Ewan Irvine is exploring the strange and unexplained through a series of interviews. In this episode he stays close to home with an investigation into the mysterious 'Mackenzie Poltergeist.'
Jamie Corstorphine is Manager of the 'City of the Dead Tours' and has a wealth of knowledge on Edinburgh's Greyfriars Kirkyard. In the podcast we explore the Story surrounding the Covenanters Prison - lair of the infamous Mackenzie Poltergeist - the world's best-documented supernatural case.
For more information visit www.cityofthedeadtours.comSupport the show
Ewan Irvine 0:04
Welcome to the Conan Doyle case book where there's always a story to tell
Well, welcome to our podcast with the Conan Doyle case spook here at the Arthur Conan Doyle centre. And tonight my guest is Jimmy kostar fan who's manager of the city of the dead tour and Edinburgh here and tonight we are going to be talking about curry friars. kirkyard Good evening, Jamie. Good evening. So tell me a little bit about your interest in Greyfriars kirkyard.
Jamie Corstorphine 1:00
Well, I'm from St. Andrews, originally on the East Coast, which obviously Sanders has got this abundance of his own ghost stories and things like that. So ghosts have always been a part, you know, from when I was growing up, you know, the William T line skills book, The the ghost stories of this and Andrews was one of the one of my most favourite books when I was growing up. So it's always been, you know, drawn to it. It wasn't until, I mean, obviously at Hardegree flyers and things like that before, but I never really visited Greyfriars, really, until a roundabout was about 2006 or so. I'd read a book called The ghost that haunted itself by John Andrew Henderson about burglary flyers. And this this new thing that was happening called the McKenzie Poltergeist, which really got me interested. So I ended up loving that book and I travelled over to Edinburgh to Greyfriars from St. Andrews, and I kind of fell in love with the place. But you know, even back then I didn't think, you know, for for a second that one day, I'd be actually running the tour company that I was reading about in that book, you know, so nobody's obviously I've been I've been sitting the dead tourism now for 15 years. And it's my offices in Greyfriars. So, you know, as my everyday life is being an Greyfriars, kirkyard. So as parents my second home is, there's kind of like, our back garden, if you wish. There's a phenomenal question.
Ewan Irvine 2:30
And of course, what is the famous stories and griefers? As we Bobby the dog, of course, is master that's, that's buddy, they're just if you really go into the entrance, and just a little bit off to the right thing.
Jamie Corstorphine 2:43
That's right. I mean, if you've got an entrance as well, yeah, I mean, the memorial stones to the dog is straight ahead of you when you go in the main gate, and the right in front of the church. And but then Yeah, down to the right. And down past the first sort of tabletop graves on the left hand side and the right hand side path. Very confusing. Yeah, you've got the memorial stone to, to the, the master John grey, and to James Brown, who was a section of the graveyard, Bobby Tang, and he looked after the graveyard and things like that.
Ewan Irvine 3:18
So I understand that the graveyard goes round a bit back to the 16th century when Buddy was first place. And it's quite a history to oh, there's
Jamie Corstorphine 3:28
a lot history to the game. I mean, when I mean, that's, I mean from obviously from the earlier kind of early to mid 1500s, because you had the Greyfriars monastery, on the grounds at the bottom of the graveyard, which is now the North yard. That was what founded the ground, you know, that's what Greyfriars gets its name from is from the monastery, and, you know, the monks and the great habits. So, I mean, obviously the monk burials would have been down there, you know, for for, you know, way back then. But then yeah, I mean, where 1500 James Martin and things, you know, bodies in terror there. Well, what was left of his body after he was executed? You know, so yeah, I mean, going right back to, to mid 1500s Absolutely. His burial ground
Ewan Irvine 4:10
is a place of course, we walk we walk past daily, and we visit but it kind of, from my experience becomes a different place at night. It's not a place I really want to, or certainly more on my own venture. And so yeah,
Jamie Corstorphine 4:27
I mean, I don't know if that's psychological or not, honestly, you know, because I spent a lot of time these athletes in that place. You know, various times a nice wondering about money, I've never felt unsafe in the graveyard. And you know, but you know, I don't know it's just one of these you know, like, like the myths about whoever you know gave hard on everyone who's got a ghost them? I don't know if it's a psychological thing. You know, how people they all weekend when they're at nighttime, spooky, you know, those kind of? Yeah, I mean, there's a small chance that well tell me to change the, the McKenzie poltergeist rip you apart. So you know, I'm gonna be people have got the kind of right to feel threatened by that
Ewan Irvine 5:07
leads us on brilliantly to the story of the McKenzie poltergeist.
