New York City has a lot of secrets, there's a Soho loft known as the New York Earth Room, which contains nearly a quarter of a million pounds of dirt installed by an artist in 1977. There's a World War One fighter plane sitting on top of a 26 story building on Water Street. And there's even a 25 foot waterfall in a park on East 41st Street between second and Third Avenue. But few are aware that there's a deeper secret one that's tucked away where most will never see it, and it all starts back around 1910 when construction began on Grand Central Terminal.
At the same time, they built a power plant that supplied energy to the terminal and the surrounding tracks, complete with its own set of tracks and a platform so that cargo trains could carry the plant's waste away. But in 1930, the plant was torn down and a hotel was built on the same spot. It was a clean start with everything built from scratch. Well, except for one thing, they left the tracks and the platform underground and even connected it to the hotel by way of an elevator.
And beginning with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, American presidents have used the secret train station hidden away beneath the iconic Waldorf Astoria. There's something powerful about a buried secrets from the legends of pirate treasure beneath the sands of some tropical island to the academic work of tireless archaeologists. The idea that things can be hidden beneath our feet has never been up for dispute. Countless Hollywood adventure films stand as a testament to that. But it goes beyond secret train stations and forgotten public works tunnels over the centuries, humans have learned to use the underground like a tool hiding away more than just treasure from bodies to bunkers.
We've been putting reminders of our own failures and mistakes into the ground, hoping that out of sights can truly be out of mind. Sometimes those things are hidden far away from prying eyes and never see the light of day again. Every now and then, though, someone with the shovel digs in just the right place and forgotten history is uncovered, exposing a story to the world that paints a tragic and sinister picture. And of all the locations with a buried past, few can hold a candle to the dark history of one city in particular, Scotland's very own.
Edinborough. I'm Aaron Manque, and this is Laura. Edinburgh is an old city, in fact, people have been living on or near Castle Rock, that volcanic hill that Edinburgh Castle sits atop for thousands of years. And you can't fully understand Edinburgh's past without understanding that hill millions of years ago, it was much larger, but eventually glaciers passed over it. In the process, they wore away all the softer material and left only the hard, solid contents of the volcano's pipe.
In the process, much of the material that was broken off was dragged in a line away from the hill, creating a sort of tail. And early settlements in Edinborough focused on those two features, the Cragg or Hill and the tale that extends eastward from it. Think of it like a really tall building with a mile long ramp to reach the top. And naturally, that made it a fantastic place to build a castle because its height and inaccessibility made it hard to get to and easier to defend.
Eventually, though, the city expanded beyond the hill and ridge and other means of defense were necessary. So in 14 50, the people of Edinborough started building a massive city wall to keep them safe. Remember, walls by design are meant to keep people out, but they're also an inflexible limitation on the people inside. So as the population grew, they started to feel the crunch for space. Instead of expanding outward, the people of Edinborough built upward by the early 1400's, the city was home to something rarely seen in Europe skyscrapers.
I know we tend to think of those as a purely modern invention, but five centuries ago, there were structures in Edinburgh that stood at least 14 stories high. They didn't hold office space or corporate headquarters, though. No, these towers were tenement buildings. And people didn't just build skyward because of the soft nature of the sandstone beneath the city, it was also common for businesses on the lower level to dig down into the rock, carving out cellars and tunnels.
Most cellars even had cellars beneath them, sometimes three or four layers deep, which is probably why Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson described that area of the city as like a rabbit warren, not only by the number of its dwellers, but by the complication of its passages and holes faced with a limited amount of space. I think it's safe to say that the people of the city got creative.
In 15 13, a new wall was constructed to expand the boundaries of Edinburgh, sort of like buying a larger pair of pants that gave them room to breathe, but only for a little while. As the 16th century went on, that space was quickly filled up with more of the same. And as it did, society began to stratify. The richer you were, the higher up you could live, far above the noise and smell of the filthy streets below.
