A Song Maybe Ghosts Know

What mental images come to mind if you listen to this song?

For me, despite the happy tune, I associate this with a haunting memory. I first encountered this song in my childhood. My restlessness had me channel surfing. As I was flipping through TV scenes and repeatedly pressing the button, I stopped when I realized what was happening: stones floating by themselves and building a bridge, ghostly crowds with transfixed gazes moving in circles. They seemed to be dancing to a song. But, to the kid that I was, it seemed wrong to dance to a funeral march. Then again, it sounded like it was played by Lurch of the Addams Family.

Now, fast forward to this year, when I began to remember that song and TV show again.

Thankfully, my search validated my memories. What I saw years ago was an episode of “The Real Story of…”, a cartoon series created by CINAR Animation and France Animation. It aired in the Philippines during the early 90s. Unfortunately, I cannot find any copies of the series, much less the episode anywhere online. There are a few individuals who are on the same search as me but came up empty-handed as well.

What is the song about?

Sur le Pont d’Avignon
On y danse, On y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
On y danse tous en rond

Although “The Real Story of Sur le Pont d’Avignon” is a work of fiction, the setting is real: Pont d’Avignon, also known as Pont Saint-Bénézet, is a bridge found in Avignon in southern France. Its namesake is, according to legend, a young shepherd instructed by God to build a bridge between the years 1177 and 1185. Upon its completion, it connected Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. During the Albigensian Crusade or Cathar Crusade (1209–1229), Louis VIII besieged Avignon and brought ruin to the original bridge. When Pont d’Avignon was rebuilt, it had 22 new arches. The river Rhône, which the bridge spanned, would sometimes overflow and the floods destroyed the bridge. The repairs were costly and the wooden sections were continuously washed away by high waters. So when another catastrophe hit the bridge in circa 1668-1669, it was decided to leave the bridge unrepaired. All that is left of it now are four of its arches. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has classified it as a World Heritage Site.

Français: Pont Saint-Bénézet vu du Rhône; Author: KIWILY; Source: Wikimedia Commons
Français: Pont Saint-Bénézet vu du Rhône; Author: KIWILY; Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, the song that immortalized the bridge,  “Sur le Pont d’Avignon, was written some centuries later; different sources put its creation between the 15th and 17th century. Like Pont d’Avignon, the song now is different from what it was then. The melody of the song first appeared in Ottaviano Petrucci’s Harmonice Musices Odhecaton; Pierre Certon took the same melody and reworked it as a mass, bearing the title “Sus (sic) le Pont d’Avignon”, translated as “Under the Pont d’Avignon”.

Comparing the original and modern versions is like looking at night and day. The modern version appeared sometime in the 19th century. Historians credit Adolphe Adam and the opéra comique Le Sourd ou l’Auberge pleine (The Deaf Man or the Full Inn) for spreading the version that most people know, as well as the title most people associate with it: “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” (“On the Pont d’Avignon”).

One small word – a preposition – gives the song a world of difference, resulting sometimes to argument.

Pont d’Avignon is only 2.5 meters/8 feet wide. The bridge was meant to transport donkey- and horse-drawn carts; it doesn’t offer large space for a round to happen. But, beneath the expanse of the bridge is an island named Île de la Barthelasse, a place for people’s picnics, meetings, and dances. My guess is that, with current state of the Pont d’Avignon no longer reaching far as it did, the change of the title is the way to cope with the times: carts and animals don’t pass along the bridge but people still gather on what they now resembles a pier, still with a song that maybe even ghosts know.

Now if only I could see the whole episode and put some of my questions to rest.

Français: Sur le pont d'Avignon, lithographie coloriée, papier (matière); Author: imprimerie Pellerin (fondée en 1736); Source: Wikimedia Commons
Français: Sur le pont d’Avignon, lithographie coloriée, papier (matière); Author: imprimerie Pellerin (fondée en 1736); Source: Wikimedia Commons

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Peter says:

    Hey, earlier in the year I went went through the same search for the episode. I watched it when I was younger, the hooded figures and the jester creeped me out and started searching. I finally tracked a copy down in French and bought the DVD off the amazon website, with the link below. It’s all in French without subtitles but there’s no mistake that’s the same Sur Le Pont d’Avignon and equally as haunting. Merry Christmas.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. WOW! That’s a great find. Can barely understand French though.
      I’m glad that are people like you who remember the show. Have a good trip down memory lane. And happy holidays!


  2. Ishvard says:

    2018 now.
    I’ve been whistling this song since childhood and didn’t know why. Recently the memories about this cartoon kicked in and i’ve been on the hunt for quite a while, before finding this.
    Glad to know there’s still people looking for it.
    I’ll try to buy it and see if it’s as spooky as i remember, i’ll let you know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!


  3. Sondre says:

    I know this is an old blogpost, but I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been searching for this animation for almost 8 years.
    It really haunted me when I was a kid, and I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell it was called. I have that now, but I still can’t seem to find it.

    I’m glad it wasn’t just me who got messed up by it tho, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Prismillon says:

    Hi! I just found your post and wanted to let you know that I found the video you’re talking about on VHS. It seems it’s nowhere to be found, so I uploaded it to YT. Unfortunately, it has Polish dubbing, but better that that nothing 🙂 https://youtu.be/l8v-88_DCuU https://youtu.be/x5nlPP6lPYo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Helaku says:

    I bought and can confirm that “Raconte-moi… mes comptines préférées, vol. 1” DVD does contain the episode “Sur le Pont D’Avignon” from the beautiful series Real story of… (Raconte-moi in French).
    Unfortunately, I think the song that is played during the scene with the falling bridge it’s different from what I’ve remember it; maybe the english version have different sountrack for that scene or when I first saw it on Cartoon Network I was too little to remember perfectly now; when you are very young you can remeber some things differently, hehehe.
    Good review by the way!


    1. Thanks! Maybe it is different. I’m sure my memory doesn’t recall the song note for note.


  6. helaku says:

    And I was correct.

    I’ve found part 1 and 2 from the english version but dubbed in polish unfortunately; you can still hear the soundtrack 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the link. If I strain my hearing enough, I could hear the English dub just beneath the Polish dub. It’s nice to hear it again. Somehow. XD


      1. Prismillon says:

        Yeah, I found it on an old VHS and uploaded it some time ago (Prismillon is my account). Unfortunately only in Polish…


  7. Simon says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8v-88_DCuU – part 1 of the full episode (dubbed in polish but you can still hear the english voices)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5nlPP6lPYo – part 2 of the full episode (dubbed in polish but you can still hear the english voices)

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Raconte-moi-mes-comptines-pr%C3%A9f%C3%A9r%C3%A9es-vol/dp/B000JJRAUU/ – DVD that contains the full episode of Real Story of Sur le Pont D’Avignon (dubbed in french but the soundtrack is different than the english version; don’t know why ???)

    Best regards!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lauren says:

    This is amazing! I saw the last 10 minutes of this cartoon on a rainy autumn evening in 1994 when I was 9. It was so strange and haunting, it stuck with me ever since. I randomly thought of it again the other day, and decided to do some Googling. What a great find to stumble across your blog and read your experience that was so similar to my own!

    And, thanks to another commenter here, I was actually able to see the animation again on YouTube! So interesting to see how shifting from a minor to a major key changes the whole feel of a song!

    Thanks for the memories, friends!

    Liked by 1 person

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