Often enough, inspiration comes from unlikely sources. Sure, it might be an unforgettable event or a true eureka moment, but it could just as easily be something much simpler. In the case of the indelible fictional character of Dr. Jekyll and/or Mr. Hyde, it all started with a simple piece of furniture that sat in author Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood home.
With all of the countless variations and retellings of the Jekyll and Hyde story over the past century and a half, it’s easy to forget that it originated from a novella by the same author who wrote Treasure Island. Stevenson first published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886. Genial professor Henry Jekyll begins acting suspiciously, while at the same time, brutal crimes begin being committed by the mysterious Edward Hyde. It turns out they are one and the same, transformed by an experimental serum. Eventually, their warring personalities lead to the downfall of both men. It’s a classic story of the conflicting impulses inside us all, but Stevenson is believed to have based his story on some very real people, including the cabinet-maker-by-day-criminal-by-night known as Deacon Brodie.
Deacon Brodie (real name, William Brodie) is today recognizable mainly as the namesake of a handful of pubs in Scotland and the U.S., but in his day, he was a well-respected socialite. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1741, Brodie made a name for himself as a master cabinet maker. He was such a respectable tradesman that he was made Deacon (hence the name) of the Incorporation of Wrights, essentially president of the woodworking guild. This position not only gave him a seat on the city council, but an air of being morally beyond reproach. As it turned out though, well-made cabinets were not the only things going on in his workshop.
Brodie was also a trusted locksmith, and was given keys to the homes of many members of Edinburgh society, so that he could work while they weren’t around. This gave him access to a number of wealthy homes, which for Brodie was just too good an opportunity to pass up. He would make wax impressions of his clients’ keys, and then create replica keys so that he could…
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