15 weird and wonderful things that happened in Edinburgh
One O'Clock Gun

Weirdness is for life in Edinburgh, not just for the Festival – although it’s true that your chances of seeing something totally bizarre here increase greatly during the month of August.

During the rest of the year Auld Reekie can start to feel a tad dull, but that simply isn’t the case.

If you’re tiring of your hometown and starting to find Edinburgh boring, we’ve got the perfect reminder of why living here is fantastically strange as well as strangely fantastic.

From a bizarre cure for baldness to celebrity cake robbery, here are 15 totally extraordinary things you won’t believe happened in Edinburgh.

1. Two teenage girls brought the Beatles to town

Back in 1964 at the height of Beatlemania two 17 year old Edinburgh residents, Eileen Oliver and Pat Conner, collected 8,000 signatures on a petition calling for the Beatles to perform live in Edinburgh. John, Paul, George and Ringo heard about the campaign and hot-footed it to the ABC Regal on Lothian Road for a two-show run.

The rub? Eileen and Pat very nearly didn’t get to go to the gig because their mums wouldn’t let them queue overnight for tickets. It was a happy ending, though, and two knights in shining armour shared their spare tickets with the girls.

2. The One O’Clock Gun was damn near deadly

According to records, on a fateful day in May 1952 the One O’Clock Gun was unintentionally loaded with live ammunition instead of the usual blanks. Thankfully nobody was hurt, although the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens was very nearly obliterated. In the end, an unsuspecting flowerbed took the hit.

3. Bowie gave Monty Python a sleepless night

According to Michael Palin, he encountered David Bowie (and his entourage) when they were both staying at the Forte Posthouse hotel – now the Holiday Inn – beside Edinburgh Zoo in 1973. Monty Python were performing a run of shows at the King’s Theatre, while Bowie played one night only at the Empire (now the Festival Theatre) on May 19.

With both parties staying on the same floor, apparently the noisy musician and his crew kept Palin awake but the comedian was simply glad to see another guest who wasn’t a businessman.

4. A crappy ‘cure’ for baldness was invented

In the 17th century some bright spark in Edinburgh came up with a unique (and, we’re guessing, pretty ineffective) cure for baldness. If you were thinning on top, the done thing was to apply the burnt ashes of dove dung to your head. Talk about sham-‘poo’…

5. Sean Connery did some pretty odd jobs pre-Bond

We all know him as 007 (and Indiana Jones’s dad) but local lad Sean Connery was everything from a milkman to a bouncer at the now abandoned Palais de Danse when he lived in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh. Known then as Thomas or ‘Big Tam’, Connery didn’t start acting until he was 24 and didn’t become Bond until the ripe old age of 32.

6. The highest paid magician tragically died…

Sigmund Neuberger – better known as the Great Lafayette – was a famous German illusionist in the early 1900s and the highest paid magician of his time. Neuberger and some of his crew tragically died in a fire in 1911 during a performance at the Empire Palace Theatre.

The audience thought the fire was part of his act until they were ushered out of the burning building. The Festival Theatre now stands where the destroyed Empire once was.

7. … four days after his dog

Weirdly, the Great Lafayette’s beloved dog Beauty had died in Edinburgh just four days before during the illusionist’s visit. Neuberger insisted that Beauty – who was given to him by Harry Houdini – be buried in Piershill Cemetery and the Council agreed, provided the owner was laid to rest in the same plot as his canine companion when his time came. Little did anyone know how soon that time would be…

8. The Royal Mile was a Mod music hot spot

Believe it or not, everyone from The Who to The Kinks flocked to McGoos on the High Street in the mid-’60s to perform live. Fans paid pennies and casually bought tickets on the door to see these rock legends in the intimate venue. If only they’d known.

9. Patrick Stewart helped himself at the Cameo

Patrick Stewart gif

As we learned from the Cameo staff in their recent guest blog, Shakespearean actor and – more importantly – Captain Jean-Luc Picard let his cheeky side out on a visit to the cinema. Apparently he reached across the bar, nabbed a slice of cake and said ‘I can see you’re very busy so I’ll just help myself to some cake’. What a chancer.

10. A famous penny pincher was born

Charles Dickens created perhaps the world’s most famous fictional misery guts, Ebeneezer Scrooge, while visiting Edinburgh in 1842. The author spotted the gravestone of corn trader Ebeneezer Scroggie and misread the late Scroggie’s career as ‘meanman’ – it was actually ‘mealman’. The real Ebeneezer was actually a jovial and generous individual, but will forever be associated with mean old Scrooge. Poor guy.

11. Locals made the Mound

Hate walking up the Mound? You’ll hate it even more after reading this. Believe it or not, the huge hill is actually man made. That’s right – somebody decided to take the earth dug up during the excavation of Princes Street and turn it into a giant hill for us all to sweat our way up every time we fancy a trip to Mary’s Milk Bar.

12. Arnold Schwarzenegger defied the traffic laws

You might remember this one as it wasn’t too long ago, but when Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Edinburgh in January he took the law into his own hands and decided to cycle the wrong way up a busy bus lane. Only Arnie could – and did – get away with it.

13. A Fringe show ended up in the toilet

Okay, okay, we know we said we wouldn’t mention the Fringe, but this one was too odd not to bring up. In 2009 the public toilets behind the St James shopping centre were billed as an ‘intimate and unusual’ venue for an unorthodox production of Waiting For Godot. At £5 per person, it sounds like possibly the most expensive trip to the loo in history.

14. Someone survived a hanging

Affectionately known as ‘half-hangit Maggie’, Musselburgh fishwife Margaret Dickson was hanged in the Grassmarket in the 1700s for murdering her illegitimate baby. Post-hanging and on her way back to Musselburgh in a cart for burial Maggie woke up. The superstitious powers that be suspected some kind of divine intervention and let Maggie go free, but the clause ‘until dead’ was tacked onto ever Scottish hanging sentence thereafter.

15. Bob Dylan took a promenade on Princes Street

At the height of his fame in 1966, folk-rock icon Bob Dylan took a stroll down the city’s busiest street in some rather spiffing trousers. The shop behind him is now HMV so, yes, you have walked on the same pavements as the Bard – you’re practically famous.

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Like this? Try these:

20 bizarre facts every local should know about Edinburgh
10 of Edinburgh’s best urban legends
10 things we learned when Arnold Schwarzenegger came to Edinburgh

Main image: DncnH / Flickr / CC