To the tomb. To the tomb!
So, where to today? Where shall we fly first, my lovely soot butterflies? I think to an old cemetery with a large dark stone pyramid tomb in the middle of it, just up that hill there, up out of the city centre, to the bohemian quarter, up past Chinatown and the bombed out church.
But wait! Just so I donít get into trouble again, I will say from the start that this is only a tour of the Liverpool of the Soot Butterfles, not the Rome; and I promise not to tell any lewd tales here about those beautiful frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We will stay in Liverpool this time. Ban the Blog does have a nice ring to it, but I think Iíll pass. And one more thing before we get back to that tomb: for those of you who thought you were getting a normal tour guide of Liverpool, here is a nice picture of The Cavern to calm you (I do love The Beatles very much, by the way).
Now, back to the tomb Ö We are on Rodney Street, the Harley Street of Liverpool. There, so obvious now you know itís there, but so hidden if you donít know; hidden because it is so out of place. Perhaps we donít see what we donít expect to see: the remains of an old cemetery, still holding its own, squashed in between the clean new buildings of regeneration and the elegant Georgian terraced houses where private doctors practice. In the middle of the cemetery sits a 15 feet high dark pyramid that used to scare the heebie-jeebies out of me as a child. Inside, the mortal remains of one William MacKenzie. Now, for those of you who are soot butterflies, yes, I did make the pyramid bigger in the book, because I had to make enough room for David and Constance to move around in there. Poetic licence I think itís called. Thing is though, at 15 feet, it is big enough for the skeleton of William sitting at a table with a winning hand of cards in his bony fingers!
William MacKenzie died on 29th October 1851, at 74 Grove Street, not far from Rodney Street if you want to check it out on your phone map. He was a successful civil engineer, involved in many feats of engineering in his day. If you came to Liverpool on the train, you passed through some of his work: the tunnels on the railway between Edge Hill and Liverpool Lime Street Station. If you have read The Soot Butterflies, you will know about the old tunnels and chambers underneath Liverpool. These, and the tunnels dug for the railway, gave rise to the stories of the terrifying Mole of Edge Hill, used to great effect by parents when I was a kid, to frighten their children into obedience: be good or the Mole of Edge Hill will get you! In fact, a very effective way of ensuring your children didnít go playing in the tunnels: harsh, terrifying but effective. So, as an adult, I now see that, in a sense, William MacKenzie was in fact the Mole of Edge Hill. The railway tunnels were MacKenzieís and the underground tunnels and chambers were the work of another wealthy and eccentric old Liverpool figure, Joseph Williamson. Two Moles! A good job I didnít know that when I was six. I will get to Joseph and his tunnels another day on this blog.
Back to William, who had a vice: gambling, or, to be more specific, poker. There are two versions of the story: one that he asked for the Devilís help in winning a high stakes game of poker, and that in return, Satan would have his soul when he was buried. The other story is that he lost all of his money and possessions in a game of poker one night with a mysterious Mr Madison. When William declared he had nothing left to bet, Mr Madison had replied, ďwhat about your soul?Ē In both versions of the story, the agreement with Satan / Mr Madison was that Williamís soul could be taken upon his burial. This was Williamís get-out clause: he left instructions that after his death he must not be buried, but rather remain above ground. As an added precaution, he requested that a winning hand of cards be placed in his hand.
William is said to haunt the Rodney Street area, and there are stories going back as far as 1871, when a local doctor, Lionel Harland, encountered William on Maryland Street (check your phone map, it is right by you, but donít walk it in the dark). Poor old Lionel died of a heart attack later the same evening. I recommend you read Tom Slemenís brilliant Haunted Liverpool books if you want to delve into this side of our fair city.
There is only one way to know for sure if William really is sitting there with his winning hand, and I wonít take the blame if I read that an overly curious tourist has smashed the tomb to have a good old rummage around inside. I am going there soon to take a photograph of the tomb for this blog, and I will need to climb into the little cemetery to get a good shot. So if you hear about someone being arrested for suspicious behaviour, trespass or whatever, please come and put in a good word for me.
Signing off for now. Now, where will I fly you to next, my lovely soot butterflies? Come back on-line and see in a few daysí time.
Love, luck and peace to you