Thursday, December 23, 2010

A walk with Jack the Ripper

For my theatre and performance theory class we get to choose our own topic for our essay (which is due in January so a big fat Merry Christmas to me). A few weeks ago, I thought about what I might want to write my essay on:  Something specific to London, preferably something site-specific, involves walking and tourism. Of course, the first thing that popped into my mind was the Jack the Ripper walking tour - so added bonus a mysterious serial killer! Because of my final performance for performance lab, I didn't really have a lot of time to do any preliminary research until now. I wasn't really worried because I have a lot already to pull from in terms of architectural theory as well as the impact walking has on a spectatorial experience. So last week Monday, I went on the "original" Jack the Ripper walk with London Walks. Our tour guide was Donald Rumbelow who's written the critically acclaimed book The Complete Jack the Ripper. A former police officer and Blue Badge tour guide, Rumbelow has been guiding this particular walk for the past 16 years.

This particular tour meets at Tower Hill station. I got there early; in fact, I was the first one there. I had chatted with Rumbelow a bit and something he said really struck me:  "I like my crime at a distance." I had been wondering not only why the Jack the Ripper murders were so popular, but also why people would actually flock to the murder areas. It all seem, well, rather morbid. Anyways, back to Rumbelow. "I used to work as a police officer for 30 years. So I saw plenty of it [crime] up close." It's been 122 years since the "Autumn of Terror" and the murders have surpassed urban myth.

On with the tour. I reckon there were around 40 people there on this very chilly night. Rumbelow began the tour bringing our attention the the Tower of London across the way. He talks about how one day in 1888 there was a procession of soldiers who were basically participating in a line up in which a prostitute had to identify the man who murdered her fellow prostitute friend (I think, I'll be honest and say I don't remember the exact details). Anyways this was a precursor to the Whitechapel Murders (what they were called before the press named the murderer Jack the Ripper). He also pointed out the partial wall next to us - the lower part is Roman and upper part is Medieval. It's the part of the wall that surrounded the original square mile of London.

We then walked around the corner, through a hotel drive-way and through a passage in that same wall. Here he told us of the reality of the East End prostitute. They were poor, dirty and most were alcoholics. It cost more to buy a loaf of bread and some cheese than it did to buy a prostitute. He also told us of the division between the City of London police and the Metropolitan police force - this division was used by the murder as he went back and forth between the City and East End. He also said the back in 1888 the City of London was the richest city in Europe which the East End was the poorest. It's pretty much still like that today.

We then walked to what's known as Prostitute's Church where prostitutes would hang out walking around the church, hoping to pick up their next John. After that we walked to Mitre Square which is where the body of Catherine Eddowes was found. Here Rumbelow set up the scene of the crime: There was a cracked door straight ahead, a policeman and his family living just down the way and the police force on constant rounds surrounding the area. No one heard nor saw a thing, which means that the murderer was quick and extremely skilled with his knife.

We then to Devonshire Square where he told us about the differences from 1888 to today. He also mentioned stories of past walks saying "anything can happen." We then walked past the boundary line between the City of London and Whitechapel - which is just a road, showing how easy it was for the murderer to simply walk back and forth the divide. After this we visit an old apartment building where there once was a lobby (which is now a restaurant called "Happy Days" - no joke) where some believe Jack the Ripper wrote on the wall "The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing" and left a piece of Eddowes' bloodied apron.

We then walked to an old building originally built as a lodging for the homeless where one of the victims had lived. Then we set off to Spitalfields Market where we learnt about the second murder.

We walked past the Ten Bells pub which was a popular pub for one of the victims. For the last stop, we went to what once was Dorset Street - the worst street in London - where the Ripper's last victim, Mary Kelly was found dead in her room, completely mutilated and the heart missing.

Rumbelow ends the tour with how Jack the Ripper has become mythologised in the search for his identity, not only in reality, but most prominently in fiction. He ended with what had become a popular rhyme: 
I’m not a butcher,
I’m not a Yid,
Nor yet a foreign skipper,
But I’m your own light-hearted friend,
Yours truly, Jack the Ripper.

I chatted with Rumbelow on our way to Liverpool St Station. He told me he thought of himself as a story teller and I enjoyed hearing him speak of his experience as a police officer, a writer and a Blue Badge tour guide. 

I went on the same tour (with Rumbelow again) this past Monday with a friend who was visiting and wanted to go on the walk. The last time she came to London she went on a JTR tour with her boyfriend. She said that the guide was really animated and theatrical and went a little overboard with the descriptions of the mutilations done to the victims. So much so, that her boyfriend fainted and they weren't able to finish the tour. She definitely preferred Rumbelow and as we walked (in the snow) I listened to others saying how much they enjoyed Rumbelow as a tour guide. The walk itself was pretty much the same (there were a few physical changes due to snow and ice) and Rumbelow's "script" was the same. It was interesting seeing how different groups responded to him. Also, this time we had a lovely drunk man at Devonshire Square serenade us. Rumbelow kindly paused while the drunk man and his mate stopped to sing to us.

So I still have a ton to read up on: tourism, walking, history, place, performance. The list goes on. I'm still trying to figure out my exact angle for the essay but I'm going to put that on hold until after Christmas. And then it will be a mad dash to get all my research done before the New Year. 

Have you been on a Jack the Ripper tour? If so, please share your experience with me. 
Want to go on a Jack the Ripper tour? If so, why? Also if so, then come visit me!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Readers Wifes Fan Club

Friday night my fellow American, Rachel, and I celebrated our very own Fakesgiving. There were no more turkeys when I went to the store so I got a chicken and dubbed it “Chicurkey.” We had mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, stuffing and rolls. For dessert we had my homemade pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, delish brownies from midnite cookies with vanilla ice cream.

After our meal we met up with a few of my fellow MA’s at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern for Duckie’s Readers Wifes Fan Club. So. Much. Fun.

It's really hard to explain what the Readers Wifes Fan Club show is all about. It's a compilation of obscure (well obscure to me anyways) pop culture stuff from what looked like predominately the 80's. There was singing and dancing; a lot of hilarious lip-syncing; amazing hula-hoop tricks; and some drag. There's really nothing much to say other than I had a great time.

After the show we danced the night away and then stumbled to the bus stop in the freezing cold. It's times like that where I miss my car. And LA weather. But thankfully, I managed to get us home. Barely.