At some point, though, that wasn't good enough looking for a cleaner place to live. Plans were put in place around seventeen, sixty six to build a new area of the city north of Castle Rock. It became known as Newtown. And when it was completed, the rich moved out of the old town, leaving no one there with the means to keep the streets and buildings safe and clean. Around the same time, a series of five bridges were constructed radiating out from the old town into the regions beyond.
They were wonders of engineering, and they helped create a level road out from the city over the rolling hills and valley. And the main feature of these bridges was their stone archways, archways that quickly became filled with their own unique structures called vaults.
One of the first uses for some of these vaults was as housing for prisoners, the vaults beneath the North Bridge, for example, held impoverished beggars while the Southbridge Vaults served to hold criminals awaiting trial in the sheriff's courts above. But, of course, people found a lot of creative uses for those vault spaces. And over the years, just about everything took place down there in the dark from a cult rituals to wild parties thrown by the rich and powerful.
But the vaults also began to mimic the streets of Old Town above them, filling up with yet more dirty tenement buildings. They were also where the less acceptable businesses were forced to retreat, like brothels and illegal distilleries. These spaces were dark and wet and cold and were constantly plagued by disease and being at the bottom of the city. Geographically speaking, they were also the place where much of the city's refuge and human waste tended to run. Some people rarely saw daylight, thanks to the bridge and buildings above them, those narrow corridors down below were bathed in shadows and darkness.
People would leave their homes early in the morning to work in the mines and then come back in the evening. Having missed a single glimpse of the sun, there was crime and danger and death around every single corner. During the eighteen hundreds fires destroyed much of those dark communities, the first in 1824 and then again in 1861, people would rebuild, conditions would worsen and the cycle would repeat. And each time corners of those vaults and tunnels would eventually get buried or forgotten.
But the world above was changing, too. There were new places for the city to expand and the need to live in the vaults slowly faded as the 19th century came to an end. Soon enough, there was very little left of the Edinburgh underground, but it was still there as long as you knew where to look. Nothing really goes away, the tragedy of the past is a lot like a physical injury, they usually heal, but they often leave a scar, and Edinburgh has its own fair share of scars.
I mentioned the bridges earlier, built in the latter part of the 18th century, but I wanted to go a little deeper on their use is the Edinborough isn't a city built around just one hill. What we can see today actually spans seven of them, although those are much smaller than Castle Rock for sure. And the reason why we can't see them is that those bridges cover them up. At first, they were just bridges, but soon enough buildings were constructed along their sides.
Then over time, the gaps were filled in until eventually it became impossible to see what was below them. Well, that's mostly true because those spaces were used, but we'll get to that in a bit. When the south bridge was completed in 1788, the city planned a big ceremony to open it. There was a woman in the area who was loved by everyone, a socially active widow of a respected judge who also happened to be the oldest person living in the city.
So she was invited to be the first pedestrian to cross the bridge. Sadly, the day before the ceremony, she passed away. It was a setback for the city's plans, but they found a way to make it work. It's recorded that they hired a hearse, placed her coffin inside it, and then carted her body from one end to the other. Aside from the obvious poor taste in using a person's body as a prop in some official ceremony, which I think we can all agree might not have been the best decision, there's also the matter of superstition, knowing that the first person to cross the Southbridge was dead seemed to set a new expectation in the minds of the people who used it.
But life went on for everyone anyway. Buildings were built along the sides of the bridge and businesses moved in, still more set up shop in the vaults below them in the spaces between the stone spans of the bridge itself. But they didn't last long. Those vaults turned out to be inhospitable with water that leaked in bringing unsuitable conditions with its. Within a decade of opening, businesses were already moving out of the Southbridge in their place, the bridge became home to those who had less control over their own safety.
Poor refugees from the Highlands, Irish immigrants wanted criminals and the poorest of Edinborough citizens. And those vaults, hidden away from the prying eyes of the world above became home to rumor and fear. Infamous body snatchers Burke and Hare were said to have used the vaults, although there's no proof of that. Certainly easy to see how it could be true given the shadowy world that existed down there below. What is certain is that despite the horrible conditions and dangerous occupants, those dark and filthy vaults were used as a home by countless people.