Jamie Corstorphine 5:14
Absolutely. I mean, like I was just saying to you even before we started recording, you know, the there's a lot of misinformation about it that McKenzie pulled against, you know, things of growing legs. Over time, a lot of tour groups have adapted the story to suit their own tours. And so I mean, go right back to when the first accounts happened was way back in 1999. At this point, it wasn't called anything. You know, there's just strange things happening within the covenanters prison area of Greyfriars. That's when the prison area was opened to the public, you know, you could walk around the prison it was it was part of refires. So strange things. I mean, it made kind of local news, these strange things happen. And there was a lot of ambulances called for people, by members of the public or people who were with the people who had collapsed, there's one area in the prison area, or coming over these strange marks. So it obviously made a little bit of news. And the council took the decision to obviously lock the gates. And it's their lunch, there's the council and they, you know, generally are not insured for graveyards, people are, you know, dead when they get there. So, you know, for safety elements and things like that, and for the media store, and basically, they just locked against it. Well, that that solves a problem. And we're not admitting any way that things happened, but they're not denied. And if that happened, you know, they just lock the gates. And that's when the owner of the company, John Andrew Henderson, of city of the dead, and John was researching these strange things for for, for a book, he was going to bring a book out about it, because, you know, he, he was living on candlemaker row at that table overlooking the graveyard. So he went to the council and asked why the gates were closed. And, you know, he was conducting, you know, experiments and things like that for this book. So basically, they said, No, tough, the locked and the story. And so he wasn't, you know, to be deflated. This was a big thing. He'd already done a lot of research. He wasn't about to lay go, so why does he have to think about it. And he went back to the council and showed them public liability insurance and said, Look, blah, blah, blah, this is a story. I want to take people in there and get their experiences for research. And, you know, this is the deal. And 2021, almost 22 years later with still got the keys and we're still Painterly. We're still researching this thing know the first person to call it the McKenzie Porter against fours and Dejon. In his book, The ghost hunt and the sounds that was the book that has been written about these strange occurrences in Greyfriars. So when he released it in 2001, that was the first time the public heard anything about the McKenzie Poltergeist, he had to call it something, you know, to call it the thingy or something like that, you know, that's the thing. I think that's already been done. So you know, you have to call it something. So where does the McKenzie connection commenter you know why why is it called the McKenzie book against? Basically, we have no evidence that has anything to do with George McKenzie. Like I said, John had to call it something. The reason he called it the McKenzie poltergeist is just before the strange accounts happened. There was a homeless man broke into the Mackenzie mausoleum within the graveyard area, the main yard. He was it was a cold night and he was just basically looking for somewhere to stay. So I mean, the gate the doors are not same as the neighbourhood very easy to appreciate it. I mean, the low double boarded and padlocked back then the round so secure because nobody really wanted to break in the mausoleums. You know? So he managed to get in. Now in the McKenzie mausoleum itself, there's the level you see through the doors. Now there's a gate in the floor, it's like a gate that's put into the floor like an iron gate. Now you lift that gate, and that lets you get to the steps that go down to the burial chamber. So what he did is because the wind was rattling through, you know, the, the mausoleum, because there is a big bit in the back as well, where you can actually enter and exit not anymore, but there was. So he went no, no, obviously, nobody had been down there. You know, for a couple of 100 years. The floor was very rotten. Now when you get down there see coffins laid out just on concrete pillars kind of thing. So as he put his feet onto the wooden floor down in the burial chamber, his foot went through the floor that hasn't done that. He's grabbed on to the nearest thing you could grab as people do when you're falling, you're trying to grab anything you can. And it just so happened he grabbed George Mackenzie's coffin. And at that point, the coffin fell down whether and it went through the floor with him, no below the floor. That's an old burial chamber that stood there before George Mackenzie's mausoleum was built. There's a lot of stories that are seen as a plague dump. That's totally totally false. And plague victims were not buried in Polish graveyards. Their bodies were diseased, they were not buried in graveyards. Plus with a The last day complete in 1645.
