FROM BLOODIED SCOTLAND, A TRUE GHOST STORY: ROOM EIGHT
[A ghostly adventure that really happened involving headless Mary, Queen of Scots, and the eerie mystery of what was concealed in a certain room in an ancient hotel in a little town on Scotland's blood-drenched border.]
THE SPREAD EAGLE HOTEL
(Photo courtesy Ian and Helen Kimmet]
Shandy, the family dog, always cowered at the landing where the steps turned toward Room Eight. That's how Ian's story starts. You get this picture of a golden retriever whimpering, resisting, pulling back down the steps as it has to be tugged and dragged by its collar up this narrow, creaky, gloomy, spooky, curving stairway in an inn probably built during the Sixteenth Century as some kind of dormitory for monks, a sort of monastery annex, with its no-frills, Scots-Romanesque, stuccoed facade standing shoulder-to-shoulder alongside its abutting neighbors, built like row-houses, all flush up against Jedburgh's High Street sidewalk. High Street is the main drag in this archaic Disneyland of gabled roofs, many chimneys and occasional turrets, with its narrow streets lined by buildings that are each one a monument, arrayed in closed ranks of sentinels not just guarding but enshrining the past, with each stolid stone structure sitting like a Sphinx, with its own I've-seen-it-all-before-but-don't-ask-me-any-questions face. How many centuries must it take before a town might be described as quaint and picturesque? Ian pronounces it Jedburra. In Scotland, burghs are burras. Jedburra is some 48 miles southeast of Edinburra on the road that has wound for centuries to Carter Bar, the pass through the bleak and barren Cheviot Hills that leads to England, some ten or so further miles of twists and turns to the south. I've never been to Jedburgh but this is the picture I get. In the midst of garden farms and pear orchards, Jedburgh sprang up centuries ago as a market and corn milling town on a stream the Scots call Jed Water, a tributary of the Teviot. Before expanding urbanization began planting concrete on too much of Jedburgh's farmland, the fruit from Jedburgh's orchards came to be so popular that the cry of peddlers hawking "JETHART PEARS!" was once a frequent and familiar sound on the streets of London.
Forty-eight miles is a good day's ride by horseback and, even before stage coach routes started getting organized, Jedburgh needed an overnight hostelry for travelers going to and coming from Edinburgh. Nobody's around to remember when anybody converted what is now the Spread Eagle Hotel from a monastery into an inn. But when Ian's father-in-law, Jim Breustedt, broke through the wall to extend the public bar, what he found beneath the plaster was a five-foot-thick inner wall that was made of stone and that was covered with Latin scrawls, identified by local experts as probably having been left by monks of a certain monastic order.
"That gave me the chills as well," Ian remembered.
The Breustedts pronounced it Broystedt. They owned the Spread when Ian first started dating Helen Breustedt back in 1965. According to Ian, Jedburgh's entire population, which numbered fewer than 4,000 at that time, called it the Spread. He said that in Jedburgh, they'd been calling it the Spread for centuries. This is the kind of story that will make Geraldo want to be there with his live TV cameras when they pry up the floorboards. Now, Helen sometimes worries that publishing this story will get her father in trouble.
Ian Kimmet is one of the most charming men I know, a Scotty who really beams me up. With a keen eye for the ridiculous and a wry style of describing it, Ian can keep a conversation going that never seems too long. Because his brogue is only slightly Americanized, I find it all the more infectious. When I tell Ian that he makes the Scots seem like the friendliest people on earth, he answers:
"When the Romans invaded the British Isles, they marched as far north as the Scottish border and then built a wall to keep the Scots on the other side."
Sometimes mistaken for Hadrian's Wall, from Solway Firth to the mouth of the Tyne River, the wall was designed indeed to keep the Scots on the other side of it. Just like in the movie,King Kong, on one side of the wall was civilization, even if only a native village of straw huts. And on the other side of the wall, the island was a jungle inhabited only by the monster, King Kong. The Scots were King Kong to the Romans, so much of a monster that one wall wasn't good enough. After 20 years, the Romans had to build a second wall, which they called the Wall of Pius, coast-to-coast, from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde. The Scots have a history of bloodthirstiness. They were forever fighting, if not against Norse, English or Irish invaders, then among themselves. Eternal blood feuds among Scottish clans litter the bones of Scottish history, otherwise strewn with the skeletons of bastards and backstabbers.
"Most pubs on a weekend in Scotland, there was always an awful lot of violence," Ian said. "In Scotland, people would have fights everywhere I went when I played with bands. I talked to the Average White Band---they all come from Scotland, too---and they were talking about Glasgow. They're all my age and we played the same pubs and I said, 'I remember about the clubs and stuff. There was the violence'---And they all said, like, 'Yeah, it was pretty bad in those days!' And then I was talking to the singer from AC-DC. He comes from Newcastle. When I told him that my elder son, Darren, was born in Jedburgh, he said, 'Oh, Jedburgh! We used to go up to Jedburgh on Saturday nights looking for fist fights!' The one thing I do remember about the Spread is that it was always, in the bar area there, it was always volatile. There was always a lot of violence there. I know I keep using that word, violence, but that's the only word I can think of to describe it, violence. It's not peculiar to the Spread Eagle, but Helen's father was always getting into fights with people. People would always lose it in the Spread Eagle. There was an awful lot of violence, punch-ups and stuff, in this quiet border town."
"What do you mean by 'border town?'" I asked.
"Well, it's in what you'd call the border area of Scotland, the border of Scotland and England. It's an area where there has always been a lot of fighting and brutality. There's also this other tradition in Jedburgh, that they upkeep to this day, and that is that, depending on where you were born---see, the town's built on a hill, so you're either an 'uppie,' that means you were born up of the town's center, the 'Mercat', where they have this cross they call the 'Mercat Cross,' or you're a 'doonie,' which means you were born down below of the town center. So, everybody in Jedburgh classes themselves as 'uppies' and 'doonies' and once a year they choose the best boy of the town, and he's called the 'Callant.' There's a 'Callant' chosen every year on Festival Friday in July and they have a rideout, you know, they all get on their horses and they go riding to Ferniehirst Castle, the ancestral home of the Ker family, who have been like the lairds of Jedburgh since the Fifteenth Century. They ride out to the Castle, present the new 'Callant' to the Ker family, and then ride right back to the town, a ceremonial rideout. They have a whole day of celebration in the town, culminating in a soccer game between the 'uppies' and the 'doonies,' they play each other, and they use an old---I think they just use a soccer ball now, but for years they used a leather ball and it symbolized the kicking around in a football-like game of an Englishman's head. Because what they would do, the English would raid the sheep farms across the border in Scotland and vice versa, the Scots would do the same, but they'd often capture an Englishman, a rival raider, and they'd cut his head off and kick the head around the town as a football in the early days. So they keep up that tradition, but they actually used to use heads to kick around the town square and everything. They call this game Jedburgh Hand Ba' and the boundaries of the game stretch from Castlehill, which is up on high ground, to Townfoot, down at the bottom. And they still have the 'uppies' and the 'doonies,' the best youth of the town that they call the 'Callant' and the game of football every year to symbolize the past, which was a violent time. I mean the more I think about the Spread and Jedburgh and everything, there's a certain ominous kind of atmosphere about the whole thing. The Scots are volatile anyway in their home situation but I always felt that Jedburgh was a little bit especially violent, that there was always a sort of cloud around a lot of it, and the thing I felt most of all in that room that night was violence. The room that this story is about. It was sheer---the terror of it was the violence of it. I just felt violence. It was like, oh, God! Violence! More violence! That was the overriding feeling, a feeling of violent power. That's what I remember."
Ian became one of my best friends after impresario Albert Grossman invited me into his Bearsville Record Company family, nestled in the Upstate New York hamlet of Bearsville, just up Route 212 from Woodstock. Albert had brought Ian from England to help run the record company as head of A&R and as Albert's right-hand man. After Ian told me this story, he handed me a color photograph he had taken during his last visit to Scotland that showed the Spread's white facade glistening in the sunlight. There was a low row of windows on the sidewalk level and another row above the three-column colonnade holding up the filigreed metal cornice sitting like a mantle or a crown atop the twin doors of the Georgian entrance. Between two of the five second-story windows, a golden, two-headed eagle spread its wings above the filigreed metal cornice. Above the eagle hung a glass sign lit by interior electric bulbs:
BED & BREAKFAST
Another row of five windows looked out from the third floor of the Spread. Affixed to the facade between the third-floor windows and the second-floor windows were big wooden block letters similar to the old-fashioned typeface seen on the WANTED posters of America's old Wild West. These letters were painted the same olive green as the window frames and they said SPREAD EAGLE HOTEL, except the L in EAGLE was missing. You could still see where the L once had been. In fact, you couldn't miss it. The L had left so distinct an outline on the facade that you would have found it impossible to misread the letters as anything but SPREAD EAGLE HOTEL, even though they said SPREAD EAG E HOTEL. I asked Helen and she said the L must have fallen off after her Dad sold the place back in 1971.
Looking up Jedburgh's High Street toward the Spread Eagle Hotel.
(Photo courtesy Ian and Helen Kimmiet.)
"Jedburgh always really spooked me," Ian said. "The first time Helen took me there, she and her brother and their friends, they took me over to the war memorial, which was next to the ruined abbey, up the road a little from the hotel. There was this stone-built war memorial, and, in the moonlight, when you looked at it, it was quite a famous sight in those times, thirty-odd years ago. When you looked at the face of the war memorial in the moonlight, which was kind of, sort of like granite brick, you could see the face of the soldier in the moonlight against the war memorial. I saw it a couple of times. It was really spooky. It was just built as a wall of a war memorial beside the old abbey. And people realized shortly after it was built that you could actually, quite clearly, you know, like when you look at the moon, you see the man in the moon, and when you looked at the face of the war memorial, you could quite clearly see a head, it looked like a soldier's head and face, like, with a helmet, just in the granite. And I remember standing there at midnight one night going, 'Wow! That is amazin'! There's a face there! And I'm going, 'Yes!' They said, 'C'n ya see it"' I said, 'Sure!' I forget whether the memorial was for World War I or World War II. But what somebody did after that was somebody painted the memorial with oil, somethin' like that, and got rid of it. It was like erased, this image in the granite in moonlight. They stained the war memorial and the thing was lost forever. Somebody who couldn't handle it, I guess. But it was quite somethin' to see when you stood there. It had to be in the moonlight, and then, in the light of the moon, you could see it quite clearly, quite an amazing sort of thing."
Jedburgh is supposed to be full of ghosts, dating back a lot further than World War I or II. A historical pamphlet which Ian brought for me from Jedburgh claims that Jedburgh's history goes all the way back to the time of Hadrian's Wall, before 2000 B.C. The pamphlet asserts that "much of the ancient Roman Dere Street can be traced within its natural environment," but then the pamphlet skips the next 2,800 years and jumps to 854, when Ecgred Bishop of Lindisfarne formed two settlements on the Jed Water and called them both Gedwearde. According to the pamphlet, the Welsh word, "gwd," meaning a twist or turn, is probably how the stream got its name, and Jedburgh, which sits on a twist and a turn in the stream, obviously got its name from the Jed. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the original site of the town was at Old Jeddart, four miles to the south. The encyclopaedia says that Jedburgh was made a royal burgh in the reign of David I and received a charter from Robert I and another in 1566. The town also has been called Jedward, Jedworth, Jethart and Jeddart. Scotland's style of hanging them first and trying them afterwards is known as "Jeddart Justice," a term which originated when Sir George Home summarily strung up a gang of so-called rogues during the reign of James VI. Adding to the frontierlike quality of the border area that encompasses Jedburgh are the local badlands, called the Cheviot Hills, which separate England from Scotland. The Cheviot Hills is described as a region of heather moorlands and desolate promontories, steep but smoothly rounded humps dissected by deep glens, largely deserted except for cottages of shepherds who tend the hardy Cheviot and Blackface herds grazing in the moorlands. According to the encyclopaedia, this is a mostly undulating and peaty stretch of bleakness which served as a hideout for both Scottish and English cattle and sheep rustlers, the kind of people who ended up as Jedburgh's soccer balls.
