Friday, 10 August 2012

Message from Beyond the Grave


This is a story from 2009. I put it on Facebook at the time, but decided it also

deserves to be on this blog,  to remain as a more permanent account
for reasons that will become apparent.

Message from Beyond The Grave Returns to Scottish Castle 149 Years To The Day

A small wooden tablet was found a few days ago in a plastic bag at the back of a
shed that was being cleared out. On it, is a message from three of the workmen
who constructed Balintore Castle (1860), by Kirriemuir:

         --- o O o ---

Balintore Nov 28th. 1860.


               Whoever (may have
luck to) finds this tame Epistle
will at once be led to think of
the operatives Who Erected
this Building.  Ere this falls
into your hand the grass may

         --- o O o ---

Be Growing over the most of
our Graves, unles the destructive
eliment fire, consume it, to
the World it will Never then
Be Known. Our Names
are as follows,

Alexander Willis     Joiner
James Young          Joiner.
Ale'ner Brodie       Apprentice Joiner

         --- o O o ---

Its a cold morning with snow on the ground.

         --- o O o ---

A good friend of Balintore Castle, who has been voluntarily assisting
in its restoration, brought the plaque back to the castle on the
day following its rediscovery: Saturday 28th November 2009, 149 years
to the day.

The discoverer of the message from beyond the grave was the neighbour
of the friend of Balintore, and knowing his involvement brought the
artifact round proudly that very evening.

The tablet had been known about, but was considered lost. It was originally
found many years ago in the sawdust between a lead water tank and its
surrounding wooden box, at the top of a spiral staircase.

Ironic therefore, that it has only now been rediscovered, and has come
back into the hands of the restoring owner, who wants to save the building
and thereby the craftsmanship of those very men who are now long dead.

The scans of the tablet are below. You will have to click on them to read 
the text. The pencil writing is faint so a high resolution image helps a great deal.


I thought this story was sufficiently remarkable that I sent it to the Dundee
Courier. The descents of the workmen, are likely to still be around, so I
thought it was important that local people were made aware of the discovery.

The chap from the press asked if it was OK if he talked to me on the phone.
I consented, provided the story was not about me, and only about the tablet.
The journalist agreed.

When the story appeared it was the clichéd "eccentric individual restores
ruined castle" and there was absolutely nothing about the tablet. It was
journalism of the cheapest and laziest form, as much of the content has been
stolen from an article which had appeared in another paper several years earlier,
and many of the facts used were no longer true.

Indeed, as I spoke on the phone, I realised sound-bites of tabloid quality were
departing my lips. I recall explaining that it was SO cold that multiple duvets
had to be used at night to prevent death. However, the fourth duvet made no
difference. For a long time if you googled "David 'Three Duvets' Johnston" this
article would appear. Thankfully no longer. Looked at objectively, provided
the mendaciousness of the journalist was ignored, the article was harmless
enough and did report on some of the progress at the castle which was good to get
out there.

Thanksfully blogs allow us to be our own journalists and editors, and I can communicate
exactly what I want here!  :-)

Reading my original account, I did not convey my emotions when holding the
tablet in my hand, simultaneously reading the prose from beyond the grave
that described my very act of holding. It was both spooky and moving. 
My hand was trembling and there were tears welling in my eyes.


  1. I am not surprised at the press. It has also been my experience that it will be edited (or entirely written) in the worst possible manner despite any previous agreement.
    I would imagine that it was a quite moving experience.

  2. Thanks for the sympathy. The press did not fail to live down to their reputation on this occasion. I do, however, still believe in the vital role of the "Fourth Estate" and I do have journalist friends who I respect.