If you couldn’t tell by the title, it was a long and eventful day. We started at Edinburgh castle, which for centuries had been a military base and royal residence. The castle was the center of tension between Scottish and English monarchies, and whoever held power over the castle at the time was who had power over Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland. Consequently, there were battles being fought on or around the territory fairly often. This castle had a great deal of history behind it, and it was evident as we walked through the grounds. The most interesting part of the castle that I experienced were the prisoners quarters. Along with the reconstruction of what the holding cells would have looked like, there was also a section displaying artifacts from the original cells—among these were a group of doors with collections of carvings in them. One of the plaques beside the display summarized the piece, stating that the graffiti carved into the doors were the expressions of the prisoners identities and feelings. Looking closely at the doors, you could make out carvings of ships, names of prisoners, portrayals of scenes, and even an early version of the American flag.
Following our castle adventures we headed over to the EIFF Guild Cinema Filmhouse, where we heard from their deputy director, Diane Henderson. Diane was passionate and knowledgable as she shared with us the process of determining films for the festival, the difference in festivals, and the history of it all. Prior to her speaking with us, I had no idea of the overwhelming presence of film in the city, and she explained to us why it was so prominent. Ironically, the reasoning tied back to our first visit of the day. The area became popular in the arts community due to its political unrest, and the art created was a response to and way of coping with was happening in the city. Diane reinforced the power that film has over its community and its audience. Film is everlasting and versatile. It can address serious topics such as anti-terrorism or it can transport you into a fantasy world or it can be a source of cheer and celebration. She shared with us the history of films in Scotland specifically, stating that it had deep roots in the making of documentaries. Lastly, during her Q&A portion, she gave some advice to a student seeking a career in film: networking is everything. She spoke intently on the importance of creating human connection and solidifying interactions. The film industry is one giant web, and you never know which connection could make a difference.
Now onto the most intriguing part of the title: the dead. My friends and I dared to partake in an underground ghost tour of Edinburgh. Our tour guide informed us of the history of the area, specifically the vaults we were entering. The vaults were built during the time of expansion in Edinburgh, accompanying the construction of two bridges whose purposes were to connect the growing university to the rest of the city. Under the bridges was intended to be Edinburgh’s first indoor shopping area. However, after the construction process was rushed and the tunnels were unable to be waterproofed, sludge and other remnants of the street above began seeping through the stone. The plans of a market were quickly abandoned. The vacant area soon became the destination for Edinburgh’s own version of a red light district.
It quickly became unsafe and therefore not willing to be patrolled by local law enforcement, since it was popular at that time for acid or other chemicals to be thrown on guards entering the tunnels. It was not long before the area was an underground slum, with overwhelming amounts of disease and death plaguing the population there. Children at this time were practically the equivalent of objects, and our guide spoke of the horrible treatment they often endured. The most gruesome and unpopular job at the time was a chimney sweep, and children as young as four were enlisted for this job. The children would be covered in lard and shoved down chimneys, emerging with layers of soot covering their bodies. Lard was expensive at the time, so the children would walk around with the residue on their bodies for weeks so it was able to get its full use. There were children that were not as lucky, as they did not make it out of the chimneys without assistance. The assistance they would be given would be the tying of ropes to their shoulders as the men running the business would yank them either up or down to get them out. It was also common for the men to light fires in the chimneys to “persuade” the children to wiggle their way out. One of the most infamous examples of their horrible treatment was when a pair of men running the business attempted to lessen the possibility for error by tying ropes to both the shoulders and waist of the child chimney sweep, so they would be able to pull them out from either side. The incident occurred when a child got stuck and both men pulled their ropes, snapping the child’s spine. The real trouble arose when it was discovered that the men were found continuing to use the body of the dead child to clean chimneys days after.
After this disturbing retelling, we made our way into the next vault. We walked through the pitch dark, only with the candle being held by the tour guide as a source of light. When you were able to catch a glimpse of the area we were in, you could see strings of slime and sludge hanging from and coating the walls of the vaults. At our next stopping point we were told the history of one of the ghosts documented as being encountered in the area we were standing. Continuing on the fact that children were mere objects in this time, our guide talked about what happened to babies that were born in this area. If women did not have abortions, they often paid to have them taken away, the baby takers promising to give them to better homes where they can be happy and healthy. As soon as the babies were taken from their mothers, they were killed and disposed of, merely being pawns for profit. These were dark times.
We then moved to what was said to be the location of all documented paranormal encounters within the vaults. The area was dark and cold, and as we walked in an uneasy presence fell over the group. The single candle was still the only source of light. At this point in the tour, a woman from the group fell ill and requested to be led out immediately. Once our guide returned, he told us of the most sinister of encounters in the vaults. Some years ago, a woman and her young child were in one of the tour groups. Standing toward the back, the young girl vanished unknowingly. After investigation throughout the tunnel, the mom and tour guide found her scared to silence in the corner of the room. She said she had been grabbed fiercely by a hand with long sharp nails that felt slimy and cold as she dragged into the dark corner. Upon examination of the child, there were bloody crescent shaped marks on the back of her hand. A hush fell over our group as we stood in the very spot this had occurred, nearly in the pitch dark. After this, our tour guide explained that for us to truly observe the paranormal, we had to sit in darkness and silence and wait. He then blew out the candle, leaving us to the dark and whatever else might have been in those vaults.