There was always some kind of fighting going on. In the Jed valley, fortified farmsteads known as "pele castles" sprang up. Sometimes there were competing pretenders to the Scottish throne. England and France were forever at war and Scotland was forever caught in the middle. The English were always either invading Scotland or being invaded by the Scots. In addition to which, the French king was Catholic, the English king was Protestant and the Scottish throne, magnetized by the two polarities, kept swinging both ways. All of this resulted in a lot of murder and pillage. Jedburgh was burned in 1410, in 1416, in 1464 and in 1523. When it was again rebuilt, the Earl of Hertford burned it down once more in 1544. Apparently needed as a place to quarter monks, the building later to be known as the Spread Eagle Hotel obviously wasn't built until after 1544, because the only building to survive the Earl of Hertford's torch was the stone house which Mary, Queen of Scots would later inhabit. According to Ian, Mary, Queen of Scots had occasion to spend at least half a night at the Spread. According to Ian, Mary, Queen of Scots' room was around the corner from Room Eight.
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS, with her head still on her shoulders.
Ian also brought back for me from Jedburgh a second historical pamphlet, entitled MARY IN JEDBURGH, by Charlotte E. Stuart, who researched the visit to the town made by Mary, Queen of Scots in October and November of 1566. By then, Jedburgh already had a very spooky reputation. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Jedburgh's chief attraction is the old ruined abbey, which was granted its charter by David I between 1147 and 1150 and which, according to local history, had its own ghosts.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes the old red sandstone ruins of the Augustinian Abbey of St. Mary, standing on the high left bank of the Jed, as Jedburgh's "principal feature. . . the stateliest of the renowned group of Border abbeys---Jedburgh, Melrose, Dryburgh and Kelso." The encyclopedia goes on to say that in 1118, David I, while still Earl of Cumbria, founded a priory at Jedburgh for Augustinian monks from the abbey of St. Quentin at Beauvais in France and then, in 1147, after he had become king, David turned it into an abbey dedicated to the Virgin. But according to the historical pamphlet, the abbey was built on a site previously occupied by a church erected in the Ninth Century. The pamphlet says the abbey was founded by David I in 1135, colonized by Augustinian canons from Beauvais, France, and then raised to the status of abbey in 1154, flourishing for something like half a century. But abbeys are supposed to be peaceful retreats and putting an abbey in the border area was like putting a rabbit hutch in a lion's den. I'm confused about whether the Scots call it the War of Independence or their Border Wars or if these describe different sets of killings, but whatever they were, they all came through Jedburgh. By 1297, British troops led by Sir Richard Hastings had so plundered and wrecked the abbey that, in 1300, it was declared uninhabitable and the canons fled to Thornton-on-Humber. They couldn't even get started rebuilding it when the abbey was ravaged again in 1410, in 1416 and in 1464. Reconstruction began in 1478 and the tower was partly rebuilt by 1508. But then, English troops led by the Earl of Surrey torched the place in 1523, another English force led by Lord Evers burned it down again in 1544 and the Earl of Hertford led more English troops to destroy the abbey for a third time not too long afterwards.
According to Ian's historical pamphlet, the story in Jedburgh is that the abbey has always been ill-omened and star-crossed, beginning with the legend of Alexander III, whose marriage to his second wife, Jolande, daughter of the Count of Dreux, took place in the Abbey. The pamphlet quotes Tytler's History of Scotland, which tells about the party after the marriage, when the king glanced at the dancing celebrants and saw an ominous-looking intruder among them:
Namely, a mere anatomy, quite bare, His naked limbs both without flesh and hair (as we decipher death), who stalks about Keeping true measure til the dance be out. The King with all the rest affrighted stand; The spectre vanished; and then strict command Was given to break up revel; each 'gan fear The other, and presage disaster near. If any ask, what did of this succeed? The King soon after falling from his steed Unhappily died. . .
THE JEDBURGH HOUSE OF MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS
(Photo courtesy Ian and Helen Kimmet]
For Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, the rest of the town was as ill-omened and star-crossed as the abbey. But even without the hard luck that seemed to rub off the cobbled streets of haunted, rowdy and violent Jedburgh, Mary's Perils-of-Pauline existence had its own uppies and doonies. Her roller-coaster soap opera featured one episode after another of Mary getting into and not quite so often getting out of the deep dung of impossible intrigues, brutal betrayals, involuntary imprisonment and mortal mistakes that was her life. She would make her narrow escapes, when she made them, only by the quickness of her wit, the sparkle of her beauty, the glow of her charm or the skin of somebody else. Until she finally lost it at the however young age of 44, Mary kept a cool head on her shoulders, except for maybe an unfortunate surrender to her heart. The fact that she didn't lose her head until the age of 44 is testimony that not only was it one of the prettiest in Scotland but it also contained one of the most valiant, agile and apt of female brains in the then-known world. Whether on or off her shoulders, Mary's head certainly has enshrined her as one of history's most talked-about heroines.
Certainly Jedburgh continues to do a lot of talking about Mary. As if a town that claims to date back to 2,000 B.C. didn't have enough other history to hang onto, Jedburgh still treats Mary's visit as if it were the biggest thing that ever happened there. And even though it was now more than 400 years later, Jedburgh still seemed to talk about Mary's visit as if it happened yesterday.
"Around the corner from Room Eight," Ian told me, "the Mary-Queen-of-Scots' bedroom was this tiny, little room that still had the original 'bottle glass' windows that are really, really old. I'm not sure why they called them 'bottle glass' windows but they had the circular mark in the center that made them look like they had a bottom of a bottle in the middle of the window pane. That's the old glass that they used to make. It might actually have been the bottom of a bottle. You know, they're small window panes. They may be only less than six-by-six. They're tiny little square window frames. You see them in a lot of the old buildings in Edinburgh. They just look like they cut the bottom off a big glass jar and cut a small window frame through it."
Cutting the heads off bottles made me think of Mary, Queen of Scots. I took a copy of Antonia Fraser's biography out of the library and started to read it.
Mary's announcement that she was going to show up in Jedburgh came at a time when the town was the scene of heavy rioting. The whole country was in an uproar in those days, but wasn't Scotland always in an uproar? Widow of Francis II, the young and sickly Dauphin of France, Mary had returned to Scotland in 1561 to reclaim the crown she inherited when she was only one week old. But Mary was a Catholic and Scotland, like England, had become largely and vehemently Protestant. Still, Catholics considered Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn invalid, null and void, making Elizabeth Tudor, then reigning as Elizabeth I, illegitimate in the eyes of those yielding to Papal religious authority. As the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, who was Henry VIII's big sister and the daughter of Henry VII, Mary Stuart had a claim to be next in the line of English royal succession.
After fewer than 18 months of being Queen of France, Mary Stuart was not only to be the Queen of Scots but the big eyes she had for the English crown showed like a slip peeking from beneath the hem of a dress. Other than their mutual desire to sit on the throne Elizabeth already occupied, the two sovereigns had a lot in common. Not only were they cousins but they also were a couple of Queens in a King's world, female rulers of neighboring countries on the same island. They had a lot to talk about and yet there was a problem between them that was rooted in the very possibility that Mary could now marry some Catholic ruler who might be willing to invade England in order to install Mary on Elizabeth's throne. As a result, the two queens had to play a coy game with each other. According to Antonia Fraser, the childless Elizabeth let Mary think that Elizabeth would name Mary as her successor if Mary would let Elizabeth choose Mary's new husband.
By the time Ian told me his story, he considered himself supersensitive to ectoplasm. He had become the butt of his own ghostbuster jokes.
"But boy, it scared me," he chuckled. "For years after that thing in Room Eight, I was---Unh!---You know, I went with Derek Taylor once to Liverpool on a Warner Brothers jaunt to meet people. Derek used to be the Beatles' press officer, but now he was an executive at Warner's, the record company. We booked into this old hotel in Liverpool. This was a long time after the incident in Room Eight in the Spread, but the feeling stayed with me. In Liverpool, this was a happy time and we had a lot of fun. Derek took us to see the site of the old Cavern Club, where the Beatles used to play. It had been demolished and it was just a pile of dust then. At night we hung out in the bar of the hotel and drank and I went to bed very late. But when I lay down on the bed, I looked around the room and I got that horrible feeling again and I thought, "Uh-oh!" It all flooded back. I hated that feeling and I thought: "Oh, no! I never want to go through that again!" I mean it was so real! It was almost 4 o'clock in the morning and even though I had been having so much fun, when I lay down in the bed I was nervous. It was this really old English hotel and I was just about goin' t'sleep and I got all spooked and I said, 'Oh, man, here we go again!' There was a cord from a high bed lamp dangling over my head and I pulled it and a light went on. I looked around the room and I was just spooked. I thought, 'Ugh!' Yes, that thing that happened in Room Eight stayed with me for years. It was really scary. I mean I've had more moments years later in rooms and stuff. I just get creepy, you know. Anyhow, I went to sleep that night with the light on in Liverpool. I remember I got up in the morning and at breakfast the waitress told me that somebody had died of a heart attack in the room down the hall from me a couple of nights before. So, maybe seven or ten years after the night in Room Eight, I remember being scared in the hotel in Liverpool."
The Scottish public ended up believing that Elizabeth I suckered Mary, Queen of Scots into going for a wrong number like Henry Stuart, a.k.a. Lord Darnley, just to debase, embarrass, humiliate and otherwise make a fool of their monarch. Certainly everybody agreed that the message sent out by Elizabeth was that Darnley, one of Mary's cousins, who, like Mary, had been born a Catholic, would be just the ticket, according to Antonia Fraser. But when Mary, then 23, ended up falling hopelessly in love with the 19-year-old spoiled brat, Elizabeth became so enraged that she threw Darnley's mother into the Tower of London. Mama Darnley, Lady Lennox, was the only member of Darnley's family that Elizabeth could get her hands on at the time because Darnley's father, Matthew, Earl of Lennox, was in Scotland, where everybody believed Elizabeth had sent him to lay the groundwork for the wedding in the first place. Because Lennox had been banished from Scotland for trying to capture Dumbarton Castle with the help of English troops in 1544, Elizabeth herself had to plead with Mary to allow Lennox back into Scotland, ostensibly to reclaim his estates. As for Darnley, Elizabeth had sent him there in response to a letter from Mary several months later asking that Darnley be allowed to join his Dad. Safely over the border, both father and son ignored Elizabeth's demands that they return to England immediately.
Not only did Darnley's father have his own pretensions to the Scottish throne, but his wife, Lady Lennox, born Margaret Douglas, had a claim to the English crown as a granddaughter of Henry VII. Did Mary find the blueness of Darnley's blood more attractive than she craved his flesh? Some historians insist she would have gone gaga over Cousin Henry no matter what he looked like, simply because Catholics thought that, as a descendant of Mary Tudor, he had a claim to the British throne second only to that of Mary, Queen of Scots herself. Obviously, his claim would reinforce her own. But there seems to be a lot of evidence that horny Mary really did get the hots for Cousin Henry. Something of an Amazon, Mary was about six-foot-one, but Darnley was two inches taller. Aside from being very lanky, he also was very good-looking, even though he was described by one contemporary observer as "beardless and lady-faced." Darnley also was an able horseman, a graceful dancer and educated enough to write romantic poems to Mary. Everybody said they made an impressive-looking couple. They had first met when Darnley's mother sent the 14-year-old fledgling peacock to pay his respects at the coronation of Cousin Mary's husband as King of France. At that time, Darnley carried papers asking for help in reclaiming his father's confiscated Scottish estates. Mary and Darnley met again some 18 months after the coronation when Mama once more sent Darnley to France, this time to pay condolences on the death of Cousin Mary's husband and also to dangle Darnley's luscious bod in front of the newly marriageable Mary.
