The Paris Morgue was built in 1864 on the Île de la Cité, one of the two islands in the Seine, [and was] where the bodies of unidentified dead – most of them suicide cases – were displayed on marble slabs for friends or family to identify. This edifice soon became a fixture in the Parisian social round, with tens or hundreds of people shuffling into the morgue to gawk at the dead and gossip over their possible origins and reasons for death.
Each day, from early morning to the evening hour of six, the curious of this earth [were] seen going into and coming away from the ugly pile. Persons out of work are impelled by curiosity to go and see the “macchabées,” as the exposed corpses are termed in local slang; but others go to seek on the cold, bare slabs for the body of some dear one who departed this life by suicide or was the victim of an atrocious crime. [Source]
According to Vanessa R. Schwartz’s book, Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris:
…the morgue transformed the banality everyday life by spectacularizing it. To us, looking at dead bodies seems at best an exercise in morbid curiosity. And some of the late nineteenth-century Parisian press did consider the attraction rather morbid. Yet, as cultural critic Jay Ruby argued, assuming morbidity as the impulse to represent death merely reflects “our culturally encouraged need to deny death.” In fact, although the morgue clearly displayed dead bodies, the discussion of the popularity of public visits to the Paris Morgue generally placed it outside the death-related and morbid topics of its day: cemeteries, slaughterhouses and executions. Instead, the morgue was characterized as “part of the cataloged curiosities of things to see, under the same heading as the Eiffel Tower, Yvete Guilbert, and the Catacombs. [Source]
[With eternal thanks to freckledspace for bringing this particular oddment to my attention]