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A visit to the graveyard adjoining St. Andrew's Church in Rodney Street, Liverpool will greet you with a big surprise...literally! A fifteen foot tall, granite pyramid towers above the regular shaped graves, dominating the vista and casting a shadow over its neighbouring sleeping residents. The monument marks the resting place of William MacKenzie, a civil engineer and railway contractor, who died in 1851. MacKenzie and his pyramid receive plenty of local attention and the grave is listed as a "must see" tourist destination in several Liverpool guidebooks.
The story of MacKenzie and his tomb has become an embroidered local legend which over the years has been quoted as a sworn truth. It is said that MacKenzie, a heavy gambler, lost a game with the Devil (in disguise as the mysterious Mr Madison) and forfeited his soul in payment of his debt. The Devil stated that he would claim MacKenzie's soul upon his burial. Another variant of the story is that MacKenzie asked the the Devil's help in order to win a game with high stakes, for which the Devil agreed in return for MacKenzie's soul.
Image via Alchetron
MacKenzie, in order to cheat the Devil from claiming his prize, left instructions that upon his death he was to be placed sitting upright in a chair at a card table holding a winning hand of cards. By not being buried, MacKenzie hoped that the devil would be unable to subject him to eternal damnation in Hell! The story has been developed over time with an addendum: tales of MacKenzie's ghost are often reported as being seen within the churchyard.
Whilst I am all for a good ghost tale, I am afraid that the story doesn't add up. Firstly, let's take a look at the inscription:
"In the vault beneath lie the remains of William MacKenzie of Newbie Dumfrishire, 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 A.D. 1868. The memory of the just is blessed".
We learn from the above that the pyramid was erected some 17 years after MacKenzie's death, not as a direct result of MacKenzie's will. Secondly, the inscription - on a bronze plaque over the door of the tomb - states that he was interred in a vault beneath the monument, thus laying false claim that he had been buried below ground. A third point to make is that similar tales can be heard in other parts of the UK. For instance, at Saint Thomas à Becket’s churchyard in Brightling, East Sussex, a twenty-five foot pyramid is dedicated to John "Mad Jack" Fuller. Here, Fuller is said to be sat upright at a table upon which is placed a roast chicken and bottle of wine!
Despite the obvious discrepancies, the story continues to draw people to the cemetery to see the pyramid. The area is considered to be one of the most haunted places in Liverpool and the tale of MacKenzie and the Devil continues to add to its thrill.