Mary Stuart was a very smart, very well educated, very charming, very sophisticated, very stylish, very good-looking and very lustful woman. As Mary, Queen of Scots, she had a lot going for her beyond her spectacular golden red hair, but she let herself get carried away by her ambitions as well as by her glands. Historians tell us that Mary didn't fall head over heels until she started mothering big baby Darnley through a bout with the measles. That must have been it, according to Mary's historical apologists! The maternal instinct must have overwhelmed her! The Cardinal of Lorraine, meanwhile, called Darnley "an agreeable nincompoop." Darnley was so hung on himself, he could have been his own overcoat. He was lazy, vain, boastful, arrogant and he also had a vicious temper. He was just the type of creep to pull a knife on the messenger who told him that Mary had named him Earl of Ross when Darnley expected her to name him to be the more prestigious Duke of Albany. Darnley had arrived in Scotland in February of 1565, but by July 20, Mary did indeed name him Duke of Albany. By then he was held in such general contempt that even those rowdy young Scottish nobles who had started out being his best drinking buddies didn't want anything more to do with him.
By the Autumn of 1991, Albert Grossman was long dead and gone, buried in the woods behind his 600-seat Bearsville Theater, the jewel of the Hudson Valley. There was no more perfect theater for miles. In addition to the theater, Albert's empire came to include three restaurants, a TV studio, a recording studio, administrative offices, a rehearsal barn, various apartments to house the musicians using the recording studio, plus the dump of a house he gave me to live in. Now, Ian was managing the recording studio for Albert's widow, Sally, and he was keeping the studio booked solid with hit acts.
"Coincidentally," Ian said, "at the studio yesterday, Robert, one of the engineers, has got a door that opens in his home here. He's renting a new house out toward Maverick way. He was telling us yesterday that no matter what he does, this damn door opens. So he was calling his landlord to see if the landlord had had any problems with it. He said it's locked. It's got one of those door handles that lock. He said, 'Make sure it's firmly locked.' Yesterday morning, he passed it on the way out and he went out the house and he forgot his cigarettes and he went back in the house and the door was standing open. He said, 'Oh, I have no explanation for this at all. This door is locked and then it's standing open.' He's been in there two months and it's happened on an average of once a week and he's getting slightly spooked by it. But he has a dog. I said, 'Does the dog ever react at night or somethin'?' He said, 'No, not really.' I said, 'How about this morning?' He said, 'No, the dog was chewing a bone on the floor and the door was open right besides him.' He said there's absolutely no explanation for the door opening up. It just opens all the time. So, I told him I wanna come 'round there some night and cop a vibe. 'Cause if there is somethin' there, I might feel it!"---and Ian broke into a deep belly laugh---"Now that I've got myself together," he said between laughs, "I can do it again."---and Ian broke into another series of belly laughs---"I'm ready again," he continued, laughing. "I can do it again!"
Ian laughed and laughed. Then he stopped laughing and said:
"But, boy, it sure scared me for years afterwards. It was fuckin' weird, I'll tell ya!"
Just as largely Protestant America would one day adore John F. Kennedy, the young and beautiful Mary, Queen of Scots was enjoying a honeymoon with the Scot on the street, despite her Catholicism. Mary tried to enforce a policy of religious tolerance, keeping her own Catholic masses private. When she fell for Darnley, talk circulated among the populace that the snotty kid must have used some very unCatholic black magic to win her heart. A lot of propaganda opposed to the marriage was also put out by the puritanical John Knox, leader of the Scottish Reformation, the Jimmy Swaggart of his day, a hypocritical old lech who, at the age of 50, married a 17-year-old girl but still wanted to throw a wet blanket on everyone else's fun. Along with his following of Protestant ministers, Knox saw the wedding as a victory for Catholicism. Not only Knox but many others among Scotland's most important people were against this marriage. In other words, Queen Elizabeth wasn't the only one to get enraged at the prospects of Mary and Darnley getting hitched. Among the nobles of Mary's court, everyone had his own agenda, but they soon were surprised to find that they were mostly opposed to this union. Even Mary's own ladies-in-waiting were against it. The powerful Hamiltons, distant relatives also descended from James II of Scotland, could see their own chances for the Scottish throne fluttering out the casement window. Mary's Protestant half-brother, the bastard Lord James, who had personally gone to France to invite Catholic Mary back to rule Scotland, couldn't swallow Darnley as his half-brother-in-law. Such a marriage would put Lord James' rivals, the Lennoxes, in a position to diminish James' influence over his sister. Characteristically, Darnley had been undiplomatic enough to let the word get around that he thought Lord James' land grabs as the Earl of Moray were causing more grief than anybody expected. Infuriated, James decided he wasn't going to let a snotty young twat like Darnley ruin all the hard work he had expended in building an Anglo-Scottish alliance and in steering Scotland's Protestant nobility into accepting his Catholic half-sister on the throne in the first place.
After Mary and Darnley were married in a Catholic ceremony at Holyrood Palace on July 19, 1565, half-Brother James started organizing a little putsch. In response, Mary reconciled with all the enemies half-brother James had made, including James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, hereditary Lord High Admiral of Scotland and Warden of Marches. A Protestant, Bothwell had fled imprisonment in Scotland after being accused of participating in a plot to kidnap Mary, whom he described at the time as "the Cardinal's whore." Now he showed up on her behalf like the U.S. Cavalry, with a column of armed men he had recruited. Carrying a pistol in her saddle and dressed as a man, Amazon Mary rode out of Edinburgh on August 26 at the head of the column and, with Darnley wearing a flashy suit of gilt armor at her side, she set off on her so-called "Chaseabout Raid," forcing her bastard half-brother and his co-conspirators to seek refuge in England. Left behind to be forfeited were their Scottish estates and everything else they couldn't carry into exile with them.
In her early infatuation with Darnley, Mary wanted to make her husband feel like a king, so she made him a king. She conferred that title on him. He was King Henry. He co-signed all royal documents. Even though he spent most of his time hunting or otherwise making whoopee on that era's version of the nightclub circuit, his signature was stamped onto official documents. An iron stamp with his signature on it was made in case he wasn't around to sign something important, and he wasn't around most of the time. But the title of king wasn't good enough for Darnley. He wanted the power. He wanted the so-called "crown matrimonial," by which he would become the ruler in case a horrible accident befell his wife. In November of 1565, when Mary came down with terrible pains in her side in her third month of pregnancy, an unconcerned Darnley went off hunting. By December, one member of Mary's court was noticing that a mutual "mislike" had developed between Mary and her husband. By February of the following year, another diplomat was reporting that Mary "hateth" Darnley. The queen and her king were now sleeping apart, just like Di and Charles.
In telling me the story of Room Eight, Ian remembered:
"The locals used to say, 'Aw, the Spread's haunted! The Spread? That place? Aw, the Spread's haunted! We all know that!' And we---Helen, me, the Breustedts---we would say, 'Sure!' We all put up a solid front saying it wasn't haunted at all. But to tell you the truth, right from the beginning, the Spread always gave me the creeps.
"Another thing that's interesting is that one of the prime players in the Spread Eagle at that time was Daisy, who was a cook and waitress and stuff like that. She used to drink a lot and she used to walk home every night. She didn't live all that far away. It was like walking home in a small town like Woodstock. She walked from the Spread to her house every night.
"Well, one night she was too drunk. She must've gotten to the front door of her house and then she must've either slipped or sat down in the snow or lost her key or somethin.' They found her frozen to death outside her front door. Just sittin' in the snow the next morning. In the ice or the snow, whatever it was. She must've been about maybe in her early fifties. And she was a big part of my memory of the hotel. She did that walk home every night for years and years and years and then one night she didn't make it through her front door. She was found frozen to death on her front step. She died weird. Yeah, that gave me a chill, too."
Eventually, perhaps the only one left at the court of Mary, Queen of Scots who could stand to hang out with her royal turnoff of a husband was Mary's hunched and not-too-handsome Italian secretary, David Rizzio or Riccio, a well educated lute player whom she had hired at a salary of 80 pounds per year because she needed his bass voice to fill out her singing quartet of palace valets. Rizzio handled Mary's correspondence with her French relatives and with the Pope and he was popular at Mary's court only with Mary. Her self-absorbed nobles resented the fact that this ugly and lowborn snob could act with such familiarity with their queen while he treated all of them like dirt. Figuratively, Rizzio kept clinging to Mary's skirts until the very end, when clinging to them for his dear life proved ineffectual. Mary always remained very loyal to Rizzio, even though the fact that he was able to amass a fortune of 2,000 pounds by the time of his death left some doubts as to just how incorruptible Rizzio was.
Variously described at the time as foolish, bombastic, weak-willed and an alcoholic, Darnley, meanwhile, let himself get talked into a plot by some of the Scottish nobles which would bring Lord James and his outlawed band of rebels back from England so they could throw Mary into the clink, an act which would give teen king Darnley the crown matrimonial. The plotters also had a little something in mind for the despised Rizzio. If Darnley was so ready to turn on his wife, why should he feel any loyalty to Rizzio, who had been perhaps the only member of the palace household unopposed to Darnley's marriage to Mary?
As Ian likes to joke, you can't trust a Scotsman and Darnley was at least half a Scotsman. With turned coats always the style in that corner of the British Isles, people were constantly changing colors. As for Darnley, he was just as much of a chameleon as any other Scot. Although a Catholic, he even attended Protestant services. By this time, Mary had turned, too. She had turned frigid on Darnley. Not only was Mary now the color of ice, but King Henry of Scotland himself was also turning still another color: green with envy because of the influence which this little hunched Italian, Rizzio, exercised over King Henry's icy snow queen. When the plotters told Darnley to sign on the dotted line, he asked for a pen.
Lennox, Darnley's Dad, was sent to England to get the OK for the plot from all the exiled lairds whose lands had been confiscated. Mary was six months' pregnant when, on the Saturday night of March 9, 1566, the plotters rushed into her bedroom via the private stairway that came up from her husband's apartment, directly beneath her own. Pointing a pistol at Mary's pregnant belly, the plotters pried Rizzio's fingers loose from her skirts and, as Rizzio screamed bloody murder, pleading for the queen to save him, they dragged him away and vented both their pent-up anger on the arrogant Rizzio's already deformed body with 56 stab wounds. Mary was now a prisoner in her own palace but she still had that cool head on her shoulders. She began to sweet-talk, browbeat, cajole and henpeck her lame, stupid and hopeless husband, forcing him to take a good look at what the plotters might eventually be planning to do to him. By the next day, a Sunday, Mary's villainous but weak-willed spouse was pleading for her forgiveness and, with Darnley now back on her side, Mary, her servants and her kitchen help were able to cook up a way out of there. Although six months' pregnant, Mary raced the 25 miles to Dunbar Castle sitting behind Darnley astride a galloping horse that Darnley kept spurring on to an even more furious pace. Panicking over what the plotters might do to him now that he had betrayed them, too, Darnley kept flogging the mount to go even faster. When Mary reminded him of her condition, Darnley growled that they could always have another baby if she lost that one. Meanwhile, Mary had again sent for her equivalent of the U.S. Cavalry, Warden Bothwell, who arrived at Dunbar with 2,000 soldiers. Immediately, Mary led those troops in a triumphant return to Edinburgh, where God knows how long Mary spent kicking herself when the fleeing plotters sent her the treacherous document Darnley had signed.
