by Charles Reis
Edinburgh is a beautiful city that attracts visitors from around the world. However, among the cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and ancient cathedrals, darkness resides within the cemetery of Greyfriars Kirkyard. Created back in 1562, it’s best known for the delightful story of Greyfriar Bobby, the nickname of a skye terrier. Bobby lived in the 19th century, and for fourteen years the dog would go to the cemetery to visit the grave of his deceased owner. However, Greyfriars Kirkyard is also known to be the home of an entity that’s terrorizing the city: the MacKenzie Poltergeist!
A little history lesson is first needed. The poltergeist is believed to be the spirit of a man named Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, who was a Scottish lawyer, Lord Advocate, and writer who was born around 1636 and died on May 8, 1691. However, he’s more commonly known as Bloody MacKenzie ( or “Bluidy MacKenzie”), a nickname he earned due to his treatment of the Covenanters.
The Covenanters were a Scottish Presbyterian group that began in the 17th century in order to oppose the interference by the King in the affairs of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. On February 28, 1638 at Greyfriars, the National Covenant, which was an oath that stated that the people will defend their religion against innovations (especially ones that might lead to Roman Catholicism), was signed by several members of the community. Within a few days, the people of Edinburgh signed it and copies of it were sent throughout Scotland. What followed was a period of unrest that eventually lead to the English Civil War.
During the Civil War ( which lasted from 1642 to 1651), Charles II was trying to regain the crown. In order to gain the support from the Scots, he signed the National Covenant himself and was proclaimed “King of Scots” in 1651. However, once Charles II became King in 1660, he betrayed the Covenanters by backing out of the agreement, removed their rights to practice their religion, and started persecuting them. They responded by fighting back. At the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, which took place on June 22, 1679, the Covenanters were defeated and 1200 prisoners were transported to Edinburgh. About 400 of them were held at Greyfriars Kirkyard in an area that will later become known as Covenanters’ Prison. It was at this point when MacKenzie came into play.
MacKenzie was the main person responsible for the mistreatment of these men at Covenanters’ Prison, who barely got enough food and were often exposed to the elements. The conditions were so horrible that some scholars have described it as being like a concentration camp. Under MacKenzie’s orders, some of the men were tried and executed, others were sent off as slaves, while others had the chance to swear an oath of loyalty to the new king. In the end, about 150 men died and were buried at Covenanters’ Prison. His treatment of these people was how MacKenzie earned his infamous name. Coincidentally, when MacKenzie died, he was buried in a tomb (called the Black Mausoleum) that’s located near the graves of men he was responsible for killing.
The history is enough to cause a haunting, but the MacKenzie Poltergeist didn’t become active until centuries later. It’s commonly believed that the incident that brought about this spirit happened in 1998, when a homeless man broke into the tomb to seek shelter. As he was violating the tomb, he accidentally uncovered unidentified skeletal remains that were believed to be plague victims. The homeless man ran away screaming and was never heard from again. The next day, two women visiting the tomb became the first victims of the MacKenzie Poltergeist. He pushed one of them to the ground and strangled the other so hard bruises were left on her neck.
Things got worse in 2004 when two teenage boys broke into his crypt and cut the head off of Mackenzie’s corpse. The boys proceeded to use the skull as if it was a puppet, kick it around like a soccer ball, and used it to perform simulated sex acts on it. This violation only antagonized MacKenzie and caused the area to be cursed. Since then, the MacKenzie Poltergeist has been responsible for over 500 reported attacks on people. The attacks range from people being pushed to their hair being pulled, with many receiving bruises and scratches. Others had passed out, while some had vomited due to these attacks. Additional claims are that people experience the sensation of being watched and have felt weird hot and cold spots.
Unfortunately, the MacKenzie Poltergeist isn’t just confined to Greyfriars Kirkyard. Nearby homes have also been hit by this entity, with claims that objects inside these homes had been moved or smashed and his sinister laughter have been heard. Another location that’s believed to be haunted by this spirit is the Radisson Blu Hotel, which was built on top of a close (or an alley) where MacKenzie once lived. Guests have experienced their items being moved, heard voices and noises coming from the bathrooms, and the televisions turned on and off or changed channel inexplicably.
The attacks were getting so bad that two exorcisms were done in the cemetery, but that seemed to have done no good. The attacks continued and got so bad that Covenanters’ Prison had to be sealed off from the public. The area is now only accessible through special ghost tours, which often give out warnings to customers that “The Mackenzie Poltergeist can cause genuine physical and mental distress.”
So, is the MacKenzie Poltergeist real or is it just an alternative fact to scare tourist? While it’s undeniably spooky, there are some holes with the story of Bloody MacKenzie. The story of the homeless man breaking into the tomb seems to be pure legend rather than fact since there’s a lack of evidence for it ever happening. Additionally, the tomb had been broken into and desecrated many times over many decades, so the idea that the break-ins in 1998 and 2004 were the cause of the Poltergeist seems illogical. Though MacKenzie’s treatment of the Covenanters was brutal by today’s standards, by all accounts he followed the letter of the law. Also, the inhumane treatment of prisoners was a common act throughout Europe during that time. Additionally, the story that Covenanters’ Prison was sealed off due to the attacks is just a fable told to tourist because the area was closed off by the city council due to frequent vandalism and drug usage. There’s also the fact that thousands of people have been to Greyfriars and never experienced anything paranormal.
Whether the MacKenzie Poltergeist is truth or fiction, a trip to Edinburgh is well worth it. But, whether you are a believer or a skeptic, just be wary when visiting Greyfriars–you never know who or what might be lurking in the shadows!