The MacKenzie Poltergeist

Living in Edinburgh we know the ghost tours well. You can’t go through a walk in the city centre without crossing paths with one, combination of pale faced tourists and giggling people huddled in the the back of the group avidly listening to their tour guide theatrically telling ghoulish tales of what terrible deed happened on the point where they are standing.


One of the most famous of these, and one that gets the crowds going is a walk through Greyfriers Graveyard. Best done as the light has disappeared to get the full effect, in this dark kirkyard it’s not difficult to feel spooked, large faceless angels surround you, skull and cross bones and eerie mausoleums with the tales that someone on the previous tour collapsed through fear. It’s not all about loyal dogs now.

The kirkyard is also the home of plague pits where the bodies of thousands of victims of the Black Death were buried in mass graves.  Also on the grounds is the Covenanter prison, people that died here were buried in the kirkyard; some escaped, some executed.  In the prison they would wait in terrible conditions for many months awaiting trial. Conditions were so inhumane that this prison is often described as the world’s first concentration camp.  There was no shelter and the only food they were allowed was a daily ration of 4oz of bread.

Covenanters Prison

Covenanters Prison

It is no wonder that Greyfriers has the reputation of being one of the most haunted places in Scotland.  Here the dead do not rest.


The highlight of a ghost tour around Greyfriers graveyard comes when you approach an impressive forboding mausoleum.  This is the final resting place of Sir George MacKenzie, chief persecutor and prison guard of the Covenanters.

The Black Mausoleum of Sir George Mackenzie

The Black Mausoleum of Sir George Mackenzie

Sir George Mackenzie

Sir George Mackenzie

MacKenzie was an infamous, brutal man with the nickname ‘Bluidy MacKenzie’. He was made advocate in August 1677 by King Charles II. From here MacKenzie organised an enthusiastic and bloody prosecution of Covenanters in retaliation for their refusal to replace Scotland’s Presbyterian Church with the Episcopalian Church that had come to dominate England to the south.

In 1679 the Covenanter were defeated at the Battle of Bothwell bridge, 3,000 of them were captured. These men were brought to Greyfriers. Some were beheaded, some hanged, decapitated heads rotted on walls around the city. It was a time of public torture. By just mid November of the same year 1,200 prisoners had died from starvations or exposure. The survivors were packed onto a boat bound for Australia.

MacKenzie is said to have been responsible for around 18,000 death of Covenanters (his fellow countrymen) during a reign of terror known as ‘The Killing Times’.  Now his mausoleum is said to be the point of the ‘the world’s most recorded poltergeist activitiy’.

A chain and padlock holds the door to his mausoleum shut.  An attempt to keep out the living, rather than keep in the dead.  In 1998 a homeless man looking for shelter came across the Black Mausoleum and took refuge inside, at this time it was just a simple lock on the door.  This break in is said to have woken the evil Bluidy MacKenzie from his slumber.

Inside were coffins of Mackenzie’s  relatives, the homeless man opened one out of morbid curiosity.  Suddenly beneath him the floor gave way and he fell down into a pit.  Many bodies were contained here, they had filled the pit with plague bodies – basically they had so many that bodies were stuffed into anywhere they could find for quick disposal.  Despite their age, the sealing up of these bodies had meant they were still in a state of decomposition.  This scene could have come straight from a horror film, imagine the man’s terror as he tried to claw his way out of the pit, grasping body parts on his way.

From this point people started getting hurt.  It was only a few days later that a woman looking into the mausoleum was  blasted by a cold force.  Then soon after another woman was found unconscious next to the mausoleum, her neck covered in bruises.

Some of the injuries blamed on Buildy MacKenzie from people who have taken The City of Dead Tour

Locks can not keep the undead at bay. – Some of the injuries blamed on Buildy MacKenzie from people who have taken The City of Dead Tour

But the vagrant falling through the floor of his tomb wasn’t to be the last desecration to stir up the poltergeist.  In 2003 to add insult to injury a group of 17 year olds out for mischief and trying to be all macabre and impress the local goths were caught playing in the graveyard with what was thought to be a football under one of the boys arms, this turned out to be the severed muffified head of George MacKenzie.  The kids had broken into the tomb and chopped off his head with a penknife.  According to coverage in the Daily Mirror of the trial the teenagers were throwing the head to each other jokingingly pretending it was performing sex acts on them and wearing it as a glove puppet.    The teenager in question was given 200 hours community service and his partner in crime was given two years probation.

The severed head of George Mackenzie

The severed head of George Mackenzie

Two years later unknown intruders gained access despite increased security at the churchyard, removed a head and posed it on one of the spikes that top the cemetery’s gates. They left behind a note with the message “The Vampire Lark”.  They have not been traced.

Tours now start with the warning “The Mackenzie Poltergeist can cause genuine physical and mental distress. You join the tour at your own risk!”.  Exorcisms have been carried out twice at the location, first by a spiritualist minister named Colin Grant and a year later by his son. Both were unsuccessful and the attacks continue.

Long before the homeless man fell into the corpse filled pit there is the story of John Haynes, a petty criminal, possibly a highwayman who used the second chamber in the mausoleum as a hideout for six long months.  Eventually the police caught up with him and found him to be completely insane.  Haynes kept insisting that the coffins kept moving around at night.

There are some other explanations for the feelings people have around the tomb.  One suggests it’s the result of high voltage machinery which is housed to the rear of the mausoleum by Edinburgh University’s Artificial Intelligence Unit. These machines can give off electromagnetic energy, a force that some believe could create hallucinations in people that are ‘EM sensitive’ and be the explanation for certain paranormal activity. This, however, does not explain the physical attacks that visitors to the vault have suffered.

Another scientific explanation concerning these phenomenons looks deep underground. Sandstone forms much of the rock underneath the Greyfriars area. Brian Allen of SPI suggests that:

“If the pores of the sandstone were to become saturated with mineral electrolytes, this in effect would create thousands of tiny batteries. Given the right conditions, a micro-tremor perhaps, the stored energy could be discharged, creating an electrical field above the ground affecting a sensitive person by causing a tiny seizure in the temporal lobes of their brain. These seizures appear to run in distinct patterns, with the people affected experiencing the same or similar images”.

What ever you believe – would you dare challenge Bluidy MacKenzie by knocking the door of the Black Mausoleum three times saying” Bluidy Mackingie, come oot if ye daur, lift the sneck and draw the bar!”?



About Amanda Moffet

I run with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

View all posts by Amanda Moffet →

One thought on “The MacKenzie Poltergeist

  1. Andrew Adam

    Hi Amanda

    I like reading your work posted on Scotclans.

    One comment you might like to look into:

    Your dates do not match up re “survivors were packed onto a boat bound for Australia” as James Cook didnt un ino Australia until 1770, a century after the dates you gave.

    Cheers from Tasmania, Andrew


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