For as long a I've known Ian, he has been dedicated to music. He told me that when he first met Helen, he was a trainee in furniture design in Edinburgh, but even then, he was also a musician, crisscrossing the Scottish countryside, playing guitar with various bands. Music has always dominated Ian's thoughts, imagination and conversation, ever since his father sent him for mandolin lessons. As Albert Grossman's A&R chief at Bearsville Records, Ian's specialty was in discovering, nurturing and grooming such young recording stars as Randy Vanwarmer, who scored an immense success for Bearsville with a hit single called Just When I Needed You Most.
By the time I moved to Bearsville and got to meet Ian, I had acquired an impressive record collection. With record companies having sent me mail sacks full of albums in the hope that I would write about them in my Pop Scene column, I had amassed a collection of thousands of records. I remember Ian beholding my collection with a look that was envious and maybe a little forlorn. Dark-haired and with his usual serious face, Ian explained that he once had thousands of records, too, but a collision with another vessel had gashed a hole in the hull of the ship bringing Ian's belongings from Britain and a container carrying Ian's entire record collection had fallen through the hole into Boston Harbor, never to be retrieved.
Whatever powers there might have been in Scotland, King Henry, the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, had now double-crossed every last one of them. What ensued was an uneasy truce between the queen and her king, then barely 20 years old. After all, there was a long tradition of fooling around in Scotland. Birth control had not yet been perfected and the countryside was overrun with bastards. Already people were whispering that maybe the baby that the queen was carrying in her womb was actually the child of Mary's assassinated secretary, Davy Rizzio. This kind of gossip was destined to continue for hundreds of years.
As recently as 1830, when a skeleton said to be that of a child was found in a wall of Edinburgh Castle, rumors arose that the bones were that of Mary's baby, switched at birth. The judgment of historians was that the bones found in the wall, wrapped in woolen cloth, were probably, as biographer Antonia Fraser described them, "the sad relic of a lady-in-waiting's peccadillo."
Back in 1566, Mary decided that she couldn't just cast aside the father of her child, at least not until after the baby was born. It simply wouldn't look good. Besides, Darnley might get weird enough to start going around saying the baby wasn't his. During Mary's lying-in, her husband went out partying every night. The baby, fated to be crowned one day not only as King James VI of Scotland but then also as King James I of England, was born on June 19, 1566. When Mary first showed the baby to his father before certain assembled members of her court, she said:
"My Lord, God has given you and me a son, begotten by none but you. Here I protest to God, as I shall answer to Him at the great day of Judgment, that this is your son and no other man's son. I am desirous that all here, with ladies and other bear witness. For he is so much your own son, that I fear it will be worse for him hereafter."
Ian and Helen Kimmet are an anachronism. They certainly are a cheery couple. Does anybody make families as apple pie as their's any more? Even by 1991, they still seemed Ozzie and Harriet. By then, 19-year-old Darren was studying philosophy, European politics and classical Greek and Roman history at Edinburgh University and 18-year-old Ashley, a high school sophomore, was so good-looking that people kept telling him he ought to be a male model. Although Ashley obviously got his good looks from his parents, his six-foot-two-inch-plus height dwarfed them. Cherubic-faced and dark-haired Ian stands only five-feet-seven. Pert, pretty and dark-haired Helen is a diminutive five-feet-four-and-a-half.
When I was part of the Bearsville Records Company family, Helen used to cook the tastiest meals and bake the sweetest pies and cakes. Ozzie and Harriet? With a Scots brogue, maybe. The truth is that being with Ian and Helen sometimes really was like being in a sitcom. There was one night I remember when Helen, although always a sweetheart, was scowling and not at all her usual pleasant self as she walked into Bearsville's Gypsy Wolf Cantina to join Ian and me at dinner. She was coming from the Benedictine Hospital emergency room in nearby Kingston, where Ashley had been treated for the broken nose he'd suffered when somebody's head had smashed into his face during varsity basketball practice only a few hours earlier. She explained that she was still pissed at the doctor for not recognizing a loose chip in the X-ray of Ashley's nose. She was also annoyed at the doctor's reluctance to give Ashley a painkiller that had codeine in it.
"Obviously, it's not like he's a junkie or something!" she protested. "His nose HURT!"
An RN herself, Helen was a student pediatrics nurse enrolled in a nurses' training school in Edinburgh when Ian first met her back in 1965.
Still unaware that Lord James had been one of those who had signed onto the Rizzio murder plot, Mary, Queen of Scots patched things up with her bastard half-brother and accepted him back into her good graces, sending twat Darnley into another twit. Meanwhile, Mary began to feel that her louse of a spouse had meant to eliminate both her and her unborn child in the plot which killed Rizzio. She no longer felt she had any reason to demonstrate either public or private affection for young Darnley. In other words, she had a lot of reason why not to give him any more you know what.
Otherwise, because of an incident recorded during Mary's visit some weeks afterwards to a residence called Traquair, said to be the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, biographer Antonia Fraser suggests that Mary might have succumbed to Darnley's pleas for sex once or twice after Baby James' birth. At supper at Traquair, Mary begged off from the stag hunt planned for the following day, whispering into Darnley's ear that she might be pregnant again. In response, the drunken lout replied in a loud voice for the entire table to hear:
"Never mind. If we lose this one, we will make another!"
That was the same remark he had made when a six months' pregnant Mary was fleeing Rizzio's killers aboard a horse that Darnley was whipping to greater speed. When others at the Traquair table objected to this remark, Darnley bellowed:
"What! Ought not we to work a mare well when she is in foal""
In Scotland, Helen completed a two-year course at Dean College in Edinburgh, qualifying her to be what she called a "nursery nurse."
"That's the equivalent of a Nanny," she told me. "Taking care of kids ranging from the newborn to age five."
After moving with Ian to Bearsville, Helen enrolled in classes at Ulster County Community College in nearby Stone Ridge to get her certification as an RN. For a long time, Helen worked as a night nurse at Kingston's Benedictine Hospital. Most recently, she has been doing 12-hour shifts as a labor and delivery nurse in Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie. I've always admired Helen as a woman who cares. That's the kind of work she does.
She certainly is one of the cheeriest women I know. Helen has the smile of a friend who's obviously ready to think only the best of you. She shines on everyone like daylight, commanding all in her company to remain in the same good cheer. I've never known Helen and Ian to squabble in public. No matter what secrets the two of them might have decided never to share with each other, they appear to have remained devoted to their marriage and to their family, with the raising of their children always their prime concern. As Helen's sons erupt into manhood, they, too, cling to the sense of family imbued by their parents. Although choosing to attend college in faraway Scotland, for example, Darren stayed with relatives still living there. The thought even crossed Ian's mind that Darren, as a native of Jedburgh, might still be eligible to compete for the honor of being named that town's "Callant."
Now more as a judge of musical talent than as a musician, whether as an A&R man or as the administrator of a recording studio, Ian continues to carve a name for himself in the music industry with a personality that is as disarming as it is infectious. If I had to draw a cartoon of Ian, his eyebrows would be small, black combs, but not as large as Groucho's. Ian's eyebrows sit atop eyes that look straight into yours and smile at you with unassuming innocence. As for Ian's lips, they always seem to manage a cute pucker. But mainly, I've always been an easy mark for a Scotch brogue. For as long as I can remember.
A view of Jedburgh's "Mercat," the town square.
(Photo courtesy of Ian and Helen Kimmet)
By September of 1566, Lord Darnley, King Henry of Scotland and the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, didn't have any drinking buddies to hang out with at all other than his hired help. He was left to feel like excess baggage, but when he threatened to leave the country, he was warned that for him to do so would be too much of an insult to the queen. When Mary decided during the summer that she would make the rounds of her realm like a circuit judge holding court to administer justice in what the Scots called an "eyre," she invited Darnley to join her. Seeking to calm the troubled countryside, starting in the border area, she announced that she would bring the Quarter Sessions of her court to each of the five royal burghs, beginning with Jedburgh.
At first, the lairds of the constabularies surrounding Jedburgh along with their household servants were commanded to meet the royal party at the nearby town of Peebles on August 13 or face the loss of "life, lands and goods." The town of Jedburgh itself was commanded to provide drink and lodging for men and horses. The royal announcements were made at Jedburgh's Mercat Cross in the town square, where Jedburgh's populace held their mercat, which is the Scots word for market. All those summoned to the Quarter Sessions were told to bring supplies for 15 days. Later, the order was changed to 20 days. A difficult and untravelable country of primitive, brutal, fickle, quarrelsome and contentious people who were constantly changing allegiances, Scotland was described by at least one ambassador of the time as "the arse of the world." Still without organized stage coach routes and with communications even more miserable than its climate, Scotland also was suffering from its own little Ice Age. The harvests were late again that year and the times were dragging. The royal announcements made at Jedburgh's Mercat Cross changed on three occasions over the summer. By October, Darnley decided he didn't feel like going to Jedburgh. He went hunting on his father's estate in Lennox instead.
Half-brother James accompanied Mary to Jedburgh along with a selection of other nobles. Also in the royal party were Mary's ladies-in-waiting, Mary Seton and Mary Somerville. In addition, the Queen needed her lawyers for the court proceedings and she also brought along her priest, John Leslie, Bishop of Ross. Because she had not yet fully recovered from her childbirth, her two French doctors were also in the party. Rounding out the group were about 200 soldiers.
When Queen Mary's visit was first announced in Jedburgh, prices skyrocketed. Ale shot up to about eight pennies. A loaf of bread jumped to about six. Entrusted with quelling Jedburgh's riots, the hereditary provost was a certain Rutherford of Hundalee. When the townspeople tried to kick Rutherford out and install a man named Marcus Turnbull, things got so bad that they had to give Rutherford his job back. The Queen, upset that "pure people who labor the ground" weren't being properly protected, ordered the provost to fix the price of ale at five pennies and a loaf of bread at four. She also sent Warden Bothwell to kick whatever ass necessary. Remember Bothwell, Mary's equivalent of the U.S. Cavalry?
When it came to kicking ass, always a pain in those parts was the Eliot family, an outlaw clan with an eternal beef against the government, no matter who was in power. Entrusted with tracking down the Eliots, Warden Bothwell was built like a five-foot-six-inch ape. He had a short fuse and a hair-trigger and he was nothing but a bully who always made his point with his sword. Quick to settle his arguments with bloodshed, he was the kind of creep who would kick a servant in the stomach. Mary herself was quoted as having said:
"He was a man whose natural disposition made him anything but agreeable or inclined to put himself to much trouble or inconvenience to gain the goodwill of those with whom he had been associated."
As the lawman with the queen's star on his chest, Bothwell already had many members of this outlaw clan of Eliots locked up in his hoosegow, the deep, dark dungeon of gloomy Hermitage Castle. Bothwell had so many Eliots in chains that the leader of the clan still on the loose put a price on Bothwell's head. Clan leader, "Wee Jock" Eliot vowed to kill the Warden himself. When Wee Jock and Bothwell happened to cross paths, there was an exchange of gunfire. One pellet hit Wee Jock but three hit Bothwell, who was caught off-balance. Badly wounded and outnumbered by the Eliots accompanying Wee Jock, Bothwell bargained with the next-in-line of the Eliots, Robert Eliot of Schaw. If the Eliots would carry the bleeding Bothwell back to his Hermitage Castle, Bothwell would release all the Eliots in his dungeon. According to Charlotte E. Stuart's pamphlet, "Bothwell. . . was allowed into the castle, while the Eliots went free; but Wee Jock died within a mile."
