Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mary King's Close, Part I : The Haunted Close

The area around Mary King's Close, from an 18th century engraving.

I think the first time I even heard about Edinburgh, Scotland, what I was really being told of was the famous Mary King's Close, a supposedly haunted underground complex beneath the city, where the miserable spirits of wretched poor still wander their old abodes. I forget whether the rumor of plague victims being bricked up inside the close was part of what I had heard at the time or not -- it seems to be a common myth about the site nonetheless -- but definitely the miserable state of the town's paupers during the 17th century was an aspect of some importance in the story as it was being told. With the poorest of the poor living underground in its particularly wretched conditions, it was said to be known as "The Street of Sorrows."

When I visited Edinburgh for the first time in 2001, Mary King's Close was -- much to my disappointment -- not open to the public. However, on my 2012 visit I found things had changed. Now there is a guided tour given by someone in costume speaking with very theatrical Scottish accent, showing everyone who arranges it around Mary King's Close (or in fact, several remains of closes that include Mary King's.)

Edinburgh during the time of Mary King

A "close" is, for those who don't know, a sort of old-style Scottish alley. Mary King's was but one of many, during a time when Edinburgh was a tightly compacted city on a hilltop. Due to the need for space, the buildings often were built up several stories tall -- high as the technology of the time could allow -- and with underground basement levels also making the most of the location. Street level apartments were the most desirable and were inhabited by the wealthiest people, while the middle classes lived on upper levels. The poorest people lived in the dismal underground parts of the buildings, which were undesirable for their bad ventilation, bad lighting, and their tendency to soak up the mud and sewage created by the residents above.

Closes were usually known and named for important residents who lived there or for notable businesses located within -- Fisherman's Close, Advocate's Close and Jackson's Close are some of the local samples. According to the tour, Mary King was the daughter of a wealthy advocate named Alexander King. She married a Burgess and upon his death inherited his title; this unusual position for a woman was evidently enough to make her the best-known property owner on her block, causing the close to be named for her.

It appears that the first definite claim of hauntings in this close is recorded around the 1680s, in the book "Satan's Invisible World Discovered." The story reeks of urban legend, much like the tale of the cannibal wigmaker at Rue de la Harpe -- no names are given and the story contains details that seem unlikely for anyone to have actually witnessed. It tells of a married couple who move into a house at which ghostly events have already been detected by the neighbors, but who ignore the warnings and take up the residence nonetheless.
"As the Mistriss was reading to her self, she chanced to cast her eye to the little Chamber Door just over against her, where she spyed the head and face of an old man gray headed with a gray Beard, looking straight upon her [...] Then she told her husband what was done, and what she had seen, the Apparition being evanished. [...] After supper, both being alone, the good-wifes fear still continuing, she built on a large Fire, and went to bed. After a little time, the Good-man casts his eye toward the chimney and spyed that same old-mans-head in the former place."
The story goes on to tell how a spectral child, a disembodied arm and a ghostly dog and cat followed by "small creatures" also appeared to them. I have seen it speculated that since Mary King's Close ran nearer than any other close to the old Nor' Loch marsh (now drained), swamp gas may have been getting into the tunnel and causing these ghostly-seeming lights and shapes. It is claimed that the reports of otherworldly visions seemed to have stopped abruptly once the Loch was drained in the 18th century. Nevertheless, the reputation for ghostly happenings was already established, and eventually visions of ghosts were replaced with 'sensing' of ghosts. In the 1990s a Japanese psychic famously claimed to make contact with the spirit of a little girl who had been abandoned in the close; the spirit complained that she had lost her doll, and so to appease her, the psychic bought a Barbie and left it for her. It has since become traditional to leave toys and money (to be donated to a children's hospital) in this room.

