Other

The Haunted McDonald's and the Legendary Restaurateur


One of the most famous haunted structures in New York State — and certainly the only one associated with both a 19th- and early 20th-century restaurant dynasty and an international modern-day fast-food chain — is Frontier House in Lewiston, a few miles from Niagara Falls.

Lewiston (pictured) is said to have been the earliest European settlement in the western reaches of what is

now the Empire State; the first French explorer found the place in 1615, and in 1719, another Frenchman built the first permanent structure, a trading post, on the site, with permission from the local Seneca Indians. Frontier House was built as a hotel and stagecoach stop in the town in 1824 by a group of local businessmen, and became known as the region's best hostelry by far. Its illustrious guests over the years included Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, President William McKinley, boxer John L. Sullivan, and politician and orator Henry Clay, among many others. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/gleepythehen)

The dining room was presided over by one George W. Rector. In the early 1840s, he moved about 20 miles east to Lockport on the Erie Canal, where he managed two other hotels. His son, Charles, succeeded him, and later opened his own restaurant, an oyster house, in Chicago, and then another establishment, originally called Sign of the Griffon but later known simply as Rector's, on 44th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.

Charles's son, another George, in turn succeeded him, and became one of the great culinary celebrities of early 20th-century America. An accomplished chef, legendary host, radio raconteur, and author, George Rector served the bigwigs of the theatrical, social, and financial worlds (including the fabled trencherman Diamond Jim Brady, whom Rector once described as "the best 25 customers I ever had"), offering food that was largely French in origin and reportedly excellent — though he once defended the common hot dog as "a better food than many of the fancy things all of us eat."

Meanwhile, back in Lewiston, Frontier House later became a private home, then a hotel again, then a boarding house for local factory workers, then a museum of local history with a restaurant attached. In 1973, the structure was damaged by fire and attendant water damage, and in 1975, it was leased to McDonald's — which turned it into a burger emporium, even installing "Golden Arches" out front .

So how did it get haunted? Frontier House had become a meeting place for Niagara County Freemasons, and a disaffected member of the organization, one William Morgan, began threatening to write a book revealing Masonic secrets. After being incarcerated briefly at Fort Niagara on trumped-up charges, Morgan was released, only to disappear. His body was never found, but the local rumor was that he had been killed by the Freemasons and his body immured in the walls of the hotel.

Soon after Morgan's disappearance, hotel employees and guests began reporting strange occurrences — doors and windows opening and closing when no one was near them, unexplained banging in the middle of the night, silhouettes of old men glimpsed in empty rooms. When post-fire renovations were underway in the 1970s, tools and equipment would mysteriously vanish (though no bodies turned up between the walls). An alternate theory of the haunting holds that a worker helping to build the place fell from a scaffold into the basement, and that it is his spirit that roams the building. Whatever their source, even under the Golden Arches, the hauntings appeared to persist. An ABC-TV reporter once cracked that customers "sometimes get a shake, even if they order a Coke."

Today, Frontier House stands empty, the Golden Arches long gone. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rector's lost business with the onset of Prohibition and closed soon afterwards, though George Rector himself continued to be a well-known Gotham personality (he even appeared in a movie with Mae West) and wrote a number of cookbooks and memoirs. Rector died in 1947. According to The New York Times obituary, he was working as a consultant for a Chicago meatpacking company at the time. The obituary also notes that, "He wrote many articles on foreign foods and was a familiar speaker before cookery classes, by which he was much in demand." (Courtesy of Wikimedia/Kdm85)


This legendary cannibal clan feasted on blood, guts, and anti-Scottish sentiment

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite , a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email [email protected]—and beware.

For some, family dinner means tucking into a juicy meatloaf or a festive taco spread. For others, it involves strings of viscera, pan-fried eyeballs, and slabs of flesh hacked directly from a dying man’s thigh as he screams for mercy. It’s like I always say: when you’re with family, it doesn’t matter what (or who) you eat—as long as it’s prepared with love.

If apocrypha is to be believed, no one did family meals quite like the tight-knit Bean clan, a legendary Scottish cannibal crew led by patriarch Alexander “Sawney” Bean. I’ve only covered one act of cannibalism since debuting this column, but Bean and his famed taste for man meat are by far the most requested Dark and Stormy Bite subjects. Commenters, I hear you. In an effort to give the people what they want, I dove into Bean’s grisly history, which is said to have inspired Wes Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. The Bean saga is certainly terrifying—but, according to my research, it may be little more than anti-Scottish propaganda spread by jittery Brits. Journey with me deep into the Bean clan’s flesh cave and I’ll explain.

Legend has it that Sawney Bean was born in Edinburgh, Scotland sometime in the sixteenth century. (Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told the BBC that the only contemporary record of Bean is a brief mention in a 1755 pamphlet distributed in Britain more on that later.) The story goes that Bean started out as a good, honest day laborer, most likely working either as a tanner, a hedger, or a ditch digger. But, like so many men before him, Bean fell prey to a vicious woman with a flair for malefactions and a grade-A pair of knockers. Her name was Black Agnes Douglas, and she and Bean fell in love, slunk away from society, and shacked up in a seaside cave where they could be alone and do the things that lovers do (reading books of poetry, sharpening their fingernails into little daggers, etc.).

The cave was equipped with everything a young couple could need—I’m thinking midcentury-inspired stalactites and also maybe a breakfast nook—but it also had a series of tunnels, some over a mile in depth. With plenty of room to grow, Bean and his scary-ass lady reproduced at a truly alarming rate, sprouting a clan that eventually numbered between 45 and 50 sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with the third generation born entirely out of incest .

But how does a hardworking dad keep his gigantic, deformed clan fed and happy in their dank cave? By robbing, kidnapping, dismembering, pickling, and eating unfortunate travelers, of course. Legends vary, but the Beans are said to have cannibalized around 1,000 people over the course of a few decades. Their bone-sucking saga came to an end when one of their would-be victims managed to escape, running off to inform local magistrates of the clan’s murderous deeds. Folks say that King James VI of Scotland went on to assemble 400 men and a legion of hounds to track, capture, and kill each and every Bean, leaving behind a cave full of disembodied legs, pickled intestines, and other delicacies.

