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In the early 1980s, Mary King’s Close was a mythical place talked of in hushed tones. Back then it wasn’t open to the public and the only way to access this secret piece of the Capital’s forgotten history was through a visit arranged by a local Sports and Social Club or similar organisation. Those lucky enough to have the connections to do just that would find themselves taken around the historic 17th century street deep beneath the City Chambers by a guide whose improvised storytelling highlighted the close’s darker and spookier tales. With dim, flickering jury-rigged lighting and an ever present chill in the air adding to the atmosphere, his tales of ghostly haunting seemed only too plausible.

At the time it was still possible explore what remained of the businesses and homes that lined the close. There was an old bakery, on the right as you climbed the hill towards the High Street, and a tenement with a front room lined with fragments of cyanide impregnated wallpaper – no doubt ‘Health and Safety’ had something to say about that before the close opened as the visitor attraction it is today.

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Prince Charles visits Mary King’s Close Picture by Rob McDougall

In the Eighties, you entered through an anonymous door that led down into the chilly underworld, that chill along with the tales of plague, death and murder still remain today and Mary King’s Close is now reputed to be one of the most haunted places in the Capital. Indeed, there are those who would have you believe the infamous thoroughfare is regularly visited by the shade of Mary King herself – allegedly captured as a ghostly image by ghost-hunters with an infrared camera late one night after the public had left the site.

Others claim to have seen the male witch, Major Thomas Weir, who walked through the close on his way to his execution, while the spirit of local resident Andrew Chesney, it has been claimed, told local paranormal investigators to, “Just get out,” when they asked, “Would you like us to leave here now?” And that’s before we even touch on the plague victims who perished here when the black death came calling in 1644.

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While there is no doubting the tragic history of the close, not everyone is convinced by the tales of its ghosts and one in particular draws much attention.

Mary King’s Close in the Royal Mile Edinburgh, fallen into disrepair in October 1976 Picture by Hamish Campbell

A more recent haunting, abandoned Annie was first ‘encountered’ in 1992 by a Japanese psychic named Aiko Gibo who came to the close with a film crew to make a documentary about paranormal activity.

Arriving at a specific room towards the end of the close, Gibo refused to enter, citing a terrible sense of sickness, hunger and cold. Finally going inside after apparently being ‘invited’ in by the ghost of a little girl called Annie who had died of the plague, she declared the girl had been abandoned by her family and had lost her doll.

Depending on the story you hear Annie either tugged at the hand of the psychic or grabbed at her leg, and in keeping with the Japanese tradition of honouring the dead, Gibo went to the Royal Mile and brought back a tartan Barbie doll. Since then, visitors to Annie’s room have left similar gifts for the spirit.

Chris Trotter, a guide at the attraction at the time said he too knew of many instances of tourists suddenly feeling unwell, of feeling a little hand grabbing at them or feeling a dread sense of cold.

Deep inside Mary King’s Close beneath the Edinburgh City Chambers in the High Street Picture by Hamish Campbell

“I’ve had a few experiences,” he told the News. “People, when they come into this room, sometimes feel quite uneasy. About a year ago one woman came in and she felt very overcome after about 30 seconds and had to go out.”

Author and Edinburgh tour guide Graeme Milne is more cautious when considering of the venue’s ghostly tales, he said, “Stories about early hauntings in Mary King’s Close were mentioned in a book called Satan’s Invisible World, in which an occupant described outlandish ghostly visitations, but the book was pretty much a religious tract and suggested anyone not being devout could potentially see ghosts.

“Published in 1685 it was the work of Presbyterian professor of philosophy, George Sinclair; it claimed to prove the existence of Satan, witchcraft and apparitions through a collection of ‘true’ stories.”

He continued, “The original hauntings were described by someone who was possibly ill or suffering from religious fervour and likely embellished. However, I do believe that the location is quite possibly haunted because of more recent reports… the older ones must be taken with a pinch of salt.​”​

Mr W Hush illuminates stalactites in Mary King’s Close beneath the Edinburgh City Chambers on the High Street Picture by Hamish Campbell

Admitting to the spine-chilling creepiness of the close is one thing, but deciding that you believe in ghosts is quite another but it has been written that there are few places better to debate paranormal phenomena than in depths of Mary King’s Close.

Ryan O’Neill from Scottish Paranormal, a group of amateur enthusiasts of the supernatural, might agree, his group captured “very faint white or transparent spheres… spiritual orbs” and in April 2001 Dr Caroline Watt of Edinburgh University’s Koestler Unit revealed she too had an experience of ghosts in the close during an experiment. Se revealed, “I was in a part of the close where no one else was supposed to be. I heard footsteps and the sound of rustling clothing. From a professional point of view I was annoyed because I thought it was someone intruding on our experiment, but when I asked the tour guides I found out there was no one there.”

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A photographer in Mary King’s Close, the entrance to which was revelaled by workmen digging up the floor of Edinburgh City Chambers – picture taken in October 1986 Picture by Stan Warbuton

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