This was originally posted in August 2019 based on my recollection of that week. Afterwards a number of people corrected me that it was the 6 minute Louvre and supplied links to a 1990 Buchwald column similar to my account. Just recently someone forwarded me a copy of a 1965 colume (see below). Perhaps Art Buchwald was inspired by the interest in American Jim Ryun that Summer. He also dropped one of the four pieces of art. Perhaps time fogs all recollections, even those in print.
Shortly after graduating high school the summer of 1965 found me in Paris visiting a Parisian exchange student, Jean Paul that had spent some time with my family the year before. At the same time a classmate of mine was also in Paris with her parents. For a few days Jean Paul, Beth and I hung out together racing around Paris in Jean Paul’s Citron 3.
Evenings usually found us in the park that cascades down the hill in front of Sacre Coeur. It was a gathering place for young people that included British rockers all decked out in their Union Jack clothing and spiked hair, American hippies, Algerian revolutionaries and Parisian rebels. It was full of guitar music, discussions about the Algerian freedom fight, the Vietnam war, art and our future. Often conversations travelled through three or four languages to include everyone and American and British rock songs were sung with a multitude of accents. The evenings broke up when the Gendarmes swept down the hillside with batons swinging to clear the park.
After that was bar hopping through Montmartre and Pigalle often stopping at street vendors selling french fries and mustard.
We slept late every day but did fit in some sightseeing here and there. Around that time Art Buchwald, an American humorist was in Paris and wrote a column in the American Times of Paris titled Breaking The Four Minute Louvre. It was shortly after American Jim Ryun was the first high school student to break the four minute mile and in the Spring of 1965 running the mile was in the news.
What red-blooded American youth visiting Paris could walk away from that challenge? The three of us accepted and while we were slightly hindered by being chased by museum guards we finished in a little over seven minutes. Getting lost could easily double your time and it was easy to do. I understand that the Louvre had to put up with crazy, running young people for most of that summer.
I actually met Art Buchwald in 1972 at a meeting of college newspapers in D.C. and asked him about that column. He laughed and said the French really have no sense of humor at all and he may still be persona non grata in Paris. Their loss.
Tongue in cheek, Buchwald claimed that the worlds largest art collection actually contained only four pieces really worth seeing. Of course they included Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, but also Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (often called Venus on the Half Shell), the Winged Victory (a masterpiece of Greek sculpture, called the Winged Victory of Samothrace) and the Venus di Milo (an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture). They were each in different galleries in the Louvre and Buchwald’s column claimed that nobody had yet entered the Louvre, looked at each piece and exited the museum in under four minutes, but the new record was near. It was a funny image offered up to American tourists visiting Paris but it had unintended consequences.
A Copy of the 1965 article
4-MINUTE LOUVRE IS A RECORD NEVER TO FALL
The American Times of Paris 17 July 1965
I went back to Paris a few weeks ago to celebrate the anniversary of the running of the four-Minute Louvre, fifteen years ago, a young American student named Peter Stone broke the four-Minute Louvre and brought glory and honor to American tourists everywhere.
It is common knowledge that there are only four things worth seeing in the Louvre. They are the Venus de Milo, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, the Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa. The rest of the stuff is all junk. Tourists go to see those four works and then rush out to continue their shopping in Paris. Before World War II, the record for going through the Louvre was five minutes and 30 seconds, held by a man known as the Swedish Cannonball. After the war an Englishman, paced by his Welsh wife, did it in five minutes flat. Soon everyone started talking about a Four-Minute Louvre.
Thus it was in 1950 that the young Peter Stone went in while thousands cheered, ran around the Venus de Milo, up past the Winged Victory, down to the Mona Lisa. You always have to say something when you look at the Mona Lisa. Peter’s famous remark was, “I know the guy who has the original,” and then he drove away in a waiting taxi. Peter did it in three minutes and 56 seconds, a record that still stands.
As I stood in the courtyard of the palace looking around me at the seasoned veterans who had come back, I recalled the ’50s and thought, “When it came to sightseeing, we were the best and the brightest.”
“Give me a pair of PF Flyers and I could do it,” my son said.
“It doesn’t help what kind of shoes you wear when there are now escalators all over the museum. The French always had a fear that an American would beat the four-Minute Louvre, and they did everything to confuse us. That’s why they would point you in the direction of the Mona Lisa, and you’d wind up in the salle displaying 22 armless and headless Roman statues. Peter broke the record because he refused to take any directions from museum guards.”
A man came up to me and stuck out his hand, “My name’s Gerry Tornplast. I was on Thomas Cook Tour Number 230 when it happened. The French didn’t think we could do it, but we proved that when you have a strong dollar and a weak franc, an American can achieve anything.”
My son asked, “Wasn’t there something else you wanted to see in the Louvre?”
“There was nothing. You have to remember, son, in those days the American tourist was strapped for time.”
I continued, “The halls still echo with Stone’s voice, as he broke into the sunlight, saying, `There isn’t a museum in the world that can keep me inside for very long.’ “