There was too many bodies to put a handkerchief I was even on today's standards, you know, we we lost over 60% of the population. You know, people were not breathing graveyards, and we just you know, if that was the case, people I was with no be about the size Arthur C. You know, the mobility test outside the city was so and he fell through the floor, he landed in the old burial chamber of the forester family. We know that because we've got the book of interments, it tells us that and the Graveyard Book of interments, the family that were there, seven children of the forester family, whose mausoleum stood before George Mackenzie's mausoleum was built. So they actually knocked this one down and put George Mackenzie's one there, because he specifically said he wanted to be buried exactly that space. And he designed that mausoleum himself. So he saw it before he died. And so that's what that homeless guy fell into, was that basically build burial chamber. And that was really the first time not long after that the first events started to happen with in the area of one tomb, in the covenanters prison, not George Mackenzie's mausoleum, not that one. It's in the covenanters prison, it started happening here for some reason, around this one, too, which is the Dundas family too. So there is no connection to George McKenzie with that, too, I thought, and we've no idea why it started there. But it could be purely coincidence, there isn't. Like I said, there's no evidence to say it's anything to do with George McKenzie. But the strange things more and more, basically, the game went up a notch when that happened. And things really started happening.
Ewan Irvine 11:44
So did so. George McKenzie, have any association with the covenanters prison?
Jamie Corstorphine 11:51
Well, I mean, he was the man of I mean, he was Lord Advocate the time, you know, he was there basically, one under King Charles, he was the lawmaker in Scotland. And, you know, he, he was given the job to round up the covenant, because of their obviously, their beliefs and things. I mean, basically, I mean, I've always said this about Josh McKenzie. I mean, I don't think he was a bad man, you know, he was originally in which child standing up for riches, you know, I was having to draw across the whole defence off, do you really think this person in front of you can turn itself into a cat, you know, you know, it's a bring realism into these witch hunts. And so he defended the witches, even he founded the advocates live in Edinburgh, you know, he worked his whole life in law to get to basically one under the king, he made the laws in Scotland. So when the king asked you to do something, when you've got paranoid things, such as a suitcase, and you know, you're either against the king or you're with the king. So if George McKenzie said, Look, Charles, you know, let's have a sit down, these people at the start here, and they just want their prayer books back they want, you know, they, they, they, they say God, save the king will not no harm to the king or the monarchy, they just don't see you as the head of the church. Give them the prayer, Baron Brooks back. So I think George McKenzie was put into a sticky situation, basically, that he couldn't really get it off. If it wasn't him, he'd be executed, it'd be somebody else that would do it. But you never killed anybody with his own hands. You know, and he was certainly in charge of the troops rounding the corners up, you know, but he never physically, you know, touched a coffin for himself with his order with his own hands. He's not in control of his sergeants, if he's, you know, majors and things like that in the army. So what they do, you know, basically, they're given a job, make them see the ways to add or other ways, you know, and then of course, we had 50 years of killing off. Yeah. And so it was a whole different time, you know, it's impossible to try and think and put yourself in a mental situation like that, because we we will never know. So it was a hard situation. But I mean, there was allegedly a curse on his body, to say that his soul would never rest in Greyfriars, because of the 1200 men that he had imprisoned in the huge area that was behind what is known as mausoleum as called the covenanters prison, where 1200 men were basically kept there. After the Battle of bottle break. It was only place big enough for Denver to hold that many men. And of course, they was the world's first concentration camp. It was basically the size of a football pitch long before the buildings on forest roads and long before Forest Road was you know, Iran from where it starts now. The the corner of off the graveyard right along right along where basically was no quarter mile at the back along to Forest Road. A huge big grassy area there was going to be used for burials. But it was yeah, it was the world's first concentration camp and under the orders of George Mackenzie. These 1200 men were kept there in extreme conditions. And 100 of them lost their life behind those gates.
