Maggie Dickson: Convicted, Sentenced, Hanged, and Lived
Maggie Haunts Mary King's Close
In Edinburgh, Scotland, when walking through Mary King's Close at night near Grassmarket, one may encounter the ghost of a woman named Maggie who was accused of murdering her baby in 1729—Maggie Dickson was convicted, sentenced, and hanged, yet she lived another forty years after her "execution."
A Close is a passageway under buildings in the old part of Edinburgh. It makes for easy access from one area to another, avoiding traffic and busy walkways above ground. These passageways under the main streets are shrouded in myths and urban legends. Many witnesses from times past, and even today, claimed to have seen the ghost of Maggie in the Close near where she was hanged.
Who Was Maggie Dickson?
Maggie Dickson was born sometime around 1702, in Musselburgh, five miles east of Edinburgh. She grew up in the same area and married a fisherman when she was about 20. The husband abandoned her not long after they married. It is not known why he left or where he took off to.
Being alone, Maggie had to find a way to support herself and was able to find a job at an inn in Kelso, in exchange for room and board. Kelso lies in the bend of River Tweed and the confluence of River Teviot, which, in early days, made Kelso the center for commerce. Kelso is still the largest Market Square in Scotland.
Baby on the Bank of River Tweed
Working at the pub, Maggie was in daily contact with the innkeeper's son, with whom she had a relationship. When Maggie found herself pregnant, she did not tell anyone. Concealing her pregnancy, she continued to work. She knew that if anyone found out she was pregnant, she would lose her job and be destitute. Apparently she did not tell her lover about the pregnancy, or if she did, he did nothing to help her in any way. Although alone and pregnant, Maggie was technically still married.
Maggie continued to work till the day her child was born in a field, where she had gone to give birth in secrecy. Whether the baby was stillborn or died shortly after birth is not known for sure. It is known, however, that Maggie left her dead baby on the bank of River Tweed.
A man working in his fields found the baby and took it to authorities in town. Somehow the dead baby incident was traced back to Maggie.
Maggie's Arrest and Execution
Maggie was arrested and charged either with the "Concealment of Pregnancy Act" or the murder of her baby—quite possibly with both charges. Yet, the Concealment of Pregnancy Act, which was passed in 1690, was enough on its own to sentence Maggie to death, for it was a capital punishment law at that time.
On September 2, 1724, Maggie was taken, along with other prisoners who were sentenced to death, to the Grassmarket public square and hanged. She was taken down and pronounced dead. Maggie was put into a coffin and onto a wagon, then taken by family and friends to Musselburgh for burial.
Do You Think Maggie Was Innocent?
Out of the Coffin
The journey by foot to Maggie's final resting place would be a long one. On the way there, the group stopped at a pub to have drinks and refresh themselves. As they returned to the wagon, a loud banging came from the coffin. They quickly pried open the lid and found Maggie was alive. They helped her out of the coffin, gave her the care she needed, then took her home.
The news of Maggie's survival spread quickly; lore and legends began soon after as the story was verbally repeated over and over. The law declared that since Maggie's survival was an act of God, she was absolved of all charges. She had been tried, sentenced, and executed according to the law.
Maggie lived for another forty years. A pub in Grassmarket, facing the public square where Maggie was hanged, bears the name of Maggie Dickson's Pub. Out front of the pub is a stone marker that tells Maggie's story.
Dates and actual details have become fuzzy over the years, but Maggie was real, as is her story. For the rest of her life, she was known by locals as "Half Hangit Maggie."
Jefferson Burst: Hangman's Fracture
When a person is hanged, it breaks the neck at the C2 vertebrae, the axis. The rope around the neck causes a fracture of what is called "hangman's fracture." In medical terms, it is a fracture of the pars interarticularis at the axis.
In the case of an execution-type hanging, a forcible hyper extension of the head is caused by the noose being placed under the chin, thus when the body drops, a distraction of the neck occurs from the weight of the body.
If a person receives a Jefferson burst from an accident, it could cause damage to the spinal cord, which can cause neurological problems or paralysis.
A halo traction device plus a cervical collar will often be used to stabilize the neck and upper body after a Jefferson fracture. There are cases where many have survived this type of broken neck, and with proper bracing and therapy, they can be healed and return to a normal life.
It is obvious that Maggie Dickson did not receive a Jefferson burst, "hangman's fracture," or broken neck. Somehow, she survived this fate and lived a normal life after her execution. Some say that Maggie lived a quite normal life after the execution and bore other children over the following years.
Grassmarket where the public gallows was.
River Tweed area where the baby was found.
One of the Most Haunted Places on Earth
© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns