Last night we went on London’s annual Lost Soul Stroll. It’s live, moving theatre centred on the city’s history and it happens on weekends throughout October.
Conceived by the people behind London’s Fringe Festival, performers playing long-dead historical figures lead a group of ticket-holders on a tour of downtown London, where they happen upon other “lost souls” who tell their tales. Our group last night braved the evening rain as we were led first by John Radcliffe, Ontario’s first professional hangman. He told us stories from his career’s many successes and some disturbing failures and how he died a broken alcoholic after taking hundreds of lives on behalf of the state.
Our travels took us to dark alleys where, from the ghosts of a mob-man and his moll, we learned about London’s crucial role in keeping Michigan wet during prohibition and about the dozens of failed mobsters wearing cement shoes at the bottom of Lake Erie. We traveled the downtown, stopping in other darkened spaces and at St. Paul’s Cathedral where the “ghost” of one of London’s society ladies waited for us. She grabbed Derek’s hands and they danced a few rounds on the wet cement as she told her tale. A hooker tried to pick him up at one point too! Derek ad-libbed expertly, “Have you met my wife?” “The more the merrier!” she quipped.
At the half-way point, our groups switched leaders and we were taken on the rest of the journey by Johannah Donnelly, matriarch of the murdered clan of Lucan. The actress playing her was nothing short of brilliant. Murdered in 1880, “Johanna’s” delight at “horseless carriages” and other modern inventions made us all laugh. Every time the “white man with splayed legs” appeared on the signal telling us we could safely cross the street, she threw her hands up with delight and started skipping across the road. It felt like following an early Halloween character around town. So much fun.
The Lost Soul Stroll is in its 8th year and every fall they manage to find tales to tell of new/old lost London-area souls. Tickets are $25 and unless the weather is truly horrible, it goes on. No one seemed to mind the rain much last night and everyone was prepared for it. If you love history, like I do, and want to know your city better, I can’t think of a more entertaining way to get a fix.