The Dark Side of Seoul

Joe McPherson of ZenKimchi shares dark tales from Seoul's past

SEOUL, September 24, 2013 – Joe McPherson, popular food writer and founder of ZenKimchi, gave a talk called "The Dark Side of Seoul" as part of Asia Society Korea Center’s Monthly Luncheon Series. Mr. McPherson, an avid fan of ghost stories, decided to create a two and a half hour ghost tour called "The Dark Side of Seoul" after discovering a dearth of such activities in Seoul. "I was a big fan of ghost tours in London, Savannah, and New York," Mr. McPherson said. "But there were no ghost tours in Seoul and thought it would be fun to put something together."

He knew that a city with as long a history as Seoul likely had plenty of dark tales, but he ran into an unexpected challenge in digging them up. "We found that people are very secretive about ghost stories in Korea," Mr. McPherson said. "It took over a year of research and a lot of the stories came from historian Robert Neff."

Mr. McPherson shared the story of how Jae-gol, the "alley of ashes," near modern-day Anguk station got its name. Bukcheon was an area of the city where many Korean aristocrats settled due to its proximity to the royal palaces. King Tanjong ascended the throne in 1452, but the transition to power was anything but smooth. "His uncle was famous Prince Suyang, who was not a very nice character in Korean history," Mr. McPherson said. "He got jealous of the 12-year-old upstart and in 1453, he had his men hide out in Bukcheon." When King Tanjong and his ministers and retainers were going by, Prince Suyong's men ambushed them, slaughtering a great number of them. "There was so much death that they couldn't count how many people died," he explained. "The smell was so bad that they had to burn fires for days."

Mr. McPherson continued by sharing stories about the Restaurant Blood Ghost, the Yanghwajin Foreigners Cemetery, the Gwangtonggyo Bridge, as well as more modern ghost stories. The talk was followed by an engaging discussion with the audience and Mr. McPherson on topics such as the nature of Korean culture's superstitions and ghost stories from different countries around the world.