It’s a great bedtime story, to be sure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how macabre you are), the story is likely little more than legend. First, as Yeoman told the BBC, there are no records of the countless missing persons snatched by the Beans. Yeoman also couldn’t find record of the manhunt led by King James—an event that, if it actually took place, would almost certainly be recorded for posterity.

No, the true origins of the legend are likely a bit more sinister. Yeoman argues that the tale was an English propaganda tool to disparage proud Scots, a spooky legend distributed via ghastly pamphlets in the 18th century. Quick reminder of the history of English-Scottish tensions : from William Wallace to the Jacobite uprisings , the British government spent centuries dismantling the Highlands’ clan system and working to eliminate Scottish sovereignty. Also worth noting: Bean’s purported lover, Black Agnes, shares a name with Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar . Nicknamed “Black Agnes” for her dark hair and complexion, Randolph is known for her heroic defense of Scotland’s Dunbar Castle against an English siege in 1338. Was Bean’s lady cannibal so named to disparage a centuries-old Scottish heroine? Possible. Very possible. Speaking of names: While “Sawney” is traditionally a nickname for “Alexander,” the term “sawney” was also an oft-derogatory nickname lodged against Scotsmen by the British.

Whether the legend of Sawney Bean is based in fact or is just a prejudiced attempt to demonize the Scottish as they attempted to establish sovereignty, you can actually visit the purported home of the Bean clan. Known as Bennane Cave , the cave is nestled just past a cluster of defunct mining towns, with a slippery entrance nearly blocked by a large boulder. If you’re brave enough to sneak in, you might be greeted with a memorable spelunking experience—but if you venture deep enough inside, you might also find the remains of countless unfortunates who unwittingly made their way from traipsing the high road to adorning the dinner table.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


This legendary cannibal clan feasted on blood, guts, and anti-Scottish sentiment

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite , a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email [email protected]—and beware.

For some, family dinner means tucking into a juicy meatloaf or a festive taco spread. For others, it involves strings of viscera, pan-fried eyeballs, and slabs of flesh hacked directly from a dying man’s thigh as he screams for mercy. It’s like I always say: when you’re with family, it doesn’t matter what (or who) you eat—as long as it’s prepared with love.

If apocrypha is to be believed, no one did family meals quite like the tight-knit Bean clan, a legendary Scottish cannibal crew led by patriarch Alexander “Sawney” Bean. I’ve only covered one act of cannibalism since debuting this column, but Bean and his famed taste for man meat are by far the most requested Dark and Stormy Bite subjects. Commenters, I hear you. In an effort to give the people what they want, I dove into Bean’s grisly history, which is said to have inspired Wes Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. The Bean saga is certainly terrifying—but, according to my research, it may be little more than anti-Scottish propaganda spread by jittery Brits. Journey with me deep into the Bean clan’s flesh cave and I’ll explain.

Legend has it that Sawney Bean was born in Edinburgh, Scotland sometime in the sixteenth century. (Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told the BBC that the only contemporary record of Bean is a brief mention in a 1755 pamphlet distributed in Britain more on that later.) The story goes that Bean started out as a good, honest day laborer, most likely working either as a tanner, a hedger, or a ditch digger. But, like so many men before him, Bean fell prey to a vicious woman with a flair for malefactions and a grade-A pair of knockers. Her name was Black Agnes Douglas, and she and Bean fell in love, slunk away from society, and shacked up in a seaside cave where they could be alone and do the things that lovers do (reading books of poetry, sharpening their fingernails into little daggers, etc.).

The cave was equipped with everything a young couple could need—I’m thinking midcentury-inspired stalactites and also maybe a breakfast nook—but it also had a series of tunnels, some over a mile in depth. With plenty of room to grow, Bean and his scary-ass lady reproduced at a truly alarming rate, sprouting a clan that eventually numbered between 45 and 50 sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with the third generation born entirely out of incest .

But how does a hardworking dad keep his gigantic, deformed clan fed and happy in their dank cave? By robbing, kidnapping, dismembering, pickling, and eating unfortunate travelers, of course. Legends vary, but the Beans are said to have cannibalized around 1,000 people over the course of a few decades. Their bone-sucking saga came to an end when one of their would-be victims managed to escape, running off to inform local magistrates of the clan’s murderous deeds. Folks say that King James VI of Scotland went on to assemble 400 men and a legion of hounds to track, capture, and kill each and every Bean, leaving behind a cave full of disembodied legs, pickled intestines, and other delicacies.

It’s a great bedtime story, to be sure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how macabre you are), the story is likely little more than legend. First, as Yeoman told the BBC, there are no records of the countless missing persons snatched by the Beans. Yeoman also couldn’t find record of the manhunt led by King James—an event that, if it actually took place, would almost certainly be recorded for posterity.

No, the true origins of the legend are likely a bit more sinister. Yeoman argues that the tale was an English propaganda tool to disparage proud Scots, a spooky legend distributed via ghastly pamphlets in the 18th century. Quick reminder of the history of English-Scottish tensions : from William Wallace to the Jacobite uprisings , the British government spent centuries dismantling the Highlands’ clan system and working to eliminate Scottish sovereignty. Also worth noting: Bean’s purported lover, Black Agnes, shares a name with Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar . Nicknamed “Black Agnes” for her dark hair and complexion, Randolph is known for her heroic defense of Scotland’s Dunbar Castle against an English siege in 1338. Was Bean’s lady cannibal so named to disparage a centuries-old Scottish heroine? Possible. Very possible. Speaking of names: While “Sawney” is traditionally a nickname for “Alexander,” the term “sawney” was also an oft-derogatory nickname lodged against Scotsmen by the British.

Whether the legend of Sawney Bean is based in fact or is just a prejudiced attempt to demonize the Scottish as they attempted to establish sovereignty, you can actually visit the purported home of the Bean clan. Known as Bennane Cave , the cave is nestled just past a cluster of defunct mining towns, with a slippery entrance nearly blocked by a large boulder. If you’re brave enough to sneak in, you might be greeted with a memorable spelunking experience—but if you venture deep enough inside, you might also find the remains of countless unfortunates who unwittingly made their way from traipsing the high road to adorning the dinner table.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


This legendary cannibal clan feasted on blood, guts, and anti-Scottish sentiment

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite , a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email [email protected]—and beware.

For some, family dinner means tucking into a juicy meatloaf or a festive taco spread. For others, it involves strings of viscera, pan-fried eyeballs, and slabs of flesh hacked directly from a dying man’s thigh as he screams for mercy. It’s like I always say: when you’re with family, it doesn’t matter what (or who) you eat—as long as it’s prepared with love.

If apocrypha is to be believed, no one did family meals quite like the tight-knit Bean clan, a legendary Scottish cannibal crew led by patriarch Alexander “Sawney” Bean. I’ve only covered one act of cannibalism since debuting this column, but Bean and his famed taste for man meat are by far the most requested Dark and Stormy Bite subjects. Commenters, I hear you. In an effort to give the people what they want, I dove into Bean’s grisly history, which is said to have inspired Wes Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. The Bean saga is certainly terrifying—but, according to my research, it may be little more than anti-Scottish propaganda spread by jittery Brits. Journey with me deep into the Bean clan’s flesh cave and I’ll explain.

Legend has it that Sawney Bean was born in Edinburgh, Scotland sometime in the sixteenth century. (Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told the BBC that the only contemporary record of Bean is a brief mention in a 1755 pamphlet distributed in Britain more on that later.) The story goes that Bean started out as a good, honest day laborer, most likely working either as a tanner, a hedger, or a ditch digger. But, like so many men before him, Bean fell prey to a vicious woman with a flair for malefactions and a grade-A pair of knockers. Her name was Black Agnes Douglas, and she and Bean fell in love, slunk away from society, and shacked up in a seaside cave where they could be alone and do the things that lovers do (reading books of poetry, sharpening their fingernails into little daggers, etc.).

The cave was equipped with everything a young couple could need—I’m thinking midcentury-inspired stalactites and also maybe a breakfast nook—but it also had a series of tunnels, some over a mile in depth. With plenty of room to grow, Bean and his scary-ass lady reproduced at a truly alarming rate, sprouting a clan that eventually numbered between 45 and 50 sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with the third generation born entirely out of incest .

But how does a hardworking dad keep his gigantic, deformed clan fed and happy in their dank cave? By robbing, kidnapping, dismembering, pickling, and eating unfortunate travelers, of course. Legends vary, but the Beans are said to have cannibalized around 1,000 people over the course of a few decades. Their bone-sucking saga came to an end when one of their would-be victims managed to escape, running off to inform local magistrates of the clan’s murderous deeds. Folks say that King James VI of Scotland went on to assemble 400 men and a legion of hounds to track, capture, and kill each and every Bean, leaving behind a cave full of disembodied legs, pickled intestines, and other delicacies.

It’s a great bedtime story, to be sure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how macabre you are), the story is likely little more than legend. First, as Yeoman told the BBC, there are no records of the countless missing persons snatched by the Beans. Yeoman also couldn’t find record of the manhunt led by King James—an event that, if it actually took place, would almost certainly be recorded for posterity.

No, the true origins of the legend are likely a bit more sinister. Yeoman argues that the tale was an English propaganda tool to disparage proud Scots, a spooky legend distributed via ghastly pamphlets in the 18th century. Quick reminder of the history of English-Scottish tensions : from William Wallace to the Jacobite uprisings , the British government spent centuries dismantling the Highlands’ clan system and working to eliminate Scottish sovereignty. Also worth noting: Bean’s purported lover, Black Agnes, shares a name with Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar . Nicknamed “Black Agnes” for her dark hair and complexion, Randolph is known for her heroic defense of Scotland’s Dunbar Castle against an English siege in 1338. Was Bean’s lady cannibal so named to disparage a centuries-old Scottish heroine? Possible. Very possible. Speaking of names: While “Sawney” is traditionally a nickname for “Alexander,” the term “sawney” was also an oft-derogatory nickname lodged against Scotsmen by the British.

Whether the legend of Sawney Bean is based in fact or is just a prejudiced attempt to demonize the Scottish as they attempted to establish sovereignty, you can actually visit the purported home of the Bean clan. Known as Bennane Cave , the cave is nestled just past a cluster of defunct mining towns, with a slippery entrance nearly blocked by a large boulder. If you’re brave enough to sneak in, you might be greeted with a memorable spelunking experience—but if you venture deep enough inside, you might also find the remains of countless unfortunates who unwittingly made their way from traipsing the high road to adorning the dinner table.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


This legendary cannibal clan feasted on blood, guts, and anti-Scottish sentiment

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite , a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email [email protected]—and beware.

For some, family dinner means tucking into a juicy meatloaf or a festive taco spread. For others, it involves strings of viscera, pan-fried eyeballs, and slabs of flesh hacked directly from a dying man’s thigh as he screams for mercy. It’s like I always say: when you’re with family, it doesn’t matter what (or who) you eat—as long as it’s prepared with love.

If apocrypha is to be believed, no one did family meals quite like the tight-knit Bean clan, a legendary Scottish cannibal crew led by patriarch Alexander “Sawney” Bean. I’ve only covered one act of cannibalism since debuting this column, but Bean and his famed taste for man meat are by far the most requested Dark and Stormy Bite subjects. Commenters, I hear you. In an effort to give the people what they want, I dove into Bean’s grisly history, which is said to have inspired Wes Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. The Bean saga is certainly terrifying—but, according to my research, it may be little more than anti-Scottish propaganda spread by jittery Brits. Journey with me deep into the Bean clan’s flesh cave and I’ll explain.

Legend has it that Sawney Bean was born in Edinburgh, Scotland sometime in the sixteenth century. (Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told the BBC that the only contemporary record of Bean is a brief mention in a 1755 pamphlet distributed in Britain more on that later.) The story goes that Bean started out as a good, honest day laborer, most likely working either as a tanner, a hedger, or a ditch digger. But, like so many men before him, Bean fell prey to a vicious woman with a flair for malefactions and a grade-A pair of knockers. Her name was Black Agnes Douglas, and she and Bean fell in love, slunk away from society, and shacked up in a seaside cave where they could be alone and do the things that lovers do (reading books of poetry, sharpening their fingernails into little daggers, etc.).

The cave was equipped with everything a young couple could need—I’m thinking midcentury-inspired stalactites and also maybe a breakfast nook—but it also had a series of tunnels, some over a mile in depth. With plenty of room to grow, Bean and his scary-ass lady reproduced at a truly alarming rate, sprouting a clan that eventually numbered between 45 and 50 sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with the third generation born entirely out of incest .

But how does a hardworking dad keep his gigantic, deformed clan fed and happy in their dank cave? By robbing, kidnapping, dismembering, pickling, and eating unfortunate travelers, of course. Legends vary, but the Beans are said to have cannibalized around 1,000 people over the course of a few decades. Their bone-sucking saga came to an end when one of their would-be victims managed to escape, running off to inform local magistrates of the clan’s murderous deeds. Folks say that King James VI of Scotland went on to assemble 400 men and a legion of hounds to track, capture, and kill each and every Bean, leaving behind a cave full of disembodied legs, pickled intestines, and other delicacies.

It’s a great bedtime story, to be sure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how macabre you are), the story is likely little more than legend. First, as Yeoman told the BBC, there are no records of the countless missing persons snatched by the Beans. Yeoman also couldn’t find record of the manhunt led by King James—an event that, if it actually took place, would almost certainly be recorded for posterity.

No, the true origins of the legend are likely a bit more sinister. Yeoman argues that the tale was an English propaganda tool to disparage proud Scots, a spooky legend distributed via ghastly pamphlets in the 18th century. Quick reminder of the history of English-Scottish tensions : from William Wallace to the Jacobite uprisings , the British government spent centuries dismantling the Highlands’ clan system and working to eliminate Scottish sovereignty. Also worth noting: Bean’s purported lover, Black Agnes, shares a name with Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar . Nicknamed “Black Agnes” for her dark hair and complexion, Randolph is known for her heroic defense of Scotland’s Dunbar Castle against an English siege in 1338. Was Bean’s lady cannibal so named to disparage a centuries-old Scottish heroine? Possible. Very possible. Speaking of names: While “Sawney” is traditionally a nickname for “Alexander,” the term “sawney” was also an oft-derogatory nickname lodged against Scotsmen by the British.

Whether the legend of Sawney Bean is based in fact or is just a prejudiced attempt to demonize the Scottish as they attempted to establish sovereignty, you can actually visit the purported home of the Bean clan. Known as Bennane Cave , the cave is nestled just past a cluster of defunct mining towns, with a slippery entrance nearly blocked by a large boulder. If you’re brave enough to sneak in, you might be greeted with a memorable spelunking experience—but if you venture deep enough inside, you might also find the remains of countless unfortunates who unwittingly made their way from traipsing the high road to adorning the dinner table.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


This legendary cannibal clan feasted on blood, guts, and anti-Scottish sentiment

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite , a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email [email protected]—and beware.

For some, family dinner means tucking into a juicy meatloaf or a festive taco spread. For others, it involves strings of viscera, pan-fried eyeballs, and slabs of flesh hacked directly from a dying man’s thigh as he screams for mercy. It’s like I always say: when you’re with family, it doesn’t matter what (or who) you eat—as long as it’s prepared with love.

If apocrypha is to be believed, no one did family meals quite like the tight-knit Bean clan, a legendary Scottish cannibal crew led by patriarch Alexander “Sawney” Bean. I’ve only covered one act of cannibalism since debuting this column, but Bean and his famed taste for man meat are by far the most requested Dark and Stormy Bite subjects. Commenters, I hear you. In an effort to give the people what they want, I dove into Bean’s grisly history, which is said to have inspired Wes Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. The Bean saga is certainly terrifying—but, according to my research, it may be little more than anti-Scottish propaganda spread by jittery Brits. Journey with me deep into the Bean clan’s flesh cave and I’ll explain.

Legend has it that Sawney Bean was born in Edinburgh, Scotland sometime in the sixteenth century. (Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told the BBC that the only contemporary record of Bean is a brief mention in a 1755 pamphlet distributed in Britain more on that later.) The story goes that Bean started out as a good, honest day laborer, most likely working either as a tanner, a hedger, or a ditch digger. But, like so many men before him, Bean fell prey to a vicious woman with a flair for malefactions and a grade-A pair of knockers. Her name was Black Agnes Douglas, and she and Bean fell in love, slunk away from society, and shacked up in a seaside cave where they could be alone and do the things that lovers do (reading books of poetry, sharpening their fingernails into little daggers, etc.).

The cave was equipped with everything a young couple could need—I’m thinking midcentury-inspired stalactites and also maybe a breakfast nook—but it also had a series of tunnels, some over a mile in depth. With plenty of room to grow, Bean and his scary-ass lady reproduced at a truly alarming rate, sprouting a clan that eventually numbered between 45 and 50 sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with the third generation born entirely out of incest .

But how does a hardworking dad keep his gigantic, deformed clan fed and happy in their dank cave? By robbing, kidnapping, dismembering, pickling, and eating unfortunate travelers, of course. Legends vary, but the Beans are said to have cannibalized around 1,000 people over the course of a few decades. Their bone-sucking saga came to an end when one of their would-be victims managed to escape, running off to inform local magistrates of the clan’s murderous deeds. Folks say that King James VI of Scotland went on to assemble 400 men and a legion of hounds to track, capture, and kill each and every Bean, leaving behind a cave full of disembodied legs, pickled intestines, and other delicacies.