In fact, when they were excavated two centuries later, all sorts of objects from normal everyday life were uncovered from buttons and pipes to cooking utensils and toys. But that's not all they left behind, if the story's told over the years are true, there's something else down below the Southbridge. After those excavations were completed in the mid 90s, a number of tours were set up in the vaults, allowing tourists to pass through and experience those dark spaces for themselves.
One vault was even waterproofed and turned into a practice space for musicians, although there were constant, almost supernatural. Some might say issues with lighting. One tourist claimed to feel hands grab her from behind, only to turn around and find no one there. Others have felt cold spots or captured strange orbs in their photographs, although those are admittedly incredibly subjective things that probably tell us more about our willingness to believe than anything else. Still all added up. Those details paint a mysterious picture.
One tourist recalled feeling his backpack being opened while walking through one of the dark tunnels when he turned to see who was trying to rob him. He found no one there at all. Others have claimed to see dark shapes squatting in far corners of the vaults and the overwhelming sensation of being watched.
But few stories illustrate the darkness of the vaults like that of a mother and daughter in the mid 1990s. It said that the mother brought her young daughter on one of those early tours, assuming it would be entertaining and for a while it was. But upon entering one of the larger vaults, the tour guide stopped the group and asked everyone to turn out their lights. It was story time and they wanted to deliver that tale in the dark. As the tour guide told their story, the mother said she felt her daughter reach up and take her hand, holding it unusually tight for someone with such tiny hands.
The entire time the ghost story was echoing through the vaulted space. She took comfort knowing her daughter was there beside her and occasionally squeezed her fingers to reassure the child. When the story was over, the tour guide thanked everyone for playing along and then gave them all permission to turn their lights back on. One by one, flashlights illuminated the darkness, and the mother looked down to smile at her daughter and ask her what she thought of the story. And then she froze.
Her daughter wasn't there. Just seconds before, she had felt that small hand in her own and couldn't understand how the girl could have vanished so quickly in a panic, she spun around looking through the group for a sign of her daughter, but found nothing. And then her gaze wandered farther away over to a shadowy corner on the far side of the vault. They're moving slowly into the darkness, as if being guided by some unseen presence was the shape of a little girl.
The mother quickly retrieves her daughter and they finish the tour without being separated again by the experience, certainly begs a question. If the little girl had wandered so far away. Whose hand had the mother been holding? Not everything started underground all across Edinburgh, there were buildings and neighborhoods that extended up toward the sky and enjoyed a fair amount of daylight. But as time went on, those little glimpses of the sun became more and more rare. The biggest problem was the tendency to place very tall buildings very close together by the 60s, hundreds, that trend had created some very unique streets in the city.
They almost looked like canyons where people could walk along the street below and visit shops and cafes, but the sky seemed miles above them. In fact, it made everything feel enclosed and soon enough that term stuck. A narrow lane at the bottom of a manmade canyon became known as a close. An Edinborough had a number of them, thanks to its dense urban population. Most of the time, a close would be named after a well-known resident, although sometimes it took on the name of a particular trade that was practiced.
Their names, like Skinner's Close Lady Stairs Close and Bishop's close, get that point across clearly. One of the most famous of those tight little lanes was named after a wealthy woman named Mary King. She lived and worked along the Royal Mile back in the 16th 30s, raising her four children by herself after her husband's death and managing to build a thriving textile business. And she was so beloved that her name became permanently attached to the clothes.
In 16, 45, however, something dangerous moved into Edinburgh, the plague, as you might imagine, the combination of infectious disease and close quarters meant that much of the city became deathly ill. There was no space to distance themselves from others, and that helped the plague spread like wildfire. It's estimated that by the time the outbreak was over, there were less than 100 people in Edinburgh that were healthy enough to serve in the town guard. Conditions in Mary King's clothes were so bad that the local authorities literally walled it up, trapping the sick residents inside when the quarantine was lifted two months later, plague doctors put on their beak like masks and broke in and then began the horrifying task of removing the dead.