On her way to Jedburgh, Mary probably heard about all this while at Borthwick Castle. Once, Jedburgh, too, had a castle to house Scotland's reigning sovereigns. Erected by David I, Jedburgh Castle was an imposing citadel overlooking the town from its south end on the high ground above the river, an area known as the "town head." One of five fortresses ceded to England under the Treaty of Falaise in 1174 as security for the ransom of William the Lionheart, Jedburgh Castle later became a favorite royal residence until Malcolm IV died in it in 1195. After that, the Castle was considered a jinx. By 1409, English invaders had so frequently occupied the bastion and used it as a base for raids that the Castle became more of a menace than a protection for the town, more a liability than a rampart. The Scottish Parliament ordered it torn down more than a hundred years before Mary hit Jedburgh. Today, nothing remains of the original Jedburgh Castle, but the site still symbolizes the way things turn wrong in Jedburgh. What now stands there was built in 1823 as the new county prison and to this day it's known as "The Castle."
Helen's grandfather was Dutch. His name was Frederick Breustedt and he was well over six feet tall.
"It's from his great-grandfather that Ashley gets his height," Helen explained.
At 16, Frederick Breustedt let somebody sell him a bill of goods that led him to think he could work his passage from Amsterdam to America as an apprentice kitchen help aboard some steamship whose name has long since faded from the family's memory. For two weeks after the ship tied up at Edinburgh's Keith Docks, young Frederick thought he was in America. It was while he was walking on Princess Street, the main drag, that he met a friend he had known in Amsterdam. It was the friend, a youth named Leif, who was able to make Frederick understand he really was in Scotland, not America.
Fred Breustedt had gotten fooled but he made the best of his however shorted trip. Finding his way to Peebles, a town between Edinburgh and Jedburgh, Fred got a job at the Hydro, a big resort hotel, where people came to swim, to ride, to play tennis, to play golf and to vacation in general. Peebles was a big golfing center and Fred worked his way up from waiter to banqueting manager. Then he came back to Edinburgh.
Helen doesn't know exactly when Frederick Breustedt met Jeannie McKee, a woman of Irish descent. They married and had six kids, "all of whom have done OK," according to Helen. Robert McKee Breustedt, Helen's Dad, was Fred and Jeannie Breustedt's second youngest child. The story is handed down in Helen's family that her father was always an opportunistic boy who would chase after the horse-drawn milk carts of his youth to collect the horse-droppings, which he then sold to gardeners as fertilizer. He also ran a thriving business dealing in white mice, then popular as pets. In Robert McKee Breustedt's day, everybody left school at 15 or 16 and young Robert got a job as a sugar boiler in Rountree's chocolate factory. At 18, he was called up to see action in France and Germany during World War II. Helen was born at the end of the war, after her Dad returned from military service to the Morningside district of Edinburgh, where he bought a filthy old coal shop. He cleaned it up to look like the gleaming white house in the Ajax commercial and turned it into a greengrocer's market. Helen's Mum and Dad worked in the greengrocers from 7 in the morning until 7 at night.
"My Dad got into the hotel business through my grandfather," Helen remembered. "My Dad signed on as a waiter and became banqueting manager of the George Hotel in Edinburgh and he served Princes Margaret and the Queen and everybody else. And he got a taste for it." Helen suddenly chuckled, explaining:
"He used to come home late and he would bring chicken that he had been serving. My mother loved chicken and he would come home late at night and waft pieces of chicken under my mother's nose to wake her up. But then he bought the greengrocer's store and they did that for a long time. I guess he built up his money. He always wanted to buy his own place. First of all, he was manager of the Hillburn Roadhouse for Scottish Brewers, which was a restaurant on the outskirts of Edinburgh, where I grew up. He did that for a few years and saved enough money so that he could buy his own place, which was the Spread."
With no castle for her in Jedburgh, Mary, Queen of Scots, had to stay in the Spread Eagle Hotel, which, as Charlotte E. Stuart's pamphlet points out, still holds one of the longest continuous licenses of all the public houses in Scotland. Into the Spread with Mary went her ladies, lawyers, priests and physicians, but half-brother James took Mary's 200 soldiers to set up camp on the meadowlands next to the river.
According to Charlotte E. Stuart's research, Mary never got to spend even a whole night at the Spread Eagle Hotel. Ms. Stuart's pamphlet says a fire in the Spread that very first night chased the Queen and her retinue into other quarters, namely the stone house that was the only building in Jedburgh to survive the Earl of Hertford's torch. A structure now known as Queen Mary's House, it is an oblong, three-story building with a small, four-story wing projecting from the east wall. It was built of red, yellow and gray stone rubble and was described as a "bastel" house, meaning that it was fortified against attack. In the time of Mary, Queen of Scots, it was owned by Sir Thomas Ker of the Ferniehirst Castle Kers. For Mary's visit, Ker ordered the townspeople to rethatch the roof. Jedburgh also had no Catholic chapel for Mary, although a wall today remains behind Queen Mary's house which obviously was once a wall of a chapel, built either for her visit or as a result of it. The side of the wall which faces the courtyard of Queen Mary's house still has a niche with a sculptured Madonna and Child plus several other recesses, one of which contains the decapitated statuette of a baby, probably beheaded during the Protestant riots of 1641. Queen Mary's own head left her shoulders some 54 years before those riots.
"Ian was in Royal High School, a boys' school in Edinburgh, and I was at St. Serf's all-girls' school," Helen remembered. "Both schools got together at dances, but that's not how I met him. He was in a band called the Zodiacs and he was in a band called the Straws. My girl friend, Susan, was going out with the bass player of the Straws, a fellow named Oz, and I used to go with her to the dances. I was 15 then and Ian was 17 and I met Ian through Susan. I used to see him at all the dances. And eventually, he called me up and asked me out to his graduation dance, at which he would be playing with the band. But my parents were taking me to Majorca, which they did every year, and I was really pissed off I couldn't go to the dance with Ian. I said: 'This is it! I'll never see him again!' But when I came back, he called me up and I went out with him. That was the start. We went out together for five years. His cousin, Neil, used to escort me to all the dances Ian played at. Neil Shearer. Neil always danced with me. Neil is now living in Darlington, England, and recently had a heart attack.
"Ian and I got married five years after we met. Ian went to London in '66 and we got engaged. We got married in 1968 in London. Ian went to London because he was becoming a player in the music publishing business. He ended up in Feldman's Publishing, which handled Bob Dylan's music publishing in the U.K., and that's where Ian met Albert Grossman. Albert was Dylan's manager. Ten years later, we were here, in Woodstock."
A sketch of Queen Mary's House adorns the cover of Charlotte E. Stuart's Mary in Jedburgh pamphlet, but the author leaves some confusion about whether Queen Mary's House is the one that escaped the Earl of Hertford's torch or whether it's the bastel house that was built for the queen by the aforementioned Sir Thomas Ker. Charlotte Stuart's pamphlet tells us:
A fire at the Inn, on the first night, meant Mary and her ladies had to move to Queen Mary's House. It had been built for her by Sir Thomas Ker of Ferniehirst. Busy at the Bar, he had not told her of the bastel-house built for her on Limmerfield in the "Black Gait."
The Black Gait is another street in Jedburgh. If Sir Thomas Ker was busy at the Bar, he wasn't getting drunk, he was battling enemies at the Carter Bar, the gateway to England. Charlotte Stuart's pamphlet leads the reader to believe that Sir Thomas built both houses for the Queen.
Ian remembered the frigid terror that crept up his spine the time he lay on the very spot where the butchered Rizzio breathed his last. A copper plaque stares up from the floor to mark the location. Ian, then 10 or 11, was lagging behind his father, who was himself at the tail end of a guided tour through Edinburgh's Holyrood Palace. Wasn't a tour through Holyrood Palace a rite-of-passage for every young Scot?
"It's really an intrepid place," Ian said. "It's an old palatial building. The tour guide took everyone 'round the banqueting halls and the meeting rooms and then they led you into Mary, Queen of Scots' private chambers. I remember the four-poster bed and the glass cabinets with some of her personal effects, which they have in Jedburgh, too, with shoes and headdresses. The bedroom is up a little staircase from this sitting room, and the place has sort of secret doors and little staircases that are all behind paneled walls and things. It was all a little mysterious, anyway.
"And they had rushed Rizzio in this room, near the bottom of the steps that led up to the queen's private bedroom and they all stabbed him to death. And there's this plaque on the floor where he fell. The first thing I did was I picked up an ancient pewter and metal helmet that was there. I just went to it, picked it up and put it on my head. My Dad turned around on me and said, 'Ian! Ian! Take it off!' And I said, 'I wanted to see what it looked like looking through a visor.' And he said, 'But, but, but, put it back! Put it back! Put it back on the stand!'
"And everybody else, the tour, was all ahead of us. We were trailing behind because of me. . . But I was enthralled by it all. And I remember in that room trying to absorb the whole moment, this really dramatic event in the history books. Certainly scholastically, it was a big one. Living in Edinburgh. Mary Queen of Scots. A murder in a royal palace, I found it all fascinating and romantic and terrifyin', too.
"I saw the plaque and I looked at the staircase and looked around the room and looked at the plaque on the floor and I thought: 'God! The guy died right here!' And I remember sittin' down on the plaque and I said to my Dad, 'I'll be right there! I'll be right there!' He went away, and I took the opportunity to sit down on the floor and I sort of lay down in the fetal position and then I looked around the room and I thought: 'A man died right here, probably turning to the door, lookin' at it,'"
Then, lying on the spot where Rizzio died, Ian began imagining himself to be Rizzio. In an instant, he relived the moment of the rain of dagger blows. That's when Ian felt the icy fingers of terror starting to creep up his spine.
"My Dad said, 'C'mon! C'mon!' and I jumped up."
Ian's father was a sheet metal worker. "That was his main line of work," Ian remembered. "And he was great at what he did. He was quite a craftsman with metal. As a young man of 16, he wanted to go to sea, but his father forbade him to go to sea. It was right in the middle of the Depression and they were poor working-class people, so they put him into a trade, sheet metal worker. In World War II, he was too old to be drafted, so they put him in the aircraft factories at Birmingham and Bristol. The reason he kept moving between the two cities was that he'd turn up for work in the morning and the factory would be gone, blown up, bombed and razed by the Luftwaffe. So they'd ship him to the factory in the other town. He worked on Spitfires, Hawker Hurricanes and the Lancaster Bomber. He was also instrumental in helping design and install a unit on the dashboard of the fighter planes. If you were the pilot and you were badly injured, you asked permission of the flight commander to disengage and leave the fray and if he said OK, you broke the glass on the box on the dashboard and you pushed a silver button, giving your plane fuel injection, allowing you to fly the plane home at a vastly accelerated speed. My Dad spent the rest of the war installing these boxes in fighter planes. He loved metal as a material to work with. He understood metal. He could do anything with it."
As a child, Ian had asthma, a condition which left him a sickly and withdrawn boy. "And I found all this solace and pleasure in my grandmother's record player," Ian remembered. "She had a Gramophone, a big wooden unit. You lifted up the lid. At first, they wouldn't let me touch it. 'No! No, Ian!' But when they saw I knew how to use it, they'd let me withdraw from their conversation and just listen to my grandmother's records. My grandmother had this big 78 record collection. And the adults would talk, and I would sit in the corner playing records on this Gramophone, not even in the next room. And I'd listen to things like---George Formby was this ukelele singer and he was a comedic guy from Lancashire with this cheery kind of comedic thing, singing songs while he played on his ukelele. I loved George Formby's records. I loved the rhythm of the ukelele. So I'd play those records and my grandmother was also into a bit of opera. She was into a woman called Catherine Ferrier. She had all of Ferrier's records. And also Richard Tauber's. And then maybe some of Caruso's.
