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Headless Heroes 

The guillotine stays busy during Soulard Bastille Days, but the "carnage" is all in good fun

These days, if we want to depose a president we can just impeach him or send a zaftig female intern his way, but once upon a time, when the people called for a ruler's head, they really meant it.

Get back that warm, fuzzy feeling of attending a public decapitation at the annual Soulard Bastille Days festival.

The fun starts Friday night, when a horse-drawn cart bearing costumed impersonators of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette rolls through the Soulard neighborhood, beginning near Nadine's, 12th Street and Allen Avenue. Between stops at various bars, where the king and queen toss back their final Budweisers, the noisy parade of royals, grubby peasants and musicians advances to the guillotine.

"We have a band called Joia that leads the procession," explains Marie Antoinette portrayer Katy Lashmett (who has been "executed" five times). "As we go from bar to bar, we pick up more peasants, and finally we make it down to Soulard Market Park, where they behead us. We have a crowd of angry peasants that follows us, shouting for our heads to be taken. They call us names."

And how does the queen respond to this mockery? "We say, 'Let them eat cake!' and we throw snack cakes and Mardi Gras beads."

When the carriage arrives at the park, the noble couple is brought onstage and clamped into a two-person guillotine with an extra-wide tinfoil blade (a doubleheader, you might say). A town crier reads a list of their supposed crimes, and the black-hooded executioner releases the rope. Big Bertha drops down, two cabbages wearing wigs fall into a basket and the bloodthirsty horde cheers.

Ah, ritual. It's much more satisfying than watching Richard Nixon flash the victory sign and fly off in a helicopter. Soulard Bastille Days includes a 6:30 p.m., Friday, July 13 street parade; a 7 p.m. beheading at Soulard Market Park, Eighth Street and Lafayette Avenue; and a 7:30 p.m. wine tasting ($12 admission). Saturday, July 14, events include an 8 a.m. flea market and a free noon blues concert featuring four bands. Sunday, July 15, events include the 9 a.m. Tour de Soulard bike race and noon volleyball tournament. Call 314-865-1994 for more info.

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