Paris 1902 and young Dr. Marcile is head-over-heels in love. The young lady who is the object of his affection loves him too, but her parents won’t consent to marriage, they are heartbroken. One day the doctor passes a garage on Avenue de la Grande-Armée advertising the fastest, most reliable cars anywhere.
The doctor has an idea – wouldn’t one of these fast motor cars be the perfect way to whisk away his love so they could finally be together? He goes in to speak with the garage owner, ex French dancer Madame Bob Walter and a legend is born…
Bob Walter was not your average garage owner, nor was she your average woman. Born in French Algeria where her father was a government official, she moved to Paris after her parents died She found fame on the stage around 1890 and changed her name from the Baptistine Dupré to Bob Walter. No one seems to know why she chose this odd stage name.
Singer, Dancer, Lion Tamer… wedding planner
Bob sang, recited poetry, was a mime and a dancer, best known for performing the popular at the time“serpentine dance”. She wore a dress with long panels that she would swirl around, transforming herself into a flower, a butterfly, a serpent, and many other forms. To make her performance more exciting, Bob danced in a cage of lions!
Audiences loved her show, but when one newspaper critique filled his column with harsh criticism of her act, she took it badly. The next time Bob saw him, she attacked him with her key ring; her stage career ended soon after.
Bob needed a new way to earn a living so she turned to motor racing, a real pioneer for those days as very few women drove cars and very few races took place She won two races in 1902, getting up to the dizzying speed of 56 mph (90 km/h). For Bob it seemed like the natural next step was to open a garage. She sold and rented what she claimed to be the best and fastest cars around. Race cars with qualified drivers were rented to those who needed to get somewhere quickly. And that’s exactly what had caught the eye of love-stricken Dr. Marcile.
He met with Madam Bob, explained his situation and desire to speed away with his beloved. Bob, clearly a romantic at heart, thought it a great idea and organised the elopement. Just like a modern-day wedding planner, she took care of the details. She planned a route, contacted a mayor to perform the ceremony, reserved a villa, had champagne waiting, and did everything necessary for a romantic getaway. At the appropriate moment the young lady was nabbed off the street – much to her surprise and the surprise of those around her. The lovers sped out of sight in the race car driven by Bob’s experienced chauffeur.
The police were called, the kidnap was reported in newspapers the story went viral (pre social media days!). When the couple returned, the girl declared publicly that she had gone of her own free will; her parents gave the marriage their blessing.
Bob was happy too, her garage got a lot of free publicity. Never one to miss an opportunity, she advertised: “The car which was used to carry off Mademoiselle Le Play was a 16 horsepower Vinot-Deguingand leased from Garage Bob Walter and used by Madame Bob Walter during races in Deauville.”
Madame Bob equipped her fastest car as the “Cupid Car.” It had a little cupid painted on each door and the front was painted deep red – the color of passionate love according to Madame Bob.
The elopement business turned out to be very lucrative for her. Sometimes she got a bonus when a father of the bride would race into her shop wanting to rent the fastest car she had to try and catch his daughter who had been carried off a few hours before in the Cupid Car. Madame Bob would graciously agree to rent him a car and driver as well, but it inevitably had less horsepower than the Cupid Car and the lovers were rarely caught and she was probably the first wedding planner in France!
Margo Lestz blogs at curiousrambler.com and is the author of Curious Histories of Nice, France and French Holidays and Traditions and Curious Histories of Provence