Another refuge for young, withdrawn Ian was the Wild West. The Wild West has always fascinated him. Especially after the Davy Crockett craze hit. "It was a huge fad in Britain," Ian remembered. "So I got my coonskin hat and my gun and they bought me the first record I ever owned, The Ballad of Davy Crockett by Bill Hayes, and I played that until it was worn out. This was at my grandmother's. My mother and father didn't have a record player at this point. And then, shortly after that, we all got into rock and roll and I wanted a guitar. And my father said, 'Well, your Auntie Jeannie has got a mandolin. If you learn to play the mandolin, we'll buy you a guitar.' So I said, 'That's not really what I want.' But my father didn't want to hear what I wanted. He said, 'We'll pay for mandolin lessons,' so he sent me to this teacher and I started to learn the mandolin.
"I remember being on the street outside the house with all the kids and the hipper kids were into James Dean and rock and roll. And I remember the conversation that kind of started changing things for me. I was standing with a bunch of kids and they said, 'Well, haven't ya heard Elvis Presley's record?' And I wasn't sure. I was becoming aware of rock and roll and I said, 'Maybe.' I was maybe about 12. And the kids were gettin' into rock and roll. And we went to see Jailhouse Rock, a whole bunch of the kids in the neighborhood. That was the next big thing, goin' t'see Jailhouse Rock in some cinema in the afternoon.
"By then, I was pickin' on my Auntie Jean's mandolin. My Auntie Jean played eight-string banjo mandolin and I was pickin' on it. Eventually I got my Auntie Jean's banjo mandolin to keep, but Graham Lyle, who worked on all the Tina Turner records, borrowed it 15 years ago after becoming fascinated with it at dinner one night. He never gave it back to me and I can only hope it's still in his instrument collection.
"So, after six months of mandolin lessons, which were really boring to me, my God! My Aunt Jeannie called me 'round from school one day and said she saw this cheap guitar in the window of a Clydesdale store that was going out of business. It was only four or five pounds. It was broken in the back. 'D'ya want it?' Auntie Jean asked. Afterwards, my Dad was kind of mad. Jean going over their heads" That's what Protestant Presbyterian Scottish people are like!
"We were rock and roll kids. All the kids at that point were living in a music background. The Royal High School, where I went, was a private school, a fee-paying school, and my mother and father were blue-collar people who afforded the education for me. You know, they spent their money on sending me to one of Edinburgh's five principal private schools."
Within a year or two of the guitar in Clydesdale's window, Ian was playing with the best bands in Scotland. "I mean the whole period of time we're talkin' about was this highly charged, highly excitin' '60s Beat boom, and I was part of it," Ian remembered. "I played support band to a lot of the big Liverpool bands when I played in Glasgow. They'd come up and we'd be their young, studied support band for them. I mean the whole period was that 'Liberated '60s,' 'Britain-on-top-of-the-world-musically' period. That was the flavor of the times.
"The lifestyle for us at that point was the music. Clubs. Helen was at college. Nursing college. She was studying to be a children's nurse for two years. On the weekends, if I was away playing, she would ride down to the hotel on a scooter. She bought herself a scooter. She used to get on this little scooter and ride 40, 50 miles all the way down there. It was amazing and we'd all be concerned about her being on the major highways on a scooter, but she did it. Up and down between Jedburgh and Edinburgh."
The Beatles broke big in Britain in late 1962. Ian was 17 at the time. As a musician, Ian ripened in an era of "all Beatles or Stones."
"It was all, 'Who do you like? The Beatles or the Stones?'" he remembered. "When I was a kid, all we played was Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and Cliff Richards and the Shadows and all the hits of the day and then we got into maybe a little jazz and blues and then, later, when they broke big, the Beatles or Stones. Everybody really wanted to know all this stuff. I don't see that any more in younger people. Most younger people today start with the Beatles and Elton John. The younger guitar players don't know about Charlie Christian or Django Reinhardt."
Ian was 19 when he went to London. "I left Helen behind," he chuckled. After a year in London, he found himself working in the music publishing end of music. He met Albert Grossman shortly afterwards. It was maybe 1965 or 1966 and, as Ian recalled, "The Beatles definitely were the flavor of the times! I said to Helen just the other day, 'D'ya remember driving up from Jedburgh to Edinburgh, we raced up the road from Jedburgh to Edinburgh t'see the Magical Mystery Tour.' We left Jedburgh late and it was the most important thing in our lives to see the Magical Mystery Tour. This was all during that period. The Beatle period. It was all Beatles in the '60s and I was immersed in playing in bands. For me, it was music, music, music. I only went down to Jedburgh when there weren't enough gigs.
"We used to stop at a little cafe in a place called Lauder. We'd stop on the way up to Edinburgh and we'd pull into this little cafe and have a cup of tea or a coke. And they had a juke box. And I remember sittin' in there, playin' You Really Got Me, by the Kinks, over and over and over and over. . . And Helen said, 'We gotta go! Let's go!' It was like us feeding the juke box. Like I already said, this whole period of time we're talkin' about was this highly charged, highly excitin' '60s Beat boom. Yes, that was the flavor of the times."
Nowadays, Ian sometimes muses that what happened in Room Eight amounted to the Legend of Mary, Queen of Scots colliding with Beatlemania and the Beat Boom.
After holding the Quarter-Sessions and after an October 10 Privy Council meeting, Mary, Queen of Scots announced that she wanted an in-person report about the situation on the Marches from her wounded Warden. Marches is the word the Scots used for their borders. The historical pamphlet that Ian brought back for me says that Jedburgh was once "the chief place of the Middle Marches on the Scottish side." Mary prepared an expedition to visit the still-recuperating Bothwell at his Hermitage Castle, a hard day's ride of some 50 miles away. On November 6, she awakened early and, with an escort of soldiers commanded by half-brother James, she started out for Bothwell's castle on horseback, following a route which was careful to take her through lands held by clans friendly to the crown.
Hermitage Castle was a very inhospitable place. Stark, barren and businesslike, the castle was dedicated to the only business it knew, warfare. A very military bastion, it certainly wasn't equipped with the luxuries necessary to accommodate the royal party on an overnight stay. Biographers range from vague to doubtful about when and whether the two ever started giving each other kisses that made sparks fly and there is no evidence that Mary's meeting with Bothwell was charged with any kind of romantic or sexual tension. The meeting lasted several hours and when Mary started back for Jedburgh, the evening turned cold and wet. Soon, while passing through a swampy area even then known as the "Queen's Mire," Mary's horse kept getting bogged down. Two days after she returned to Jedburgh all bedraggled and thoroughly wet, Mary came down with a high fever. According to one report, she vomited more than 60 times. One of her French doctors diagnosed the Queen's problem center as "the spleen" and prescribed "drugs, apples and pomegranets," brought from Edinburgh at a cost of three pounds and 13 pence. Bishop Leslie wrote that the Queen "became deid. . . about sax hours in the morning on Friday," with her feet and arms "stiff and cauld." In other words, the Queen flatlined. For almost a half-hour on that ninth day, everybody did indeed fear that the Queen had expired.
Undaunted, Mary's French physicians vigorously massaged her "stiff and cauld" feet and arms. They bandaged her legs and poured wine down her throat and gave her an enema. She finally vomited blood on that ninth day, "which commonlie is called the crisis of the sickness." On that ninth day, "hir majesty recovered again hir sicht and speeche, and gat ane great swyting." Years later, doctors suspected her illness was actually a fever they called porphyria. Otherwise, Sir George Douglas, writing in the Transactions of the Hawick Archaeological Society, commented: "Of course, she was poisoned."
Sure that she would die, Mary sent a letter to Bothwell, who ordered himself carried to her bedside on a litter. Mary also summoned her husband, but Darnley didn't show up in Jedburgh until 10 days later. Again, Mary felt put off. Meanwhile, Darnley expected to stay with Mary in her house, but when she sent him away, he felt put off, too. He went to stay with the Earl of Hume in High Street, behind the Spread Eagle. When December of 1566 approached and Queen Mary finally readied her departure from Jedburgh, she distributed 20 pounds among the poor as an offering in thanks for her recovery. She also gave Lady Ferniehirst 40 pounds for the use of the house and she paid four pounds to her piper and 40 shillings to her lute player.
That was about the extent of the queen's role in the history of Jedburgh and Jedburgh's role in the history of the queen. But did Jedburgh's hard luck rub off on Mary? For the rest of her short life, she was out of the frying pan and into the fire.
When Ian and Helen first met in Edinburgh, Ian had never been to Jedburgh. It wasn't long before the Breustedts started inviting him out for the weekend. Going home with Helen to visit her Mum and Dad seemed like the convenient thing to do. On Sunday nights, Ian could give the Breustedts a hand tending bar at the weddings and other "functions" often held at the hotel. Then he could drive Helen back to college in Edinburgh the next morning.
As December's winter of 1566 approached, there weren't too many who had any more use for Lord Darnley, King Henry of Scotland. Bothwell, for one, just wanted to do away with him. Other nobles played with a plan to arrest Darnley for treason. Half-brother James didn't want half-brother-in-law Darnley around, either, but James insisted he didn't want anything to happen that could be blamed on James. As for Mary, she wished she could get rid of Darnley but she made it clear she didn't want anything to happen that would blacken her honor or darken the future of Darnley's son, her Baby James. Darnley, after all, was still King Henry of Scotland.
Some historians say that Darnley's bout with the measles was really an early symptom of his ensuing syphilis. When he got sick again while living apart from Mary in Glasgow, Mary arrived in that city to mother him once more. In Glasgow, Darnley was surrounded by his Lennox-Stewart relatives, who could always be counted on to cook up trouble for Mary. When she asked Darnley to come back with her to Edinburgh where she could take better care of him and also keep a closer eye on him, Darnley himself picked out a place to stay. He chose Edinburgh's Kirk-o'-Field house, where he was to continue his recuperation prior to his return to the nearby Holyrood Palace. Mary, too, stayed with Darnley at the Kirk-o'-Field house and she planned to stay there again on what was supposed to be Darnley's final scheduled night in the house. But at the very last minute, Mary remembered she had a previous appointment and she ended up back at Holyrood Palace.
Shandy is Scotland's national drink, a mixture of half-beer and half-lemonade. The color of shandy is almost exactly that of a golden retriever. Obviously, the Shandy owned by the Breustedt family back in 1965 wasn't the only golden retriever in Scotland ever to be named Shandy. There must've been dozens more Shandys in tiny Jedburgh alone.
The reason Ian asked about the dog's reaction when Robert, the engineer at the studio, told him about the door that kept opening was because, as I indicated at the beginning of this tale, that's how Ian's story starts, with the dog, Shandy, the golden retriever.
"Well, Shandy was the first clue that somethin' was wrong," Ian said.
After everybody retired for Darnley's last scheduled night at the Kirk-o'-Field house, Warden Bothwell, accompanied by his servants and by various co-conspirators, including members of the Douglas clan, put a fire to a fuse that led to a quantity of gunpowder the conspirators had planted in the cellar of the Kirk-o'-Field house. Darnley, apparently awakened by the noises they were making, probably looked out the window to see these known enemies of his so close to the house. Possibly fearing these enemies were going to burn down the building, Darnley, in a panic, ran out to the back garden in his white nightgown only moments before a thunderous explosion leveled the structure, killing everybody left inside. The blast also roused the entire city and touched off a scandal and a controversy which was to last for years. In the back garden, two conspirators from the Douglas clan caught up with both Darnley and a page, also still in his nightgown, who had accompanied his master in escaping from the house. The Douglases were Bothwell's co-conspirators but, after all, they were also Darnley's relatives. Some women nearby heard Darnley cry out his last plea:
"Pity me, kinsmen, for the sake of Jesus Christ, who pitied all the world!"