It said that they used hatchets to cut the bodies into pieces that were easier to carry out, which is why some still refer to the place today as Bloody Marys clothes.
But it's one story in particular that hints at the reputation that narrow lane had developed in eighty five, Scottish writer and mathematician George Sinclair published a collection of stories that were meant to prove the existence of the supernatural world to atheists. And in that book was a story that took place within Mary King's close. As the legend goes, a young woman was seen carrying goods and furnishings into the clothes and was spotted by someone who lived nearby after asking her if she was moving into Mary King's clothes, the young woman nodded.
In fact, she was moving in with a wealthy family there to work as their maid. So the man offered her a warning. If you live there, he told her, I assure you you'll have more company than yourselves. His point was clear. Mary King's clothes was haunted. So be prepared for unusual encounters. And as it happened, that young maid bumped into a number of other people that day who told her the same thing. So after much consideration, she told the lady of the house that she had decided to look elsewhere for work and then went on her way.
Of course, this troubled the lady of the house who went to her husband and asked him to sell the house and move them out of the close, but the man, an attorney named Thomas Coulthart, simply laughed at her and told her to be brave. So his wife pushed the rumors aside and carried on. Not long after, though, she found herself reading in bed one evening when she felt the distinct sensation of being watched, her husband was asleep beside her.
So she scanned the room to see if anyone else might be there. And that's when she noticed the face of the old man. He was gray haired and had a long beard, and somehow only his head was visible, as if it had pushed its way through one of the walls. And then slowly, a long arm appeared below it, reaching out toward her. It said that Mrs. Coulthart passed out at the side of it, but when she awoke in the morning, she told Thomas all about the experience again.
He laughed at her and told her it was all a dream. But later that day, he, too, would understand just how real it was because the face and arm returned. And this time he witnessed it for himself. The couple were said to have spent the entire night in prayer together, begging God to remove the unnatural being from their home. They pleaded with the old man's face and yet nothing sent him away. In fact, things became worse when the couple claimed that a number of unusual animals entered their room and began to dance before them.
But somehow they held on and remained in their home through the night. The following morning, neither of them were laughing anymore. In fact, they had begun to think about moving away to find a safer home elsewhere, but they would never have time to do so. Just days later, the man was found dead at home with no sign of physical injuries. It would be fair to assume that something else finally got to him.
Thomas Coulthart, it seems, had been frightened to death. In the years that followed, conditions in Mary King's clothes only grew worse. Soon enough, it became impossible to rent out apartments in the neighborhood because of the rumors of the hauntings. And so the city tried offering homes free of charge. Even then, it was a hard sell. In 1750, a fire ripped through the clothes, destroying many of the tallest buildings, and the city quickly moved in to take advantage of the opportunity.
They removed the damaged tops of many of the tallest buildings in the close and then built a brand new structure on top of them. The royal exchange was meant to be a merchant center, but by 1811 it had transitioned into the home of the city council. Today, it's known as the city chambers. But no matter what the place is called, its foundation is more than dark. You see in the process of building the royal exchange, Mary King's clothes was essentially walled off.
It was still accessible, but not easily. And that restricted the flow of residents and businesses who once called the place home in to the last known residence of the close sail maker named Andrew Chesney was forced out by the city and the neighborhood was lost to time. But it's not entirely gone today, it's one of the most popular parts of Edinburgh's underground to take a tour of having been reopened in 2003 at a number of people who work in the city chambers above, have reported their own encounters with the ghosts of merry kings.
Close, literally, claims of unusual experiences and odd scratching noises have been talked about for years, leaving many who work there feeling a bit uneasy. Whatever the true cause of the noises might be, though, one thing is perfectly clear. No matter how deep we try to bury it, the past will always find a way to return. Time has a way of hiding things from us, we forget them or lose them, and sometimes we even shut them out intentionally.
Maybe it's because we're fully aware of our failures, or perhaps we're simply too distracted by the new and shiny world around us to give history much attention. Either way, it tends to get buried, but it's never really far away, is it? Today, Edinburgh is a vibrant city that has embraced much of its past. There are a number of underground tours that visitors can take, allowing them to step beneath the modern streets and walk through lanes that were almost lost to time.
