EDINBURGH -- It's Halloween. The ghosts and goblins are out -- especially in Scotland's capital, a city with more than its fair share of spooky tales and places. Beyond the iconic attractions -- Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum and the Royal Yacht Britannia -- are several horror-themed pubs, a very scary graveyard, and streets and alleys where creepy serial murderers and villains from days gone by once plied their trade.
Popular year-round, you can learn more about these places on an informative guided walk with Sandemans New Europe Tours, which covers several of the city's highlights -- and lowlights. If you're really lucky, Alan Sharp -- author of A Grim Almanac of Edinburgh -- may be your guide.
BURKE AND HARE
This pair's horrible deeds were committed almost 200 years ago but their story is still recounted today. The tale of two Irish immigrants who made a living selling corpses to medical schools in 1820s Edinburgh was turned into a film -- 2010's black comedy Burke And Hare -- and a hit musical Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare by Canadian Joseph Aragon. The play was first staged at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in 2009 and more recently by Theatre 20 last month at Toronto's Panasonic Theatre.
The first body the pair sold was of a man who died of natural causes, but the money was so good they got hooked and began hastening the death of unsuspecting innocents. In all, they murdered 16 people before authorities cut a deal with William Hare to rat on his friend and collaborator William Burke.
Hare was released. Burke was found guilty and hung. Walking tours of the city will point out streets and pubs with a connection to the murderous duo.
So many unusual experiences have been reported at this cemetery that it was once featured on TV's Scariest Places on Earth. Some visitors say they have emerged with injuries, such as cuts, bruises and bites after walking through one section of the grounds known as Covenanters' Prison. In a different part of the cemetery, the restless spirit of "Bloody" George Mackenzie, buried in 1691, has been blamed for similar injuries. In the 1800s, grave-robbing was a problem in Edinburgh and Greyfriars still contains features designed to deter resurrectionists: Enclosed vaults with protective stone walls or iron railings, and mortsafes -- low ironwork cages built over gravesites.
BRODIE'S DOUBLE LIFE
Author Robert Louis Stevenson's macabre novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was inspired by a real Edinburgh resident named William "Deacon" Brodie, who led a double life. Considered an upright citizen, no one ever suspected Brodie was also a serial thief. The cabinetmaker was often trusted with the keys to client's homes. He would make a copy, wait a few months (to dispel suspicion), then return and help himself to their valuables, always locking door on the way out!
An increasing number of victims wanted answers and an investigation was ordered. But the man put in charge of finding the culprit was none other than Brodie himself. Fueled by overconfidence, Brodie was finally nabbed trying to rob the Excise office. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang on Oct. 1, 1788, at the Tollbooth in Edinburgh. The tale still resonates in the city with at least two establishments (a pub and a cafe) named after the disreputable character.
The story of Brodie's double life is the subject of a wall mural inside what is now the Deacon's House Cafe, the site of Brodie's former workshop,= and home. The house has one of the oldest ceilings in Edinburgh dating to 1420.
If you can't get to Edinburgh anytime soon, perhaps you can check out the musical Jekyll & Hyde, which comes to Toronto next month. The new production of the four-time Tony Award nominated play runs for a limited engagement Nov. 14-18 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.
-- Tollbooth Tavern is said to be the most haunted in the city. Originally a tollbooth built in 1591, it later served as a jail, where many innocent people were wrongly detained and brutally treated. Others were branded before being sentenced to hard labour and shipped off to Caribbean plantations. Many patrons find the rear section of the pub, which was built as housing in the 1700s, to be the most eerie.
-- The Jekyll and Hyde is one of several horror-themed pubs in New Town. It is decorated with gargoyles, skeletons and winged demons, and the toilets are hidden behind imitation bookcases.
-- The world famous Frankenstein 1818 pub, with three floors and three bars, bills itself as Edinburgh's No. 1 monster party venue. The Halloween extravaganza tonight (Oct. 31) features monster tunes from the last four decades and a live Rocky Horror show with Dr. Frank 'N' Furter and prizes for the best dressed. Open daily.
NEED TO KNOW
For general tourism information, check the Visit Scotland website at Visitscotland.com or Edinburgh.org. For walking tours of Edinburgh, check Sandemans New Europe tours at Neweuropetours.eu. The tours are free but donations are welcomed.