Last year I told everyone the story of William MacKenzie – you can read the full story here but here is the short version. William Mackenzie was an Anglo-Scottish Civil Engineer and Civil Engineering Contractor who was one of the leading European contractors in the 1840s. He was born near Nelson, Lancashire, England, the eldest of the 11 children of Alexander Mackenzie, a Scottish contractor, and Mary née Roberts. He started his career as an apprentice weaver but changed to civil engineering, becoming a very successful civil engineer undertaking work on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway between Edge Hill and Lime Street. During his lifetime he amassed a large amount of money.
Local folklore has it that MacKenzie loved to gamble. He spent many evenings around the taverns of Rodney Street in Liverpool playing poker. He was not a very skilled poker player and as well as earning vast sums of money, he also gambled away large sums. One night he was playing poker against a dark, mysterious stranger and was losing heavily. He asked the stranger for one more chance to win back some of the money he had lost that evening and the stranger agreed – but only on one condition. The condition was that after William died and was buried six foot under consecrated ground his soul would belong to this stranger.
In desperation, William agreed and lost the hand. The stranger left but before doing so told William that he would be back to collect his prize after William’s death. William then realised that this dark, stranger was none other than Satan himself.
William was scared. What would happen after his death?
Mackenzie lived at 74 Grove Street, Liverpool, where he died in 1851. However, local legend has it that MacKenzie had thought of a plan to cheat the devil of his soul. He made plans for a pyramid to be built within the grounds of St Andrew’s Church in Rodney Street and that when the time came, he would not be buried six foot underground but would be entombed within the pyramid above ground and so cheat the devil of his prize. Also, as a two-fingered salute towards Satan, he was not entombed lying down but sitting up in a chair holding a winning hand of cards.
It makes a great ghost story and has even been featured in one of Tom Slemen’s Ghosts of Liverpool books. However, I have now discovered that the truth is a little different. William MacKenzie was indeed buried in St Andrew’s Church, Rodney Street, Liverpool in 1851. The pyramid-shaped monument was erected at the grave by his brother Edward but not until 1868. An inscription on the pyramid door reads: “In the vault beneath lie the remains of William Mackenzie of Newbie, Dumfriesshire, Esquire who died 29th October 1851 aged 57 years. Also, Mary his wife, who died 19th December 1838 aged 48 years and Sarah, his second wife who died 9th December 1867 aged 60 years. This monument was erected by his Brother Edward as a token of love and affection AD 1868. The memory of the just is blessed.”
The inscription proves that MacKenzie was buried beneath (not entombed inside) the pyramid and that the monument itself was not erected until 16 years after his demise. Even so, the legend of his upright interment to cheat the devil continues to be told and believed by many.
Shame it has now been disproven, it was one of my favourite ghost stories.