It’s a great bedtime story, to be sure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how macabre you are), the story is likely little more than legend. First, as Yeoman told the BBC, there are no records of the countless missing persons snatched by the Beans. Yeoman also couldn’t find record of the manhunt led by King James—an event that, if it actually took place, would almost certainly be recorded for posterity.

No, the true origins of the legend are likely a bit more sinister. Yeoman argues that the tale was an English propaganda tool to disparage proud Scots, a spooky legend distributed via ghastly pamphlets in the 18th century. Quick reminder of the history of English-Scottish tensions : from William Wallace to the Jacobite uprisings , the British government spent centuries dismantling the Highlands’ clan system and working to eliminate Scottish sovereignty. Also worth noting: Bean’s purported lover, Black Agnes, shares a name with Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar . Nicknamed “Black Agnes” for her dark hair and complexion, Randolph is known for her heroic defense of Scotland’s Dunbar Castle against an English siege in 1338. Was Bean’s lady cannibal so named to disparage a centuries-old Scottish heroine? Possible. Very possible. Speaking of names: While “Sawney” is traditionally a nickname for “Alexander,” the term “sawney” was also an oft-derogatory nickname lodged against Scotsmen by the British.

Whether the legend of Sawney Bean is based in fact or is just a prejudiced attempt to demonize the Scottish as they attempted to establish sovereignty, you can actually visit the purported home of the Bean clan. Known as Bennane Cave , the cave is nestled just past a cluster of defunct mining towns, with a slippery entrance nearly blocked by a large boulder. If you’re brave enough to sneak in, you might be greeted with a memorable spelunking experience—but if you venture deep enough inside, you might also find the remains of countless unfortunates who unwittingly made their way from traipsing the high road to adorning the dinner table.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


This legendary cannibal clan feasted on blood, guts, and anti-Scottish sentiment

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite , a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email [email protected]—and beware.

For some, family dinner means tucking into a juicy meatloaf or a festive taco spread. For others, it involves strings of viscera, pan-fried eyeballs, and slabs of flesh hacked directly from a dying man’s thigh as he screams for mercy. It’s like I always say: when you’re with family, it doesn’t matter what (or who) you eat—as long as it’s prepared with love.

If apocrypha is to be believed, no one did family meals quite like the tight-knit Bean clan, a legendary Scottish cannibal crew led by patriarch Alexander “Sawney” Bean. I’ve only covered one act of cannibalism since debuting this column, but Bean and his famed taste for man meat are by far the most requested Dark and Stormy Bite subjects. Commenters, I hear you. In an effort to give the people what they want, I dove into Bean’s grisly history, which is said to have inspired Wes Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. The Bean saga is certainly terrifying—but, according to my research, it may be little more than anti-Scottish propaganda spread by jittery Brits. Journey with me deep into the Bean clan’s flesh cave and I’ll explain.

Legend has it that Sawney Bean was born in Edinburgh, Scotland sometime in the sixteenth century. (Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told the BBC that the only contemporary record of Bean is a brief mention in a 1755 pamphlet distributed in Britain more on that later.) The story goes that Bean started out as a good, honest day laborer, most likely working either as a tanner, a hedger, or a ditch digger. But, like so many men before him, Bean fell prey to a vicious woman with a flair for malefactions and a grade-A pair of knockers. Her name was Black Agnes Douglas, and she and Bean fell in love, slunk away from society, and shacked up in a seaside cave where they could be alone and do the things that lovers do (reading books of poetry, sharpening their fingernails into little daggers, etc.).

The cave was equipped with everything a young couple could need—I’m thinking midcentury-inspired stalactites and also maybe a breakfast nook—but it also had a series of tunnels, some over a mile in depth. With plenty of room to grow, Bean and his scary-ass lady reproduced at a truly alarming rate, sprouting a clan that eventually numbered between 45 and 50 sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with the third generation born entirely out of incest .

But how does a hardworking dad keep his gigantic, deformed clan fed and happy in their dank cave? By robbing, kidnapping, dismembering, pickling, and eating unfortunate travelers, of course. Legends vary, but the Beans are said to have cannibalized around 1,000 people over the course of a few decades. Their bone-sucking saga came to an end when one of their would-be victims managed to escape, running off to inform local magistrates of the clan’s murderous deeds. Folks say that King James VI of Scotland went on to assemble 400 men and a legion of hounds to track, capture, and kill each and every Bean, leaving behind a cave full of disembodied legs, pickled intestines, and other delicacies.

It’s a great bedtime story, to be sure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how macabre you are), the story is likely little more than legend. First, as Yeoman told the BBC, there are no records of the countless missing persons snatched by the Beans. Yeoman also couldn’t find record of the manhunt led by King James—an event that, if it actually took place, would almost certainly be recorded for posterity.

No, the true origins of the legend are likely a bit more sinister. Yeoman argues that the tale was an English propaganda tool to disparage proud Scots, a spooky legend distributed via ghastly pamphlets in the 18th century. Quick reminder of the history of English-Scottish tensions : from William Wallace to the Jacobite uprisings , the British government spent centuries dismantling the Highlands’ clan system and working to eliminate Scottish sovereignty. Also worth noting: Bean’s purported lover, Black Agnes, shares a name with Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar . Nicknamed “Black Agnes” for her dark hair and complexion, Randolph is known for her heroic defense of Scotland’s Dunbar Castle against an English siege in 1338. Was Bean’s lady cannibal so named to disparage a centuries-old Scottish heroine? Possible. Very possible. Speaking of names: While “Sawney” is traditionally a nickname for “Alexander,” the term “sawney” was also an oft-derogatory nickname lodged against Scotsmen by the British.

Whether the legend of Sawney Bean is based in fact or is just a prejudiced attempt to demonize the Scottish as they attempted to establish sovereignty, you can actually visit the purported home of the Bean clan. Known as Bennane Cave , the cave is nestled just past a cluster of defunct mining towns, with a slippery entrance nearly blocked by a large boulder. If you’re brave enough to sneak in, you might be greeted with a memorable spelunking experience—but if you venture deep enough inside, you might also find the remains of countless unfortunates who unwittingly made their way from traipsing the high road to adorning the dinner table.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


This legendary cannibal clan feasted on blood, guts, and anti-Scottish sentiment

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite , a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email [email protected]—and beware.

