With Halloween on the horizon, scores of people flock to haunted Edinburgh in search of all things ghostly and ghoulish. With over 375 paranormal sightings in the last 20 years and chilling ghost tours throughout its haunted streets, Scotland’s capital has a well-earned reputation as one of the spookiest cities in the world. So if you’re planning a visit to Edinburgh this Halloween, where better to start than with the story of Covenanters Prison and the McKenzie Poltergeist.
In 1637, in Greyfrairs Churchyard, a group of Presbyterians embarked on a religious crusade that would shake the very fabric of society. With the signing of the National Covenant with God, their pilgrimage led to the English Civil war and execution of King Charles I.
However, after half a century of fierce religious fighting, the Covenant army was crushed at the Battle of Bothwell Brig. Hundreds of battle-weary soldiers were brought to Edinburgh and imprisoned in a section of Greyfrairs cemetery now known as Covenanters Prison. Under horrendous conditions, many were executed for treason and buried inside the cemetery by the King’s Advocate George McKenzie.
Ghosts of Edinburgh’s Past
After years of torture and executions, McKenzie was finally laid to rest in 1691 in Greyfrairs cemetery … right next to the Covenanters Prison. For years there were local tales of ghost sightings and strange things happening in the haunted Edinburgh ceremony. But it wasn’t until 400 years later that Greyfrairs gained became notorious as a Ghost Town.
In 1999, McKenzie’s tomb was broken into and his coffin desecrated. Underneath his final resting place, a tomb of unidentified skeletons was discovered. Soon stories began to circulate about paranormal activities, particularly around McKenzie’s tomb. Renamed the Black Mausoleum, the McKenzie Poltergeist was starting to draw a lot of unnerving attention. It wasn’t long before the Edinburgh City Council stepped in and quietly locked the prison doors in the hope that the ghost that haunted Edinburgh would be put to rest.
City of the Dead Tours
In June 1999, the prison was re-opened and the City of the Dead Tours began. The tours were plagued by unexplained occurrences from the beginning. Visitors began to complain of unexplained cuts and bruises, mysterious hot and cold spots, someone touching them, and in extreme cases, they would fall into a comatose state – all inside the Black Mausoleum
Teams of psychic experts and mediums have flocked to Greyfrairs cemetery to investigate. None have left disappointed. Spiritualist minister Colin Grant tried in vain to exorcise McKenzie’s ghost, and proclaimed, “I wouldn’t be surprised if this kills me”. He died soon afterwards. While there may be a rational explanation for everything that has happened in the haunted Edinburgh graveyard, the chilling activities that continue to take place in and around Covenant Prison are yet to let up.