities with the Vajont Dam disaster in Italy when a landslide overtopped a similar structure.

Engineers in the 1950s were pushing well beyond the limits of their understandings as these ever-taller, ever-thinner concrete dams went up in Europe. Though, at Vajont, it looks like corruption might have also played a part.


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