For some, family dinner means tucking into a juicy meatloaf or a festive taco spread. For others, it involves strings of viscera, pan-fried eyeballs, and slabs of flesh hacked directly from a dying man’s thigh as he screams for mercy. It’s like I always say: when you’re with family, it doesn’t matter what (or who) you eat—as long as it’s prepared with love.

If apocrypha is to be believed, no one did family meals quite like the tight-knit Bean clan, a legendary Scottish cannibal crew led by patriarch Alexander “Sawney” Bean. I’ve only covered one act of cannibalism since debuting this column, but Bean and his famed taste for man meat are by far the most requested Dark and Stormy Bite subjects. Commenters, I hear you. In an effort to give the people what they want, I dove into Bean’s grisly history, which is said to have inspired Wes Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. The Bean saga is certainly terrifying—but, according to my research, it may be little more than anti-Scottish propaganda spread by jittery Brits. Journey with me deep into the Bean clan’s flesh cave and I’ll explain.

Legend has it that Sawney Bean was born in Edinburgh, Scotland sometime in the sixteenth century. (Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told the BBC that the only contemporary record of Bean is a brief mention in a 1755 pamphlet distributed in Britain more on that later.) The story goes that Bean started out as a good, honest day laborer, most likely working either as a tanner, a hedger, or a ditch digger. But, like so many men before him, Bean fell prey to a vicious woman with a flair for malefactions and a grade-A pair of knockers. Her name was Black Agnes Douglas, and she and Bean fell in love, slunk away from society, and shacked up in a seaside cave where they could be alone and do the things that lovers do (reading books of poetry, sharpening their fingernails into little daggers, etc.).

The cave was equipped with everything a young couple could need—I’m thinking midcentury-inspired stalactites and also maybe a breakfast nook—but it also had a series of tunnels, some over a mile in depth. With plenty of room to grow, Bean and his scary-ass lady reproduced at a truly alarming rate, sprouting a clan that eventually numbered between 45 and 50 sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with the third generation born entirely out of incest .

But how does a hardworking dad keep his gigantic, deformed clan fed and happy in their dank cave? By robbing, kidnapping, dismembering, pickling, and eating unfortunate travelers, of course. Legends vary, but the Beans are said to have cannibalized around 1,000 people over the course of a few decades. Their bone-sucking saga came to an end when one of their would-be victims managed to escape, running off to inform local magistrates of the clan’s murderous deeds. Folks say that King James VI of Scotland went on to assemble 400 men and a legion of hounds to track, capture, and kill each and every Bean, leaving behind a cave full of disembodied legs, pickled intestines, and other delicacies.

It’s a great bedtime story, to be sure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how macabre you are), the story is likely little more than legend. First, as Yeoman told the BBC, there are no records of the countless missing persons snatched by the Beans. Yeoman also couldn’t find record of the manhunt led by King James—an event that, if it actually took place, would almost certainly be recorded for posterity.

No, the true origins of the legend are likely a bit more sinister. Yeoman argues that the tale was an English propaganda tool to disparage proud Scots, a spooky legend distributed via ghastly pamphlets in the 18th century. Quick reminder of the history of English-Scottish tensions : from William Wallace to the Jacobite uprisings , the British government spent centuries dismantling the Highlands’ clan system and working to eliminate Scottish sovereignty. Also worth noting: Bean’s purported lover, Black Agnes, shares a name with Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar . Nicknamed “Black Agnes” for her dark hair and complexion, Randolph is known for her heroic defense of Scotland’s Dunbar Castle against an English siege in 1338. Was Bean’s lady cannibal so named to disparage a centuries-old Scottish heroine? Possible. Very possible. Speaking of names: While “Sawney” is traditionally a nickname for “Alexander,” the term “sawney” was also an oft-derogatory nickname lodged against Scotsmen by the British.

Whether the legend of Sawney Bean is based in fact or is just a prejudiced attempt to demonize the Scottish as they attempted to establish sovereignty, you can actually visit the purported home of the Bean clan. Known as Bennane Cave , the cave is nestled just past a cluster of defunct mining towns, with a slippery entrance nearly blocked by a large boulder. If you’re brave enough to sneak in, you might be greeted with a memorable spelunking experience—but if you venture deep enough inside, you might also find the remains of countless unfortunates who unwittingly made their way from traipsing the high road to adorning the dinner table.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


This legendary cannibal clan feasted on blood, guts, and anti-Scottish sentiment

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite , a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email [email protected]—and beware.

For some, family dinner means tucking into a juicy meatloaf or a festive taco spread. For others, it involves strings of viscera, pan-fried eyeballs, and slabs of flesh hacked directly from a dying man’s thigh as he screams for mercy. It’s like I always say: when you’re with family, it doesn’t matter what (or who) you eat—as long as it’s prepared with love.

If apocrypha is to be believed, no one did family meals quite like the tight-knit Bean clan, a legendary Scottish cannibal crew led by patriarch Alexander “Sawney” Bean. I’ve only covered one act of cannibalism since debuting this column, but Bean and his famed taste for man meat are by far the most requested Dark and Stormy Bite subjects. Commenters, I hear you. In an effort to give the people what they want, I dove into Bean’s grisly history, which is said to have inspired Wes Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. The Bean saga is certainly terrifying—but, according to my research, it may be little more than anti-Scottish propaganda spread by jittery Brits. Journey with me deep into the Bean clan’s flesh cave and I’ll explain.

