St. Michael’s Kirkyard

Burns Mausoleum

September 1815


The night was colder than expected, but one never knew what to expect in Scotland.


Interest in phrenology had caused a great deal of speculation about the national poet. Many people wished to know if he had anything in common with the greats of other nations and whether anything could be learned from the shape of his skull.


The exhumation of Robert Burns was therefore undertaken in secret, so that his body could be moved to the larger, more impressive mausoleum at the other end of the cemetery without any interruption from the general public wanting to view the body.


The men worked silently, shoulder to shoulder. No one spoke. It didn’t seem right.


“Here,” said one of them, after the shovel hit something solid.


They dug around the coffin until the top was exposed.


Reverently, they went to push the lid off.


“Holy Christ,” one of them swore softly.


Robert Burns looked merely asleep.


His entire body was intact, his features still handsome. It almost seemed as if he were breathing.


The men working on the grave were solid, serious Scottish gentlemen, chosen for their respect for Burns as well as their circumspection. They were not superstitious by any stretch of the imagination.


All of them were shaken. They stared in wonder at something they could not explain, their first experience of the supernatural.


In awe, one of them reached out a trembling hand and touched the poet’s cheek.


Suddenly, the body fell to ash before their eyes, and only the bones remained.


The man who had touched his cheek cried out in horror.  He lurched forward, driven by the automatic, mad desire to reshape the body. Distressed, the men dragged their compatriot away from the coffin.  The man was mumbling an apology, horrified at what he had done.


“What are we going tae do now?” asked one of them, “How was it possible? He looked –”


“Alive,” said the man who had touched his cheek, miserable.


“Weel, it’s no as if anyone else saw,” whispered another man, “an’ no one will ever know.”


“The important thing is to keep those fools away from his body,” said the first man, reassuringly, “sick bastards just wanting to measure his skull. No’ going to tell them anything except that Burns had a skull.”


“Haven’t they heard of graverobbing?” muttered another in agreement.


They continued to comfort their friend as best they could, giving him some whisky to steady his nerves, and they spoke together in quiet voices.


In the coffin, the ashes of the poet moved, and began to dance as if a soft wind were blowing, although it was a still night.


The ashes took form and shape, solidifying, recreating the body, and lastly, the handsome face with a slight blush to the cheeks that was the hallmark of the poet.


And on a cold September night in 1815, years after his death, Robert Burns opened his eyes.