Some of them still have abandoned shops and sidewalks, as if a lid were placed over them, locking the past in a time capsule. And the world hasn't forgotten everything about Edinburgh's past, its landscape was the inspiration for Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz, and its scientific work gave us penicillin and the world's first cloned animal, the sheep Dolly. Without Edinborough, we wouldn't have the decimal point or Sherlock Holmes, but some stories are still less known.
For example, the plague that ravaged the people of Edinburgh in 1845 had its own unique drama that most people don't know. The city authorities, desperate to contain the disease before it killed everyone, hired its first plague doctor in the spring of that year. But by June, the man was dead, a victim of the sickness he had been tasked to fight. So the city quickly hired his replacement, a man named Dr. George Ray. Now, the work of a plague doctor was fairly simple help relieve the symptoms of the sick and help direct the disposal of the dead.
Both jobs, though, require direct contact with those who are infected.
So it wasn't considered a job with a lot of future. But George Ray was dedicated to his mission. He visited countless homes each day where he would find patients in need of care. He would lance their enormous pus filled blisters, sometimes as large as tennis balls, and then clean and cauterize the wound to help stop the infection. And if they needed to be isolated, it was George who made that call. It was dangerous work, too, so he wore the outfit that just about everyone today can picture in their mind large leather robes that kept his body protected and a mask that used a beak like cavity to hold a potpourri of herbs and flowers meant to hide the smell of death, but also hopefully stop a disease from being inhaled in every sense of the word.
Dr. George Ray was a hero, and yet the city hired him, assuming that he would simply be one of many plague doctors who would work and die before the outbreak was contained. And maybe that's why they promised him such a large salary, the equivalent of close to twenty five thousand dollars per month. But George Ray somehow survived the pandemic, so naturally, when it was all over, he returned to the city officials to collect his paycheck, a paycheck that they had never expected to pay.
So they stalled. For 10 long years, Dr. George Ray battled with the city of Edinburgh for the money he had been promised. His only crime, it seems, was that he had lived and faced with such an enormous bill, the people in charge decided to see how long they could make him wait. It said that George passed away a decade after the end of the plague, never having received the money he was owed. Like I said, time has a way of hiding things away from us, but whether those things are lost treasures, forgotten stories or records of our many failures, it's never safe to assume that they are gone forever.
The past, it seems. It's always close by. In a place as old as Edinburgh, it would be unusual to not find a bit of darkness hidden away in its past. So I hope you've enjoyed our brief journey through the underground history of such a storied city. But I'm not quite finished. I've tracked down one more tale to share, and it straddles the line between the past and our modern world in a way that's guaranteed to entertain. Stick around after this brief sponsor break and I'll tell you all about it.
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Edinburgh is like the ruins of a forgotten castle. It has a unique topography that's been slowly covered up over time, distinct lines or features that have been blurred until they're all but vanished. What we see today is vastly different than the city of 14 fifty or even seventeen fifty, which is why it's so important to look below.
Today, if you visit the city, you'll most likely stop at Edinburgh Castle, still up there on Castle Rock, watching over the surrounding landscape and you'll probably hear people talk about the Royal Mile, which is the collection of streets that stretched for a mile between the castle and the royal palace to the east. What you don't see, though, is that the royal mile is that ancient natural ramp that I mentioned at the beginning of this episode.
Over the years, so many bridges and buildings have gone up around the royal mile that it's easy to miss what lies beneath. But for the people who live in the city, those rumors and legends are never far away, especially if you own a business in that area. Centuries ago, there was a marketplace about half a mile east of the castle. Back then, much of the trade was managed using weights and measures. So a large wooden beam was set up for the merchants to use there.
