In 1637, in Greyfriars
Churchyard, Edinburgh, Scots Presbyterians signed a 'National
Covenant with God' and embarked on a religious crusade against
the south. Their initial success eventually led to the English
Civil war and the execution of King Charles I.
Within 50 years
the movement was broken and Charles II crushed the last 'Covenanter'
army at the Battle of Bothwell Brig. Twelve hundred survivors
were imprisoned in a walled section of Greyfriars cemetery -
now known as 'The Covenanter's Prison'. Held for months in horrendous
conditions, many were executed just outside the cemetery wall,
and then buried back inside. A total of 18,000 Covenanters died
for their beliefs, most put to death by the King's Advocate,
George McKenzie. In 1691, McKenzie was also buried in Greyfriars
- right next to the Covenanter's Prison. It has always been
said that, inside his great tomb, the coffin moves - for 'Bloody'
McKenzie can never find rest after the atrocities he committed.
From that time,
Greyfriars Graveyard had a reputation for being haunted - a
status enhanced in subsequent centuries by the official removal
of headstones, mass corpse dumping and a brisk trade in bodysnatching.
The cemetery, however, remained open to the public and, for
400 years, despite the ghost stories, visitors enjoyed the solitude
of the misty graveyard, hidden from the busy city by its towering
Then, in early 1999,
a vagrant broke into the tomb of George McKenzie. Not only did
he desecrate the coffin, he disturbed a hidden room below the
tomb filled with unidentified skeletons. Soon after, stories
began to circulate about strange happenings in the churchyard.
Visitors described patches of intense cold and sweet but sickening
smells in the Covenanter's Prison. A member of Greyfriars staff
complained of "always being watched" when passing
one particular vault. Jokingly he referred to it as 'The Black
Mausoleum'. The name stuck.
As time passed the
rumours increased. Cold so intense it was painful to the flesh.
A boy frightened by 'loud breathing noises' coming from the
Black Mausoleum. Visitors overcome by sudden nausea. Surrounding
tombs damaged. Eventually, Edinburgh Council quietly locked
the Covenanter Prison gates.
But the tales had
come to the attention of a small company, who decided to capitalize
on Greyfriars growing reputation. They applied for permission
to conduct nightly walks through the historic cemetery and Edinburgh
Council granted it. After all, what harm could come to groups
of people supervised by professional guides? In June 1999, the
tastefully named City of the Dead tours began - tours that finished
in the creepy darkness of the Black Mausoleum.
City of the Dead
simply wanted to make money. Their guides had no illusions about
finding genuine spooks and depended on the chills that come
from being in a graveyard at night to satisfy their customers.
To everyone's astonishment, however, the tours were plagued
by strange occurrences from the very beginning. Visitors developed
mysterious cuts or bruises. 'Cold spots' and 'hot spots' would
suddenly appear. Many complained of something they could not
see 'touching' them. Others fell into a comatose state. And
each incident took place in the Black Mausoleum.
proceedings quickly prompted sceptical investigation - but the
poltergeist did not disappoint. Several teams of psychic investigators,
accompanied by mediums and the media concluded that there was
a genuine supernatural presence in the Covenanters Prison. Spiritualist
minister Colin Grant tried to exorcise it and, shaken by what
he encountered, remarked 'I wouldn't be surprised if this killed
me." He died shortly afterwards. A Polish TV crew was present
at a collapse, a local crew at another and the director of a
Discovery Channel documentary witnessed the appearance of one
of the phantom cuts. Inhabitants of houses against the graveyard
wall began to claim that there was poltergeist activity in their
homes - prompting another failed exorcism.
Tour parties began
finding dead birds, completely unmarked, outside the Black Mausoleum.
A sickly sweet smell would sometimes fill the Covenanter's Prison,
while the rest of the graveyard smelled normal. Tour parties
began to hear growling and rapping noises in the vault and individuals
became convinced that an 'evil presence' was in the vault with
It became apparent
to most sceptical City of the Dead guides that what was happening
couldn't be explained by coincidence, gullibility or visitor's
nerves. Some guides even suspected their own lives were affected
when their own houses seemed plagued by poltergeist activity.
In an attempt to understand what was happening they came up
with the Pheromone Theory - which has been accepted by many
psychic investigators as the most persuasive explanation for
poltergeists ever put forward.
In the two and a
half years since City of the Dead tours started there have been
hundreds of recorded 'attacks' in the Covenanters Prison - and
an astonishing 92 of these occurrences have resulted in someone
collapsing. In every case there were numerous witnesses to the
The McKenzie Poltergeist still grows in strength. Mass attacks
are now common and people write to the tours claiming to have
been attacked a day or two after their tour. Greyfriars has
become a Mecca for paranormal enthusiasts and the story, covered
extensively by national and international media, has now become
the subject of an acclaimed book - The Ghost that Haunted Itself.
The MacKenzie Poltergeist is now the best documented supernatural
case in history.
The nightly graveyard
visits continue. The guides' fascination is stronger than their
apprehension and the public simply doesn't believe that, in
a western city in this day and age, they are actually going
to encounter a supernatural entity on an organized trip
Until they do.
Jan Andrew Henderson.
Many thanks to Jan
Andrew Henderson for the history portion of this report. Jan
is the owner of the Black Hart Story Tellers and The
City of The Dead Tours, which provide visitors to
Edinburgh there only chance to get inside the Covenanters prison.
Jan has also written a book about the Mackenzie Poltergeist:
THE GHOST THAT HAUNTED ITSELF:
THE STORY OF THE MACKENZIE POLTERGEIST
'A haunting tale'
- The Scotsman Newspaper
'Compelling reading for believers and skeptics alike' - Daily
well written and gripping' - Scottish Town
and Country Magazine
well worth reading' - Lanarkshire Television
Published by Mainstream Press. Available from all leading bookstores.
Also By Jan:
The Town Below the Ground, Edinburgh Famous Underground City.
The Emperors New Kilt, Scotland's Two Secret Histories.