Legend has it that Sawney Bean was born in Edinburgh, Scotland sometime in the sixteenth century. (Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told the BBC that the only contemporary record of Bean is a brief mention in a 1755 pamphlet distributed in Britain more on that later.) The story goes that Bean started out as a good, honest day laborer, most likely working either as a tanner, a hedger, or a ditch digger. But, like so many men before him, Bean fell prey to a vicious woman with a flair for malefactions and a grade-A pair of knockers. Her name was Black Agnes Douglas, and she and Bean fell in love, slunk away from society, and shacked up in a seaside cave where they could be alone and do the things that lovers do (reading books of poetry, sharpening their fingernails into little daggers, etc.).

The cave was equipped with everything a young couple could need—I’m thinking midcentury-inspired stalactites and also maybe a breakfast nook—but it also had a series of tunnels, some over a mile in depth. With plenty of room to grow, Bean and his scary-ass lady reproduced at a truly alarming rate, sprouting a clan that eventually numbered between 45 and 50 sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with the third generation born entirely out of incest .

But how does a hardworking dad keep his gigantic, deformed clan fed and happy in their dank cave? By robbing, kidnapping, dismembering, pickling, and eating unfortunate travelers, of course. Legends vary, but the Beans are said to have cannibalized around 1,000 people over the course of a few decades. Their bone-sucking saga came to an end when one of their would-be victims managed to escape, running off to inform local magistrates of the clan’s murderous deeds. Folks say that King James VI of Scotland went on to assemble 400 men and a legion of hounds to track, capture, and kill each and every Bean, leaving behind a cave full of disembodied legs, pickled intestines, and other delicacies.

It’s a great bedtime story, to be sure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how macabre you are), the story is likely little more than legend. First, as Yeoman told the BBC, there are no records of the countless missing persons snatched by the Beans. Yeoman also couldn’t find record of the manhunt led by King James—an event that, if it actually took place, would almost certainly be recorded for posterity.

No, the true origins of the legend are likely a bit more sinister. Yeoman argues that the tale was an English propaganda tool to disparage proud Scots, a spooky legend distributed via ghastly pamphlets in the 18th century. Quick reminder of the history of English-Scottish tensions : from William Wallace to the Jacobite uprisings , the British government spent centuries dismantling the Highlands’ clan system and working to eliminate Scottish sovereignty. Also worth noting: Bean’s purported lover, Black Agnes, shares a name with Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar . Nicknamed “Black Agnes” for her dark hair and complexion, Randolph is known for her heroic defense of Scotland’s Dunbar Castle against an English siege in 1338. Was Bean’s lady cannibal so named to disparage a centuries-old Scottish heroine? Possible. Very possible. Speaking of names: While “Sawney” is traditionally a nickname for “Alexander,” the term “sawney” was also an oft-derogatory nickname lodged against Scotsmen by the British.

Whether the legend of Sawney Bean is based in fact or is just a prejudiced attempt to demonize the Scottish as they attempted to establish sovereignty, you can actually visit the purported home of the Bean clan. Known as Bennane Cave , the cave is nestled just past a cluster of defunct mining towns, with a slippery entrance nearly blocked by a large boulder. If you’re brave enough to sneak in, you might be greeted with a memorable spelunking experience—but if you venture deep enough inside, you might also find the remains of countless unfortunates who unwittingly made their way from traipsing the high road to adorning the dinner table.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


This legendary cannibal clan feasted on blood, guts, and anti-Scottish sentiment

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite , a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email [email protected]—and beware.

For some, family dinner means tucking into a juicy meatloaf or a festive taco spread. For others, it involves strings of viscera, pan-fried eyeballs, and slabs of flesh hacked directly from a dying man’s thigh as he screams for mercy. It’s like I always say: when you’re with family, it doesn’t matter what (or who) you eat—as long as it’s prepared with love.

If apocrypha is to be believed, no one did family meals quite like the tight-knit Bean clan, a legendary Scottish cannibal crew led by patriarch Alexander “Sawney” Bean. I’ve only covered one act of cannibalism since debuting this column, but Bean and his famed taste for man meat are by far the most requested Dark and Stormy Bite subjects. Commenters, I hear you. In an effort to give the people what they want, I dove into Bean’s grisly history, which is said to have inspired Wes Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. The Bean saga is certainly terrifying—but, according to my research, it may be little more than anti-Scottish propaganda spread by jittery Brits. Journey with me deep into the Bean clan’s flesh cave and I’ll explain.

Legend has it that Sawney Bean was born in Edinburgh, Scotland sometime in the sixteenth century. (Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told the BBC that the only contemporary record of Bean is a brief mention in a 1755 pamphlet distributed in Britain more on that later.) The story goes that Bean started out as a good, honest day laborer, most likely working either as a tanner, a hedger, or a ditch digger. But, like so many men before him, Bean fell prey to a vicious woman with a flair for malefactions and a grade-A pair of knockers. Her name was Black Agnes Douglas, and she and Bean fell in love, slunk away from society, and shacked up in a seaside cave where they could be alone and do the things that lovers do (reading books of poetry, sharpening their fingernails into little daggers, etc.).

The cave was equipped with everything a young couple could need—I’m thinking midcentury-inspired stalactites and also maybe a breakfast nook—but it also had a series of tunnels, some over a mile in depth. With plenty of room to grow, Bean and his scary-ass lady reproduced at a truly alarming rate, sprouting a clan that eventually numbered between 45 and 50 sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with the third generation born entirely out of incest .

But how does a hardworking dad keep his gigantic, deformed clan fed and happy in their dank cave? By robbing, kidnapping, dismembering, pickling, and eating unfortunate travelers, of course. Legends vary, but the Beans are said to have cannibalized around 1,000 people over the course of a few decades. Their bone-sucking saga came to an end when one of their would-be victims managed to escape, running off to inform local magistrates of the clan’s murderous deeds. Folks say that King James VI of Scotland went on to assemble 400 men and a legion of hounds to track, capture, and kill each and every Bean, leaving behind a cave full of disembodied legs, pickled intestines, and other delicacies.

It’s a great bedtime story, to be sure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how macabre you are), the story is likely little more than legend. First, as Yeoman told the BBC, there are no records of the countless missing persons snatched by the Beans. Yeoman also couldn’t find record of the manhunt led by King James—an event that, if it actually took place, would almost certainly be recorded for posterity.