Other stories are that the close is haunted by 17th century plague victims who were either bricked in and left to die or whose bodies were cremated and used to make plaster for the walls of the houses, or that the close was used to hack up bodies of plague victims to make them easier to transport. Less dramatically, it's been said that hanging around in certain rooms one could still hear ghostly sounds of people living their everyday lives -- even when the close hadn't been inhabited for a century. Whatever the nature of the haunting, this place had a reputation for ghostly activity for a long time.

The close was inhabited and was a lively street for over two centuries, being located a hop skip and a jump from the town's Mercat Cross and just across the narrow street from the Luckenbooths; but in the 1750s many residents were chased out to make room for the Royal Exchange (now City Chambers) constructed next door. In the late 19th century the final inhabitants were forced out by further construction, and much of the close was destroyed; however, a certain underground section still remains, and it has become a very popular tourist attraction.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Getty Museum

I recently went to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for the first (and sadly probably last) time, due to circumstances. But still, one of the top art museums in the world! Here are a few highlights of things I saw:

Starry Night by Edvard Munch.

Faun and his Family by Lucas Cranach -- I think this one might contain mummy black for the black portions.

Still Life with Fruit by Jan van Huysum -- it's hard to see in this miniature version, but there are insects crawling all over the fruit and flowers in this picture.

Christ on the Cross by El Greco.

Astronomer by Candlelight by Gerrit Dou -- this thing is amazingly small for how detailed it is.

I've seen some other fantastic museums around the world lately as well. Stay tuned for tales of the Louvre and the Victoria and Albert!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Black Tea: To Match Your Soul

Stripy Tights posted an article a while back about how tea has become a Goth obsession.

What I didn't realise until, well, today, was that apparently I'm not the only black-clad spookster with a tea fetish. Is it the associations with elegance and grandeur? Paying homage to your British Gothy ancestors of the 70s and 80s? Is it all Emilie Autumn's fault? I don't know. But it seems like all of a sudden, dark culture has gone batty over tea. o.O

It's true. Jhonen Vasquez has been drinking the stuff for years, like the above mentions Emilie Autumn is into it (enough that my niece who is obsessed with her tried to take up tea drinking just on her behalf), I've been drinking it by the gallon since my teens to we know it's as goth as anything else I've blogged about round these parts... tea!

My favorite place from which to order unusual teas is the Upton Tea Company. I worked in a tea shop for a time, you see, and this was where the cafe got its stock from. Little trade secret there. I also got the best Earl Grey (Creme) I've yet tried from Teavana. (I also highly recommend their Cha Yen.) Of the grocery store brands, Twinings and Stash are consistently good: I rate Twinings to have the best Irish Breakfast, and Stash to have the best Chai Spice. (I also like Celestial Seasonings but, dammit, they keep discontinuing the black teas I like!) Trader Joe's may have the best English Breakfast.

Another Goth friend of mine also gave this interesting recipe she made at home: combine pomegranate white tea and oolong tea bags, steep, and add vanilla extract. Sweeten or add cream as desired.

For excellent chai, use the Stash Chai Spice: brew two bags in a quart of boiling water till water is dark and flavorful. Add half a can of evaporated whole milk and sugar to taste.

Of course, black tea has lots of beautiful caffeine to keep you awake till dawn, like a good little night owl.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dramatic Gothic Cosmetic Makeup Tutorial

A lengthy video, but given the drama and intensity of the makeup look, it is perhaps warranted...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rue de la Harpe

I have posted before about Sweeney Todd and the discovery that Rue de la Harpe was the original location of the story. Some photos of the real Rue de la Harpe have now been added!