Ewan Irvine 14:54
And And interestingly, as he just said earlier, the McKenzie was psyllium is really just yards away from the prison, you can walk a few steps.
Jamie Corstorphine 15:07
Yes, absolutely. I mean, it's less than 100 yards from the gates and beat well, basically, I mean, if you think about it, before the bell was when the President was a person that was actually in line with it, you know, because the president ran right behind that wall, right behind us on Muslim. So he was, you know, right beside, you know, practically Insider.
Ewan Irvine 15:25
So, going, going back to the time where this kind of paranormal, you know, take off activity started taking place. And how does a house increased a lot since then? And how did it become associated more roundabout, the McKinsey mausoleum?
Jamie Corstorphine 15:44
I mean, I mean, most of that, I mean, a lot of that does come online. I mean, we've had no reports really, of, you know, of any of the reports we've got, we've got over 3000 eyewitness accounts. Obviously, the whole point of the tours was to, to keep researching this, this phenomenon, and which is what we do. So we collect all the all the all the reports from people, even people who have not been on tours, but they've had experiences in the graveyard. And the thing is, I mean, all the reports we've got, it's all focused around either in the prison, or the prison case. You know, the McKenzie mausoleum, just the only times I've ever heard stories about the McKenzie mausoleum and attacks on people is really when there's other terror groups in there talking about attacks on people and other things happening at the McKenzie mausoleum. So again, this has been to, you know, adaptations of a story to suit other people's stories because you know, they don't have access to the prison. So then the that the story to say that this is where the attacks happen. And before you know, the original black mausoleum, which is still the black mausoleum in the COVID address prison, that is the black mausoleum. That's where the attacks happen. Mackenzie's mausoleum is black bag, and it's a mausoleum but it's not the mausoleum. But of course over time, undernet it's all changed. So now the black mausoleum is indeed Mackenzie's mausoleum. And that's what all the attacks happen. It's, there's yeah, there's a lot of misinformation. Whereas if everybody read the original book to get the story that we know that the black mausoleum is in the present area where the attacks happen, it's all very confusing.
Ewan Irvine 17:17
What type of attacks have happened or what has been the most common type of report that's come in
Jamie Corstorphine 17:23
the most common type of report is the collapses in knockouts and not fainting. You know, people know you're going to faint, you get a bit dizzy, you get hot, you need to sit down, you're like, Oh, God, and you know, you get warning that your body says well, something not right here. And Knockout is like a hypnotist has come up. And just when sleep one minute, the Finder can be joking with a friend or talking to a friend or shuffling about, you know, or, you know, laughing or something, suddenly buying straight up. That's certainly the most common and other reports are obviously the the barns or scratches, the bite marks. And the bruises. The fact that the handprints was was as a common one as well. And I've never really, I mean, although we've got all the accounts, and then actually, statistically went down in through every single one of them. And, you know, and marked down each category, which is maybe something that, you know, one day if things get quiet, I can maybe sit down and start attempting to do and, you know, so we can get a rough idea indication of what's more popular kind of thing. But certainly, I mean, we can go months without anything happening on any tours, you know, obviously, that's whatever it is, it's not not a performing monkey, you know, we can't start or stop it. But some people do come on the tours, you know, the high expectancies, you know, they get a bit disappointed when nothing happens. But you know, that is unfortunately, you know, one of these things where as one night we could have a tour where five people are affected, or, as I like to go interacted with, you know, and that could range from the bite marks the punches, the the bruises and scratches. Some people don't even notice it's happened until they get home, like you said later on that night or coming out a shower, and suddenly they've got, you know, three big scratches, right, they go back. They don't even see it. They don't even feel it. You know, a lot of people don't feel it until somebody else points out. What's that? Mark? What's that? Oh, yeah. So you know, I variances, is quite unique for a poltergeist case, whatever. Because I think for my right that's most maybe the most the longest run in poltergeist case in history.
