Ferdinand Cheval was born the son of peasants in the tumultuous, newly democratic France. But as an old man, he became proprietor of a palace fit for a king—one he built stone-by-stone with his own two hands.
Cheval was born in 1836 in Charmes, France, and he chose to serve his small community as a postman. By the age of 43, he was living in Hauterives, a small town about 30 miles from Lyon, and was traveling an 18-mile mail route by foot each day.
It was during these walks that he began fantasizing about how to break the monotony of daily life. ”[C]onstantly walking in the same surroundings what could I do but dream?” he’d later write proudly in his autobiography. “[T]o change my mind, I used to build a fairy-like palace beyond imagination with all that the genius of a humble man could conceive.”