Don’t wake the dead

After some wine, a bunch of us were determined to go on one of Edinburgh’s ghost tours. We milled about St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile, trying to find a tour group to latch onto.

Although a skeptic by nature, one of my greatest guilty pleasures is watching television shows about ghosts (especially when they use those recordings). So I was a bit disappointed when our tour turned out to focus not on outlandish second-hand accounts, but rather on the torturous and gory punishments for criminals in 18th-century Edinburgh.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – I’m A Ghost

But when there weren’t in-depth presentations of torture tools, there were some interesting stories that I filed away in the “did-you-know?!” folder of my brain. We went by an old cemetery, where centuries ago people had often (apparently more often than you’d think) been buried alive because of (very) poor medical knowledge.

They started tying a string around the fingers of the bodies, which was attached to a bell above ground. So if you woke up underground and in a coffin, you could ring for rescue, and thus be “saved by the bell.” And I had always thought that phrase referred to school (and Zack Morris).

Guards – Don’t Wake the Dead

And Did You Know that the origin of the term “shit-faced drunk” allegedly comes from Edinburgh? Before plumbing, there was a designated time in the late evening for everyone to pour out their chamber pots into the street. A town caller would yell out a warning, the windows would open and the streets would clear. Except for the drunks, who would look up in confusion at the sound of the warning and receive a face full of nasty.

Reading Rainbow – Underground

We also ventured down into the “vaults,” where homeless and impoverished people would live in the dirty brick tunnels. Finally, things got a little creepy, and the highlight was when someone planted in the tour group screamed during a particularly quiet part of the tour. This resulted in perfect strangers grabbing one another in terror, and then awkwardly having to see one another when back outside in the street lights (and surrounded by shit-faced University of Edinburgh students).


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