It’s Halloween week, so talking about places that have a bloody history goes hand-in-hand with the calendar right now. When the place in question is also one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited, and that the history of the locale extends far past the gorier events, well, that’s just the Cracker Jack prize to it all.
One of the best things about being a writer is that every trip, trap, or researching technique in my life can color my writing in a positive way. Another good thing about doing that kind of all-encompassing life experience is I know a little bit about a lot of things, so when I hear about a terrific documentary on television, I have a pretty good idea if I’m interested.
Case in point is the PBS documentary on the Tower of London that first aired earlier this week. Because of the joys of digital channels, it was repeated in my area, and I’ve already watched it twice. The hour-long program is still available on the PBS.org website at http://video.pbs.org/video/2365105126/ . If you haven’t seen it yet, please check it out.
While the Tower conjures up horror images of how Henry VIII rid himself of excess queens and his inner court advisers when they no longer served his purpose, the Tower is so much more.
This is a structure more than a 1000 years old, and still standing strong. It takes sixty years for a crew to complete one round of the never-ending regular maintenance–from cleaning the gargoyles’ mouths with toothbrushes, to doing all roof and drain work.
The tower wardens–better known as the Beefeaters–keep the peace in their resplendent uniforms. The documentary explained one possible reason for their nickname came from being the king’s guard, and getting to eat all the meat they wanted. Keeping the compound safe is also the job of the six ravens that live on site per royal decree. Legend has it if the ravens leave the Tower, the structure will fall, so the ravenkeeper’s job is to clip wings and keep count. To date, only one raven left for a short foray into non-Tower lands, but it was recovered in Greenwich a couple of days later when an eagle-eyed resident spotted the famous bird.
Inside the tower it’s like walking back 500 years or more. On display is one of the first indoor toilets–with waste going directly into the Thames River. The Hall of Kings shows the banners and war armor of England’s warrior rulers, lined up so each step takes a visitor farther back into the millennium.
And the biggest draw of all? The Crown Jewels are housed here in all their glittering wonder. There has only been one nearly successful heist, and today no one is allowed to snap photos while viewing the jewels. Yet, though it’s been several years since I rolled through the halls on the conveyor belt (yes, visitors have no hope of stopping to take a long look at any jewel or its associated security) those lovely crowns and parure jewelry stay polished and brilliant in my mind.