Ferdinand Cheval's letter to André Lacroix
For several years, it was Postman Cheval's intention to produce a brochure “to propagate" his unique work everywhere.
In his letter of 1897, he reported the circumstances and stages of his work to the departmental archivist Andre Lacroix and thanked him for agreeing to send him a short biography.
One day in April 1879, I was doing my rounds as a rural postman a quarter of a league before reaching Tersanne. I was walking quickly, when my foot caught something that sent me tumbling a few meters away. I wanted to know what had caused it. I was very surprised to see that I had brought a stone out of the earth. It was of such a bizarre and yet picturesque shape that I looked around me. I saw that it was not alone. I took it and wrapped it in my handkerchief and carefully took it away with me, promising myself to take advantage of the free time that my rounds would leave me to set in a store of them.
From then on, I had no rest day or night. I set out to find some more. Sometimes I did 5 or 6 kilometres and when I was loaded up I carried them on my back. I began to dig a pool in which I started to sculpt different species of animal with cement. Then I started to make a waterfall with my stones. It took me two years to build. Once it was finished, I was amazed with my work. Criticized by the locals, but encouraged by foreign visitors, I did not lose heart. I had discovered other stones, each more beautiful than the other, in Saint-Martin-d'Août in Treigneux, and in St-Germain. They were like little round balls. I set to work.
I started a cave and a second waterfall so that my cave was located between the two. This is what forms the whole middle part of the monument. It took me another three years to complete. Still more delighted with my work, the idea then came to me that with my little round balls that I had found in St-Germain, Treigneux, and St-Martin-d'Août I could make myself an Egyptian tomb whose style would be unique in the world, and be buried in the rock just like the pharaohs. I started digging into the earth and I formed a kind of rock, and in this rock I dug coffins. These coffins are covered with tiles that you can remove at will, themselves closed off by a stone door and an iron one.
On this underground rock, I built the monument that is twelve feet wide and fifteen feet long. The monument is supported by eight walls made of stones that have the most picturesque shape. The facades of the east and north are each supported by four columns that bear the serrations of the monument. In the middle, a beautiful stone wreath made with small round balls.
Above, the Virgin Mary’s cave, with the four Evangelists, two on each side. A cross with angels holding crowns, and pilgrims. Further up, a second crown with a mortuary urn, and above the urn, a little Genie. This monument is over 30 feet high. You reach the top via a spiral staircase. I worked night and day for another seven years to finish it. I carried my stones on my back, sometimes 15 kilometres, mostly at night.
Still to fill my spare time and for the symmetry of the monument, I wanted to add a Hindu Temple whose interior is a real cave, and this cave forms several small ones and in these small caves I placed the fossils I had found in the earth. The entrance is guarded by a group of animals such as: a bear, a boa, a crocodile, a lion, an elephant and other animals of this kind always found in the earth, and also tree trunks.
On the other side, three giants and two mummies, all Egyptian, and above there are two prickly pears, palms, olives and an aloe. You reach the top of the tower by a spiral staircase. At the entrance of the staircase are four barbaresque columns. I took another four years to build this Hindu Temple.
Still with the same energy and perseverance, two year ago I started a gallery on the side where the sun sets with hecatombs on each side measuring 12 square feet that communicate either with the Hindu Temple or with the Tomb. Above the hecatombs and the gallery is a very large terrace, 22 metres long. You also reach it via stairs, the only purpose of which is so that visitors can get a view of the whole monument at their leisure.
Tourists came in large numbers this year, far more than in previous years and all left marvelling at my monument; they above all admire the hard work and perseverance that I spent on this wonderful work, to be called, I hope: Alone in the World.
I’ve been working for eighteen years and I still need two years to complete the interior and exterior of my dream that will have lasted for 20 years. I started this gigantic work at the age of 43 years. I have not served the government as a soldier but I served nearly thirty years as a postman.
As I must give a name to my work, I would ask you yourself to give it an overall or detailed name as you think best. You are better able to find it than anyone. I would like to repeat that I will pay for the costs incurred by correspondence or similar. Please let me know what they are. It was too kind of you to agree to send me a short biography. I will remain sincerely appreciative of all the trouble you have taken for me.
Please accept Mr. Lacroix, the expression of my profound respect. Your very humble servant.
Ferdinand Cheval, Hauterives