Ewan Irvine 19:24
I think the first time I suppose kind of interactive and suddenly was that we're speaking about this earlier. It was it was a press preview at one of the ghost fests gone back. And, of course, I said to you earlier, we were in various places where medical schools were in the vaults we read in the covenant was present at the mausoleum as well. And I never felt anything. It wasn't till the next day when I got up, went to have a shower and I had these bruises of handprints on my chest and hadn't filled them, but they were still noticeable. Yeah,
Jamie Corstorphine 19:57
that's right. But that's why it's close enough. Phenomenon, you know, because I mean, a lot of psychologists and stuff come on and we say, Oh, by the mosquito scratches they can do to themselves when they're, you know, subconsciously doing to themselves, you know, or they worked himself into a frenzy. But again, you know, once you've witnessed these things over the years, we know what's right, we know what's not right. We know when people are pooling our legs. We know when something serious, people can't scratch themselves first time as in three, like cat scratches under, you know, four or five layers of clothes, you know, or even through leather boots or something like that when it comes on their feet or something. People can't do that to themselves, if you're standing in the black mausoleum, with maybe another 20 people under normal circumstances, not during COVID Of course, because we're restricted. But you know, when you're standing up to even 35 people, if something moves so much as even flinches, people beside them are quick enough to turn around and go what other people can get away with and, and I grew up like that in that situation. So I'm sorry, but the whole people do it to themselves. And not that not that is impossible. It's not, and they're not like human scratches that like cat scratches. Three lines right on the skin. And people can do that themselves.
Ewan Irvine 21:10
Yeah. Is there any other I mean, there's the McKenzie, I don't call it the McKenzie fall for gays. But is there anything else and the COC er, that seems to make an appearance? Was that the mean? The mean entity, so to speak?
Jamie Corstorphine 21:25
Yeah. I think that's the, I think, I mean, every target company talks about, you know, the McKenzie corrugation as the selling point for sub Saharan sometimes. And that is he's the kind of headline act if you wish, and support an axe. I mean, I believe you've got that is supposedly the cost the little dog Bobby, I believe. So when he can hit on Hold on. I tend to think that's probably some of the, some of the, you know, some of the drugs in the Grassmarket coming back from the pub on a locker or something like that, more, more than likely, but I think no, I mean, George McKenzie is certainly the headline, I think via flowers and nothing else seems to be as popular for dark tourism. And then
Ewan Irvine 22:13
I did hear a story because when you go to the black mausoleum, I mean, as although it's the building sound it could do with a bit of repair disease, and I did hear a story that the reason that it's not the pair are not brought up to how it should be as because the authorities and do not want to do anything because of the record. Was which a thing then we were talking about earlier, you know the misconception of how he's how he's portrayed. No, it won't fix it because they feel it would be to respectful to them
Jamie Corstorphine 22:59
as a as a stakeholder, agree, flyers. I'm on the stakeholder board are Greyfriars. So how long would the charge retrofits are the minister along with that the heads of graveyards of Edinburgh city council, we have our monthly meetings. We make basically decisions about the graveyard, the whole new to a registration scheme and everything else. That's that's all don't US wants to preserve the graveyard. So I can categorically tell you? No, that is entirely for false. The problem being, quite frankly, to put bluntly, the Council have a tiny, tiny, tiny budget for 42 graveyards in Edinburgh. And on paper budget terms. No graveyard is different to any other graveyard. So the budget has to be split equally. The martyrs monument down in grey fires down towards the Grassmarket gate that was recently fixed over a three year period. And basically the council didn't get any change over 85,000 pounds to the pair of that monument. So you can imagine the cost it would cost to go into George Mackenzie's mostly to fix it. There appear as much as they can. They're very nice. I mean, there's been a lot of rubbish because the side bits are broken. And there has been a lot of cleanup done. The bottom layer is the main problem coming out. Obviously it's grown in most tombs and grey fire. So unfortunately, there's right up in the roof and it's pushing some of the Brexit that is getting sheared. So no, it has nothing to do with who's buried. The council Do not you know, leave it because of who he was. All historic monuments and tombs are all treated equally no matter if they have the name of bloody or not.