No, the true origins of the legend are likely a bit more sinister. Yeoman argues that the tale was an English propaganda tool to disparage proud Scots, a spooky legend distributed via ghastly pamphlets in the 18th century. Quick reminder of the history of English-Scottish tensions : from William Wallace to the Jacobite uprisings , the British government spent centuries dismantling the Highlands’ clan system and working to eliminate Scottish sovereignty. Also worth noting: Bean’s purported lover, Black Agnes, shares a name with Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar . Nicknamed “Black Agnes” for her dark hair and complexion, Randolph is known for her heroic defense of Scotland’s Dunbar Castle against an English siege in 1338. Was Bean’s lady cannibal so named to disparage a centuries-old Scottish heroine? Possible. Very possible. Speaking of names: While “Sawney” is traditionally a nickname for “Alexander,” the term “sawney” was also an oft-derogatory nickname lodged against Scotsmen by the British.

Whether the legend of Sawney Bean is based in fact or is just a prejudiced attempt to demonize the Scottish as they attempted to establish sovereignty, you can actually visit the purported home of the Bean clan. Known as Bennane Cave , the cave is nestled just past a cluster of defunct mining towns, with a slippery entrance nearly blocked by a large boulder. If you’re brave enough to sneak in, you might be greeted with a memorable spelunking experience—but if you venture deep enough inside, you might also find the remains of countless unfortunates who unwittingly made their way from traipsing the high road to adorning the dinner table.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


This legendary cannibal clan feasted on blood, guts, and anti-Scottish sentiment

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite , a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email [email protected]—and beware.

For some, family dinner means tucking into a juicy meatloaf or a festive taco spread. For others, it involves strings of viscera, pan-fried eyeballs, and slabs of flesh hacked directly from a dying man’s thigh as he screams for mercy. It’s like I always say: when you’re with family, it doesn’t matter what (or who) you eat—as long as it’s prepared with love.

If apocrypha is to be believed, no one did family meals quite like the tight-knit Bean clan, a legendary Scottish cannibal crew led by patriarch Alexander “Sawney” Bean. I’ve only covered one act of cannibalism since debuting this column, but Bean and his famed taste for man meat are by far the most requested Dark and Stormy Bite subjects. Commenters, I hear you. In an effort to give the people what they want, I dove into Bean’s grisly history, which is said to have inspired Wes Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. The Bean saga is certainly terrifying—but, according to my research, it may be little more than anti-Scottish propaganda spread by jittery Brits. Journey with me deep into the Bean clan’s flesh cave and I’ll explain.

Legend has it that Sawney Bean was born in Edinburgh, Scotland sometime in the sixteenth century. (Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told the BBC that the only contemporary record of Bean is a brief mention in a 1755 pamphlet distributed in Britain more on that later.) The story goes that Bean started out as a good, honest day laborer, most likely working either as a tanner, a hedger, or a ditch digger. But, like so many men before him, Bean fell prey to a vicious woman with a flair for malefactions and a grade-A pair of knockers. Her name was Black Agnes Douglas, and she and Bean fell in love, slunk away from society, and shacked up in a seaside cave where they could be alone and do the things that lovers do (reading books of poetry, sharpening their fingernails into little daggers, etc.).

The cave was equipped with everything a young couple could need—I’m thinking midcentury-inspired stalactites and also maybe a breakfast nook—but it also had a series of tunnels, some over a mile in depth. With plenty of room to grow, Bean and his scary-ass lady reproduced at a truly alarming rate, sprouting a clan that eventually numbered between 45 and 50 sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with the third generation born entirely out of incest .

But how does a hardworking dad keep his gigantic, deformed clan fed and happy in their dank cave? By robbing, kidnapping, dismembering, pickling, and eating unfortunate travelers, of course. Legends vary, but the Beans are said to have cannibalized around 1,000 people over the course of a few decades. Their bone-sucking saga came to an end when one of their would-be victims managed to escape, running off to inform local magistrates of the clan’s murderous deeds. Folks say that King James VI of Scotland went on to assemble 400 men and a legion of hounds to track, capture, and kill each and every Bean, leaving behind a cave full of disembodied legs, pickled intestines, and other delicacies.

It’s a great bedtime story, to be sure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how macabre you are), the story is likely little more than legend. First, as Yeoman told the BBC, there are no records of the countless missing persons snatched by the Beans. Yeoman also couldn’t find record of the manhunt led by King James—an event that, if it actually took place, would almost certainly be recorded for posterity.

No, the true origins of the legend are likely a bit more sinister. Yeoman argues that the tale was an English propaganda tool to disparage proud Scots, a spooky legend distributed via ghastly pamphlets in the 18th century. Quick reminder of the history of English-Scottish tensions : from William Wallace to the Jacobite uprisings , the British government spent centuries dismantling the Highlands’ clan system and working to eliminate Scottish sovereignty. Also worth noting: Bean’s purported lover, Black Agnes, shares a name with Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar . Nicknamed “Black Agnes” for her dark hair and complexion, Randolph is known for her heroic defense of Scotland’s Dunbar Castle against an English siege in 1338. Was Bean’s lady cannibal so named to disparage a centuries-old Scottish heroine? Possible. Very possible. Speaking of names: While “Sawney” is traditionally a nickname for “Alexander,” the term “sawney” was also an oft-derogatory nickname lodged against Scotsmen by the British.

Whether the legend of Sawney Bean is based in fact or is just a prejudiced attempt to demonize the Scottish as they attempted to establish sovereignty, you can actually visit the purported home of the Bean clan. Known as Bennane Cave , the cave is nestled just past a cluster of defunct mining towns, with a slippery entrance nearly blocked by a large boulder. If you’re brave enough to sneak in, you might be greeted with a memorable spelunking experience—but if you venture deep enough inside, you might also find the remains of countless unfortunates who unwittingly made their way from traipsing the high road to adorning the dinner table.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


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