Saturday, May 12, 2012

Terrorized by Jack the Ripper Walking Tour

I didn't know much about Jack the Ripper; now I know too much. A few nights ago, Abby and I took the London Walks' for the most interesting cold case in English history. While it sounds like a pop culture/brainless tour, it was one of the better guided tours I have taken. The interesting bits were not the gruesome details of the murder, but the insight into 1880s East London slums and police procedure.

The Jack the Ripper tour provided more insight into that seedy world that we often overlook during the Victorian era. In fact, the Victorian Era is the perfect time to have a gruesome unsolved murder. Four years ago in London, I attended a Q&A with contemporary British mystery authors, and one of the writers worked in the Victorian era. She explained that she strategically choose the time period because of paradoxes of identity during this time period: It was the best of times (e.g. hiding furniture limbs because they were too provocative), and it was the worst of times (e.g. the highest number of prostitutes soliciting in London's history). This paradox often led to the theme of concealed identity; no one is who they appear to be. Similar, we cannot pin down Jack the Ripper's identity.

He was a tricky one, that Jack. During the murders, Jack the Ripper played off rival police boundaries in London. At this time, you could not differentiate the difference between human or animal blood, and fingerprint technology did not exist. Basically, to be convicted someone had to witness him in the act. In other words, we will never really know who he is. (Side Note: This "never will be solved" reality eluded one of the older men in my tour group. He continually asked our tour guide questions as if he were cracking the case right open. "Did they consider this?" etc. He seemed assured that he could turn up new insight with his tour knowledge in two hours time.

Beyond being educational, it was down right creepy. I must admit, the tour scared me more than a goosebumps book/TV episode. Let's just say that the Ripper puts the sociopaths on Criminal Minds to shame. As the nigh progressively got darker, the crimes became more twisted/sinister, and I became more unnerved. The description of the last murder made me shiver and gag all at the same time--great party trick. Suffice to say that my roommate locked our bedroom door, closed our curtains, and slept with her bedside lamp on.

Gore seems to have stalked me this week in London: after visiting the Bloody Tower, Abby and I attended a explicit Polish produciton of Macbeth, and then we did this walking tour. Violence as entertainment. Ironically enough, Brits seem less okay with violence portrayed in movies and theatre than Americans. I must dash. It is getting dark, and we need to lock our door, close our curtains, and sleep with the lights on. 

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