Darnley's last words caught in his throat as the cruel Douglas kinsmen strangled both Darnley and his page. On the early morning of February 10, 1567, King Henry of Scotland, a boy of not yet 21, was dead.
Like just about every structure in Jedburgh, the Spread Eagle was built as strong as a bastel house, with stone walls five feet thick. The Spread Eagle also encompassed a rear courtyard, where the stagecoaches later could pull up. Most of the 12 guest rooms were also toward the rear of the building.
Ian drew me a floor plan of the Spread Eagle as he remembered it. You walk in the front door and there's a bar to the left and a dining room to the right. On the ground floor, there is also the kitchen, a private sitting room, a bedroom, the passageway to the stables, the dumbwaiter shaft and the guest rooms. Up the narrow, winding staircases are another dining room, a lounge bar, a function room, the two-room suite of Robert and Nan Breustedt and more guest rooms. At the front of the building, with windows that looked out on High Street, Room Eight was up a few steps more, as if on a mezzanine, above Robert and Nan Breustedt's bedroom.
"The whole building was very scary at night," Helen remembered, "with a lot of creepy shadows. On the floor above Room Eight, were another four rooms and you could go up there at night and all the doors would be shut and you could go up there later and two or three of the doors would be open and there would be nobody there. We just had to accept that. Shandy, the dog, would never go to that part of the hotel.
"I never, ever, ever felt comfortable in the Spread. When my Mum and Dad went away on holiday to Spain and Bobby and I would be there on our own, I would never go to bed without my brother going up the stairs with me. I was scared to go up the stairs. There was a feeling there. And I would never sleep in my room without my dog. And next to Room Eight, I especially hated to go into the laundry room. That's where they used to iron all the sheets. I never liked that room.
"The locals kept saying from the beginning that the place was haunted. Even the cook would never go into the kitchen at night on her own. The kitchen was in the back, in the older part of the hotel. The back part was the creepiest."
From the safety of his Glasgow stronghold, Darnley's father, the Earl of Lennox, demanded justice, but Bothwell, now more powerful than ever, was the de facto dictator of Edinburgh. Just as the Chinese pro-democracy students were later to post their complaints against their government in Tiananmen Square, placards accusing Bothwell of Darnley's murder started getting displayed in public places in Edinburgh. Bothwell felt obliged to respond and so he manipulated the Parliament into staging a charade advertised as a trial. Because Darnley's father didn't have the guts or the muscle to show up with his witnesses in Bothwell territory, the Bothwell-controlled Parliament voted Bothwell off the hook. Absolved of Darnley's murder, Bothwell next decided that he was going to be king.
"I think I'd slept a couple of times on other weekends in another part of the building," Ian remembered. "It was afterwards that Helen said to me, 'Oh, that's where Bobby was telling you about the dog.' And I said, 'Yeah, yeah, the dog gets spooked as well.' And I said, 'Oh! That's that turn of the stairs!' And she said, 'Right! Right! Right! Right outside Room Eight!' And I said, 'Oh, shit! That's where the dog has the problem!' See, I had been thinking of Bobby havin' this problem with the dog when Bobby was in his other room, but Bobby had changed rooms. They had been talking about the dog long before that. As a breed, golden retrievers were supposed to be famous for their fearlessness and here this dog was cowering and whimpering at God knows what. I had thought it was interesting, but I hadn't connected it to Room Eight.
"The locals always maintained that the hotel was haunted. Right from the day the Breustedts bought the place, everybody said it was haunted, but, honestly, I paid no attention to that whatsoever. I said, 'Oh, yeah, sure, it's an old building. Every old building in Scotland is haunted.' The place had always given me the creeps, but until that thing happened in Room Eight, I never really felt frightened in the Spread."
Villains kept leaving Mary, Queen of Scots, tied on the railroad tracks in the path of an onrushing locomotive, more or less. In his rage to be King, Warden Bothwell, simply kidnapped Mary, raped her and then married her in a Protestant ceremony. And this was only three months after Darnley's death. Historians say it actually might have been with Mary's collusion that Bothwell kidnapped her. In any event, the same lairds who had conspired with Bothwell to kill Darnley soon turned against Bothwell and accused him of killing Darnley, touching off an outcry for Bothwell's head. The treacherous lairds quickly raised an army, which soon was facing Bothwell's own army across a valley some miles from Edinburgh. But as the two forces stood locked in their face-down from opposite ends of the field, Bothwell's army simply began to melt away. The rebel lairds then fed Mary a bunch of false promises to get her to surrender, to which she agreed on condition that the rebels let Bothwell ride away, even if he would only try to stir up more trouble. He tried, but ultimately ended up being held for years in a Danish dungeon, where he died a raving lunatic.
Now in control, the victorious rebels forced Mary to sign abdication papers or else they threatened to slit her throat. Then they locked her up in a castle. Although they were the very same men who had conspired with Bothwell to kill Darnley, these lairds now accused Mary of having masterminded the murder. In some cases it ultimately took years for all the guilty parties to end up getting their ironic deserts, sometimes at the hands of assassins. The deserts of Mary, Queen of Scots, of course, weren't exactly just. She was never to see Bothwell again. Nor her son, who was raised to think his mother had been his father's killer. With Mary imprisoned, her infant son was crowned James VI and Mary's bastard half-brother, James, reigned over Scotland as the baby's regent. When Mary succeeded in escaping to England, Queen Elizabeth, now remembered as one of the great bitches of all time, imprisoned her again. Still perceiving the Catholic Mary as a threat to her throne, Elizabeth kept the Scottish queen under lock and key for the rest of Mary's short life, which ended when Elizabeth's henchmen passed a law allowing them to execute Mary for being the intended beneficiary of an alleged plot, even though Mary had no previous knowledge of the plot and neither participated in it nor encouraged it. Actually, Elizabeth's henchmen themselves had pulled all the strings necessary to manipulate the plotters into action. Determined to eliminate the Queen of Scots as a possible threat to Elizabeth no matter how pathetic a creature they already had succeeded in turning Mary into, Elizabeth's henchmen didn't care how many other heads had to roll or whether they were innocent heads or not. The headsman needed two strokes of his axe to complete the job on Mary. As was the custom, he finally grabbed Mary's golden red hair to hold her head aloft for the watching audience to see. But Mary had been aged by her years of imprisonment and her golden red hair had turned gray. For her execution, she was wearing a golden red peruke and her head, disentangling from the hair of the wig, dropped from the headsman's grip and went rolling on the scaffold flooring.
"I mean, the Breustedts used to talk about the fact that Shandy couldn't handle that stairwell," Ian told me. "He'd fling and bang against the wall. Helen's brother, Bobby, would be haulin' him up the stairs, yelling, 'C'mon!' And the dog would be whimperin' and bangin,' throwin' his body against the wall and pushin' Bobby, tryin' to push him back down the stairs. They used to talk about that long before this thing happened in Room Eight.
"Then, after this thing did happen, Bobby said, 'Remember the dog?' I said, 'What about the dog?' It all started coming out afterwards, that there was a weirdness in the building, the stairs, the dog, everything.
"So with the locals sayin' the Spread was haunted, we would talk occasionally about the dog. And Bobby would say, 'It's the weirdest thing! Shandy just won't come up the stairs some nights to the bedroom. I've gotta haul him up there!' We'd say, 'Does that make you creepy?' And he'd say, 'I dunno! It's like the dog definitely senses somethin'!'
"Not livin' at the Spread all the time, just visitin' like weekends, occasionally, I don't even remember if I had put two and two together," Ian recalled. "I just remember the dog havin' a problem. But to me, none of it had any connection to that night I was in Room Eight. That was the only time I'd ever slept in that room. I'd slept in other rooms in the hotel. See, Bobby moved. Bobby had a bedroom in the other wing of the hotel and I think I slept in the room next to him a couple of times. And then he moved up to the top. He moved to the other side of the hotel upstairs and, for some reason, they put me in Room Eight. I can't remember why. . .
"Helen's father told me, 'You c'n go up to Room Eight tonight.'"
Another view of Jedburgh's Mercat. (Photo courtesy of Ian and Helen Kimmet.)
The big shots who had plotted with Bothwell to kill Darnley were quick to execute all the small fry who carried out the petty details, such as stashing the gunpowder in the cellar of the Kirk-o'-Field house. Scotland was a cruel and barbarous country. These were just servants and hirelings who had carried out the big shots' orders, but the way they executed these dudes was to hang them and then use four horses to pull their bodies apart. Afterwards, a pair of the legs of one of the executed men was dispatched via a horseback rider to be displayed at Jedburgh's Mercat Cross.
It was this kind of brutality that Ian felt at the door of Room Eight that night. What Ian felt was all the fury of Jedburgh's past, the brutality, the anger and the terror of the whole of Scotland's treacherous and bloodthirsty history. As Ian has so often told me, what he felt was violence.
Someone had aimed a battering ram against the locked door of Room Eight. Someone or was it something? Ian, asleep inside, awoke completely disoriented. Business at the hotel was traditionally slow around the dead of winter. None of the permanent guests registered at the Spread even had bothered to show up that particular night. Ian and Helen and her brother Bobby and their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Breustedt, were the building's only occupants. But Ian couldn't remember where he was. He had tended bar at a "function" the night before. Was it a wedding? Was it a shower? Was it a meeting? What kind of "function" had it been? He was still exhausted. He had passed out as soon as his head hit the pillow. Now it was about 3 or 4 a.m and he was wide awake and staring at the ceiling.
"Why am I lying here wide awake looking at the ceiling?" he asked himself.
Ian glanced about the room. It took more than a moment for him to remember where he was.
"Oh!" he told himself. "I'm here!"
From the windows, which looked out on High Street, at the front of the hotel, a street lamp down the road filled Room Eight with an eerie, orange glow. Outside, the cold wind was howling at the moon. An eerie "Whooooh!" sang in Ian's eardrums, a sound apparently put there from the strange, heavy pressure which filled the room. It was the kind of pressure you feel against your ears when you're in a jetliner making its descent. Had Ian been dreaming or was that really the BAAAAAM! of a battering room pounding against the other side of his locked door? As disoriented as he was, Ian felt a sinking in the pit of his stomach. As when he had been lying on the spot where Rizzio died, icy fingers of fear started to creep up his spine. The head of Ian's bed was against the wall opposite the door, which was some six feet away from the foot of the bed. The light switch was on the wall close to the door. Was it a dream or was it really a BAAAAAM! Suddenly, Ian was too scared to get up and walk near enough to the door to flick on the light switch.
There it was again! Someone was hitting the door with the full force of a battering ram. Someone or was it something? The whole room reverberated enough to bounce Ian up off the bed. In mid-bounce, he threw the covers off, leaped to his feet and turned on the headboard lamp switch next to the bed. Then he jumped back into bed and called out, weakly:
The only answer Ian got was the ramrod hitting the door again. Ian sat straight up in bed frozen in terror, with his stomach feeling like a bag being held upside down while someone was trying to shake out its contents. How long was the door going to hold against whoever or whatever was out in the hallway?
"HELLO!" Ian shouted fearfully. "HELLO! WHO'S THERE""
"Somehow, I knew I was wasting my breath," he remembered many years later. "Somehow, I knew that no one was going to answer. I don't mind telling you that I was scared! I'll never forget that churning in my stomach or the feeling of my blood freezing solid. I knew somethin' was very wrong!"
With Ian looking straight at the door, he saw it quiver and almost buckle from the force thrown at it by what sounded and felt like the blow of a ramrod hitting its other side. Not only did the door almost buckle, but Ian saw it shake and expand from the pressure. Another shot by the ramrod and the door was sure to give way.