Also, I caught the following video of the mentioned Sweeney Todd reenactment toy to be found at Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood:


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Way To Smile Without Having to Carve It Into Your Flesh

So Goth you haven't cracked a smile in your whole life? Well, contrary to the reputation, most of the morbidly minded do in fact have a sense of humor. I've been enjoying myself lately over at Smiles Guaranteed, somebody's tumblr list of amusing images and quotes.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Extra Horrifying Artwork for Edgar Allen Poe

In 1919, everyone wanted a copy of the deluxe edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination, but not because it was bound in vellum with real gold lettering. It was because of these grim and gorgeous illustrations by Harry Clarke, which added an extra dose of horror to Poe's already terrifying tales.
i09 features some excellent illustrations from this book -- they're like Edward Gorey meets Aubrey Beardsley, except even more goreiffic.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Make Your Own White Makeup

If you want that gothic/vampire white face, here's a site with some recipes old enough that the likes of Elizabeth Bathory actually could have probably used them. Madame Isis' Toilette features recipes for beauty products, mostly dating to the 18th century. Amongst them, she has recipes for homemade White Makeup, modernized to be skin-safe. If you are after that perfect soulless white look, as well as an evening's entertainment in cooking it up, this might be the place for you!

Monday, July 9, 2012

James Shirley: Poet

James Shirley was born in London in 1596. He belonged to the great period of English dramatic literature, but is sadly known not so much for his genius as he is for simply being "the last of a great race, all of whom spoke nearly the same language and had a set of moral feelings and notions in common." Like many men of his era he wrote both plays and poetry. Shirley was born to great dramatic wealth, and he handled it freely. He constructed his own plots out of the abundance of materials that had been accumulated during thirty years of unexampled dramatic activity. He did not strain after novelty of situation or character, but worked with confident ease and buoyant copiousness on the familiar lines, contriving situations and exhibiting characters after types whose effectiveness on the stage had been proved by ample experience. He spoke the same language with the great dramatists, it is true, but this grand style is sometimes employed for the artificial elevation of commonplace thought. "Clear as day" becomes in this manner "day is not more conspicuous than this cunning"; while the proverb "Still waters run deep" is ennobled into — "The shallow rivers glide away with noise — The deep are silent." The violence and exaggeration of many of his contemporaries left him untouched. His scenes are ingeniously conceived, his characters boldly and clearly drawn; and he never falls beneath a high level of stage effect.

His first poem, Echo, or the Unfortunate Lovers (of which no copy is known, but which is probably the same as Narcissus of 1646), was put to print in 1618 and his first play, Love Tricks, seems to have been written while he was teaching at St Albans. He moved in 1625 to London, where he lived in Gray's Inn, and for eighteen years from that time he was a prolific writer for the stage, producing more than thirty regular plays, tragedies, comedies, and tragicomedies, and showing no sign of exhaustion... until his career was put to a stop by the Puritan edict of 1642 which closed all public theaters.

On the outbreak of the English Civil War he seems to have served with the Earl of Newcastle, but when the King's fortunes began to decline he returned to London. He owed something to the kindness of Thomas Stanley, but supported himself chiefly by teaching -- for he had an M.A. from Cambridge. He published during the period of dramatic eclipse four small volumes of poems and plays, in 1646, 1653, 1655, and 1659. He "was a drudge" for John Ogilby in his translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and survived into the reign of Charles II, but, though some of his comedies were revived, he did not again attempt to write for the stage. Wood says that he and his second wife died of fright and exposure after the Great Fire of London; Only a few deaths from the fire are officially recorded, and deaths are traditionally believed to have been few, but it's acknowledged that some deaths must have gone unrecorded and that besides direct deaths from burning and smoke inhalation, refugees also perished in the impromptu camps and huddled in shacks or living among the ruins that had once been their homes in the cold winter that followed, including James Shirley and his wife. The two of them were buried at St Giles in the Fields on October 29th, 1666.

We've posted two of Shirley's poems before at Gothica Gothique: Death's Final Conquest and Stay, Cupid.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"This Is Not Goth"

I might argue with some of what this fellow says is not Goth... but the site is still pretty funny at times.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Edwardian Gothic Makeup

This is me testing out my Madame X Makeup look. You can buy the book to get the look, or find out some more information over at the Gibson Girl's Guide to Glamor.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mummy Black Pastels

Saw this at the art supply store the other day:

I doubt these pastels are made from real Caput Mortuum but it is nice to see the name surviving.
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