Ewan Irvine 24:40
It's a stories that just come out of nowhere and baila and how they change as well. And you know, just going back to it when we started we're talking about we Bobby's grave across a number of the gifts that are left out there for Bobby when when folk come in and visit A popular dog Edinburgh's number one dog,
Jamie Corstorphine 25:04
and did a Well, I mean, not that that's a misconception in itself, right? They're just agreeable people come in and go, Well, here's the gravely flowers, Bobby, when it's but it's really not the dog has a better that's his memorial stone and you know as a Christian but there's no way the trucks were given the dog was not beating the Grifters. You know, he wasn't allowed to do anything great for us. Famous little dog was his belly just say the graveyard near enough in front of the shop. But no. Yeah, I mean, you gotta remember that story was only there 1981 You know, before then there was absolutely nothing that and they know that the dog was never allowed to do anything. And but yeah, people come up, I mean, the original. The suggestion about it was that local kids who lost their own pets, and to remember them by the we take their old dog toys, or cat toys, or whatever. And they would put them on the Bobby's memorial stone when it first got installed. So that's where that tradition comes from. It's actually quite a long tradition. Although it did stop for a while. They know people leave sticks and dog retreats and dolls and bottles of Buckfast and some coinage. Some children tickets, train tickets, dog food, cat food. We've had it all. Absolutely.
Ewan Irvine 26:20
So just to clarify Bobby himself, his buddy needed enough. Yaksha was just a few yards up from the
Jamie Corstorphine 26:26
front of our shop. Yeah, before the area was developed like it is now. So yeah, no, no, the dog was never in. Yeah, no, that memorial stone was just put there because it's just as you go in the graveyard.
Ewan Irvine 26:37
And he's mastered us, buddy, then in the kirkyard are saying,
Jamie Corstorphine 26:42
well, maybe we'll save that for a different podcast. So basically, John Gray's name is not on the main board as you come and Greyfriars. In this case on a Disney movie made about you, thank you, we get his name on the board. He's not there. And there's another one
Ewan Irvine 27:02
that's a story for another day as being speaking to you and if anyone wants to find out more about the tourists and yourself, where can they go to
Jamie Corstorphine 27:11
have you just check our website? cityofthedeadtours.com all the tours are listed there and about the history of us are the the true story about the McKenzie poltergeist. I said I've been if there was an official Mackenzie fuller gets to it, it would certainly be us. You know, we we've been there from day one. We called it the McKenzie Poltergeist, you know, so, and in our tours are kind of different, very informal. But, you know, we, we hopefully I mean, you'll get attacked by poltergeist because it's great for business that you know, but we can't promise it unfortunately.
Ewan Irvine 27:43
That's a what was to find out more information. We go to the city of the dead to her website. Absolutely. It's been fascinating speaking to you, Jamie, I hope you come back at some point and we can talk about the other stories with kind of kirkyard but thank you very much. Thank you.
Jamie Corstorphine 28:01
Transcribed by https://otter.ai