"WHO'S THERE"" Ian called out again in his terror.
"Even though I knew it was stupid to ask," Ian later explained.
How could the door keep standing up to this attack? Ian had thought sure it would give way with another blow.
"There was this pressure in the room," Ian later told me. "There was like a singing, like my ears ringing, like some kind of straining. There was a definite vibration in the room. There was an overpowering feeling that this was somethin' you knew nothing about. It was very, very scary. I didn't know who or what it was that was trying to break into my room. I knew the door couldn't stand up to another hit. What was this something that was trying so hard to break in?
"The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach was the same I always got when the violence and the fights would break out in the hotel's public bar downstairs. Suddenly, I thought of what all the locals had said: 'The Spread is haunted!' 'Oh, no!' I thought. Suddenly, I thought of Shandy, the dog, refusing to come up the staircase where it turned near this room. Suddenly, I thought of the face in the moonlit war memorial and I thought of the ghost in the abbey ruins and I thought this whole goddamn town is haunted!"
Ian had been sure that the door couldn't stand up against another hit but it still held fast. Ian's hair was standing on end. He knew that one more shot of the ramrod would break down the door and then what would happen? Who or what was on the other side? Who or what would come flying in? Would it be a headless Mary, Queen of Scots? Would it be the deformed Rizzio, still bleeding from his 56 stab wounds? Would it be the whole bloody history of Scotland? With his back against the headboard, Ian sat bolt upright in bed as he faced the door. He was trying to push himself into the next room through the headboard and through the wall behind him. He was frozen in terror and also from the cold of the frigid winter night. The thought flashed through his mind that this was how Daisy, the cook, was sitting when she was found frozen to death. Ian was still frozen in that position when he awakened, shivering, at about eight a.m. Brrrrrr! He shook off his chill. The room was full of light and Ian slipped back beneath the covers and pulled them over his head. He fell back to sleep until, some time later, he heard Helen's father shouting up the hallway and then rapping on his door: "BREAKFAST!"
Going upstairs at the Spread. Do your see any ghosts?
(Photo courtesy Ian and Helen Kimmet.)
"We were leaving that morning, so I got up and gathered all the stuff lying around the room and put it in my bags," Ian told me. "I actually walked out the room and down the hall to the steps, but how could I not keep thinking about what had happened? Had I been hallucinating? Was it all a dream?"
By the time Ian was about to descend the stairs, he was almost ready to tell himself that the BAAAAAMs! on the door had never really happened. Or else it had been the wind. Yes, that's what it might have been, the wind! Now he was almost ready to laugh at himself for having been such a fool as to let himself be scared out of his wits by a couple of doors banging in the wind. The winds certainly had been fierce during the night. But then, just as he was about to take his first step down the stairway, he said aloud to himself:
"I can't leave without really knowin'!"
He set his bags down, turned and walked back. As he faced Room Eight from the hallway, to his left there was a big door that was one step up, leading to the attic. This door was very old and very heavy and gave him the impression that it was going to fall on him.
"I went to that door first," Ian said, "because it was a big old door and I thought that door has been swinging and crashing against the door of Room Eight. But when I went up to it, I found that holding the door closed was a big wedge of paper where the lock would have been. I remember pulling the wedge of paper out, thinking this doesn't look reasonable. I mean I really had to keep working the wedge of paper back and forth and up and down just to get my hand in to open the door. When I finally pulled the door back and swung it open, I found it missed banging into the door of Room Eight by from 18 inches to two feet. I mean it was nowhere near banging into the door of the room I had slept in, so I thought, well, it wasn't that. So I shut it and put the wedge of paper back and I turned around and right behind me was this other little door leading to a closet. But when I tried to open that door, I had to push hard because it sort of ground against the thick piling of the carpet and it opened inward anyway, which was the wrong way. So then, I knew it wasn't the doors that had been banging on my door and I felt very weird as I picked up my bags and went down the little turning staircase to the kitchen, where everybody was at breakfast."
Helen remembers that she found Ian looking at the attic door when she went upstairs to see what was holding him up after her Dad had called him to come down for breakfast.
"Ian said, 'What's up there?'" Helen remembered. "I told him that was the door to the old attic. I'd never been up there, so we opened the door and took a couple of steps up. I saw the old rafters and it was really creepy, so we went back and closed the door. Then Ian tried the closet door, the one that opened the wrong way."
In the kitchen, which was at the back of the hotel, everybody else was already eating. As Ian sat down to his bowl of porridge, he thought:
"I'll have to tell them about this."
"Boy, I had a really weird night last night!" he said.
With Helen's father cooking at the stove, there was already a lively breakfast conversation going on. Everyone was casually uninterested in what Ian had to say and nobody paid much attention to him. He might as well have been asking for somebody to pass the butter, please.
"Yeah," Ian continued, "this thing in the middle of the night---"
"WHAT thing?" one of the others asked.
"In the middle of the night, there was this crashing on the door. It was really intense in the room and it felt like a pressure. I was really scared and it kept happening."
At the stove, Helen's father immediately started making noises:
Then, Helen's Dad asked:
"You mean, like a ghost sound. Or maybe the pipes must've been banging."
"It wasn't the pipes," Ian replied.
But Helen's family had more important things to talk about.
"Oh, well, kids," Helen's mother said, "you better get ready. What time are you expected up in Edinburgh?"
Another interior view of the Spread. Where is Room Eight?
(Photo Courtesy Ian and Helen Kimmet.)
Driving up to Edinburgh, Ian told Helen:
"No, but really, that was really scary. Somethin' happened last night in that room!"
"What?" Helen asked. "What happened."
"Well," Ian replied, "the door was bending. There was somethin' happening, somethin' attacking the door. And there was absolutely nobody in the place. Just your Mum and Dad and Bobby and you. It was just really scary. I just really don't know what happened. I was pretty shook up."
Helen didn't know what to make of Ian's story. Besides, what could she do about it?
On weekends in those days, Ian usually would be crisscrossing Scotland as a musician playing in semi-pro bands. But on those weekends when Ian didn't have any musical gigs to play was when Helen would suggest that they spend the Saturday and Sunday at the Spread in Jedburgh.
"There's a wedding on," she would say.
After all, Helen's father paid them for tending bar and serving drinks at the wedding parties and at other functions held at the hotel. Usually, their weekends at the Spread had been quite pleasant. But after Ian's night in Room Eight, the next time Helen told Ian there was to be a wedding at the Spread, Ian said:
"Well, I'm not goin' in Room Eight again."
"Well, you'll have to," Helen's father said when Ian and Helen arrived in Jedburgh. "Because the hotel's pretty full."
"Well, not Room Eight!" Ian insisted.
"Well, that's where we've put you," came the reply.
"I don't really wanna do that!" Ian said.
At that point, Helen's brother, Bobby, volunteered to share the room with Ian that night. But when bedtime came and they turned off the light to go to sleep, Helen's father, whose bedroom was directly underneath Room Eight, started banging on the pipes and making weird sounds:
"Whooooooo, whooooooo, whooooooo!"
At the same time, Bobby threw a few pennies across the room at the radiator, sat up in bed, put the light back on and said:
"What was that? Did you hear that?"
Ian sat up in bed, too, but he wasn't really buying into their game. Helen's father and brother had set him up, but, as he later explained, they had no idea what a terrifying experience he had been through. They couldn't conceive of how lame their attempts to scare him again were by comparison.
"Aw, come on, man!" Ian said.
"What? What?" continued Bobby. "Did you hear that?"
"Who's bangin' on the pipes?" Ian demanded. "Gimme a break!"
"No! No!" Bobby insisted. "That's nobody bangin'."
Ian remembered that they had a laugh about it and then went to sleep.
"Going to bed with Bobby there in the room, I remember still being nervous, thinking that was shitty," Ian recalled. "But with Bobby there and all this hilarity and going to sleep, it didn't seem to matter much."
It was sometime later. Years later, Helen remembered. Ian insisted it was more like six months.
"It was at a family reunion or somethin,'" Ian recalled. "Somebody said somethin' like, 'We've kept it from Ian,' and Helen felt that the cat was out of the bag or that I had overheard the conversation or this wasn't right or we've kept it from Ian for too long. And Helen said, 'Well, I didn't tell you, dear, but. . .'"
"I can't remember how long after it was," Helen interrupted.
"It wasn't long," Ian insisted. "It was within the year."
"They took up the floor," Helen remembered.
"Yes," Ian explained. "The floor of Room Eight had become concave. It had been sinking in the middle. When you walked in the room, it went downhill a little bit. So Helen said, 'Well, we weren't goin' t' tell ya. My Dad said don't tell Ian or he'll never come back here.' Somethin' like that. 'Let's not tell Ian.' They told her Ian wasn't in the family. But Helen finally told me, 'When my Dad and Bobby and the local workmen took up the floor, they got quite a shock.'"
It was some three months after Ian had first slept in Room Eight. Underneath the floorboards directly beneath the spot where the bed had been, Robert Breustedt, his son and the workmen found the skeleton of a small child, probably an infant. Obviously, the skeleton, apparently crushed by the now sagging floorboards that had been laid down over it, had been there for hundreds of years, as evidenced by the accumulated dirt, dust and cobwebs which covered it.
The discovery of the skeleton certainly wasn't going to close the books on any missing persons case. Whoever the child might have been, its remains never were going to be identified by any existing dental records. Like the skeleton of a child found in the wall of Edinburgh Castle in 1830, the grisly discovery beneath the floorboards of Room Eight may well have been the sad relic of some unfortunate woman's indiscretion. Could the skeleton of that child have been the sad relic of a peccadillo of one of Mary, Queen of Scots' ladies-in-waiting? When were the floorboards laid down? Could that work have been done as part of the repairs from the fire that broke out in the hotel the night that Queen Mary checked into the Spread Eagle with her retinue?
Both Helen's father and brother immediately remembered Ian's story about the first night that he had spent in Room Eight. When Helen learned about the skeleton, Brother Bobby told her:
"Yeah, don't say nothin' t' Ian, or he'll never come 'round here again!"
"In fact," Helen's father added, "don't say nothin' t' nobody! Let's keep it'n th'family!"
Daddy was thinking about business. The story of the skeleton might scare away customers. As described by Ian, his father-in-law, Robert Breustedt was a forceful and impetuous man. The first question that entered Helen's father's mind when he discovered the skeleton was what to do with it.
"Well," Helen's Dad told his son and the workmen, "there's two ways to go. We either take it out of here and show it to the authorities, which is not real good for the hotel, or else we throw it in the garbage and hope that it goes and nothing is discovered. But if we do throw it in the garbage, it might attract attention and cause an investigation."
Obviously, that's why the skeleton had been buried beneath the floorboards in the first place some hundreds of years earlier. Somebody had wanted to avoid an investigation.
"We'd be gettin' into things that we don't want to get into," Helen's Dad said.
Everybody agreed that nobody was ever going to solve this mystery. So how did Helen's father dispose of the skeleton? He didn't. He left the skeleton where he had found it, beneath the floorboards. He's retired now and he has forgotten that he ever saw the skeleton in the first place. Years later, Helen's brother, Bobby, has become a Baptist minister who preaches fire and brimstone, and he, too, hasn't talked to anybody about Room Eight in years. Ian has often wondered if anyone else has ever had an experience similar to his own while sleeping in Room Eight, either before or after Helen's Dad laid down the new floorboards. But when Ian and Helen tried to get another look at the room during a visit to Jedburgh in 1991, they found that the hotel's new owners had walled off the steps leading to Room Eight. Helen and Ian didn't ask why. As far as the Spread Eagle Hotel was concerned, Room Eight didn't exist any more.##
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