Some 250 years ago, Mary-Josephte Corriveau was hanged on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, her body left to rot in a cage in the public square of nearby Lévis.
That cage, recently rediscovered, is on display at the Lévis convention centre this weekend.
The body of la Corriveau, as she came to be known, was held in the body-shaped iron cage — a gibbet — for 40 days.
Her legendary execution in 1763 — her punishment for murdering her husband, Louis-Étienne Dodier — has become a thing of legend. Over the years, the number of husbands she murdered rose to seven, and the sound of her cage rattling in the wind and creaking as it swung from a tree became the foundation of a ghost story still told today.
“I remember, we had a cottage about four miles down from where la Corriveau was hanging on a tree, and every time we passed in front, my father would point his finger and say, ‘This is where la Corriveau was hung in a cage,’” says Yves Roy, a volunteer with the Lévis historical society.
Her body was eventually cut down and buried, cage and all.
But it went missing at some point and remained that way for over a century. Two years ago, the cage was rediscovered by the Lévis historical society — at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.
Members of the historical society are currently trying to piece together its journey, which they know was marked by stints in New York and Montreal.
The museum lent it to the city of Lévis, and it remains on display at the convention centre until Sunday, Oct. 6 at 10 p.m.
Claude Genest, the former head of the Lévis historical society, said visitors so far have been very respectful, even saying a prayer for la Corriveau.
“When you see the object [the cage], you have to imagine the body inside, and how terrible it must have been,” Genest says.