It would have looked like a cross only with the cross beam designed to pivot as it weighed goods. And this weighing beam was called a Tron. The marketplace is gone now, but echoes of it still remain. Specifically, the centuries old church that stands near the location is still called the Tron Kirk and just a stone's throw to the south. Along the south bridge, in fact, is the Tranh Tavern, a tavern that was owned in the late 1980s by retired rugby player Nory Rowan.
When he took over the business, Rowand heard from a number of people about the building's location and past, there were rumors that Tunnell's still existed beneath this tavern that had once been part of the network of vaults and passageways below the South Bridge. And sometime in early 1989, he decided to test the stories out. Cutting through the floor in a back hallway near the restrooms, Roon discovered that there was a space beneath it. This made him even more curious, so he just kept going.
Soon enough, he was standing in a narrow stone passage and decided to follow it to see where it led a dozen or so paces. Later, he hit a dead end. Being a rugby player, though, he opted to use strength to overcome his challenge, taking a large hammer and proceeded to knock a hole in that wall. And when it was large enough, he climbed through and writes into another local business. He had somehow found his way down to a lower level past beneath the Southbridge and then exited right into the back room of a shop on Nedry Street.
And later that year, that hidden passage came in handy, the Romanian rugby team had come to Edinburgh for a match and the players and coaching staff all converged on the Tron Tavern after it was over. Now, Romania at the time was under the control of a communist dictator. And one of the players there that night, a man named Christian Red Akino wanted out. So he approached Nori Rowin and asked the tavern owner to help him defect. The trouble was, there were a number of government operatives in the tavern keeping an eye on him.
Baroin had an idea. A little while later, Rita Akino excused himself to use the restroom, slipped into the hidden passage and reemerged on Nedry Street a short while later. From there, he approached a police officer and formally requested asylum. And it worked. But not everyone gets out of the Edinburgh Underground. They know story makes that more clear than one that supposedly took place in the early eighteen hundreds. It tells of how the city council had been alerted to a discovery in the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle, and they went to investigate it for themselves.
It was a tunnel they could see that it extended off into the darkness, heading in an eastward direction that would have followed the line of the royal mile, but it was far too small for a grown man to enter. So they hired a child to do it for them. Now, children as young as six had often been employed by chimney sweep companies to help them with some of the more narrow jobs. So even though the notion strikes our modern sensibilities as irresponsible and even immoral to the city council of that era, it was nothing more than a good idea to help them track him.
As he moved, they gave the boy a small drum and told him to beat on it as he crawled. Then one of the men returned to the castle's gates and the start of the Royal Mile, and he listened. And there it was, the distant thumping of the drum. So he followed it. They say the city council was able to hear the drum and track its movement all the way to the Tron Kirk. But then, without warning, it went silent.
The men waited anxiously, hoping that it was only a momentary delay. But sadly, the sound of the drum was never heard again, and the boy in the tunnel was assumed to be lost or trapped or even dead. The underground is another world, most of it is hidden from us. And even when people get a chance to enter it, they're met with a strange new place full of darkness and danger. Sometimes people go in and never come back out.
But like I said before, the past is never really that far away. Locals today still whisper about the lost boy in the tunnel and many who live or work near the old shrine, Kirk, have reported something unusual over the years, according to multiple witnesses, on nights when the streets around the old church are calm and quiet. It's possible to hear a faint, distant sound echoing up from the pavement. It's the haunting sound of the rhythmic beating.
Of a single lonely drum. This episode of law was written and produced by me, Aaron Manque, with research by Marcet Crockett's and music by Chad Lawson Moore is much more than just a podcast. There's a book series available in bookstores and online and two seasons of the television show on Amazon Prime video. Check them both out if you want more law in your life. I also make an executive produce a whole bunch of other podcasts, including Aaron Mancos, Cabinets of Curiosities and Noble Blood, all of which I think you'd enjoy.
My production company, Greyman Mild, specializes in making shows that sit at the intersection of the dark and historical. And you can learn more about all of those shows and everything else going on over in one central place, grim and mild dotcom. And you can also follow the show on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, just search for our podcast, all one word and then click that follow button. And when you do say hi, I like it when people say hi.
And as always. Thanks for listening.