Did mass hysteria have a ghost of a chance of occurring in Oxgangs in the early to middle sixties?
According to Wikipedia the term mass hysteria refers to collective delusions of threats to society which spread rapidly through rumours and fear. The White Lady was a ghost who was rumoured to have appeared during the 1960s, close to the old school grounds of the former school and been seen by some Hunters Tryst School pupils near Comiston Farm and Comiston FarmHouse
At this time Hunters Tryst School had the most wonderful and extensive school grounds. At the far south-east there was a delightful little copse of woods where the more adventurous or wildest pupils played. The little woodland was relatively far from the school buildings-indeed if the school lunch bell rang out, no matter how fast a runner you were, if you were playing there it was too far away to return to the classroom on time.
The copse sat on a small raised ridge on higher ground-really on a small hillock above the far away second school pitch which nestled down below. The former sports pitch is where the new Pentland Primary School is sited today.
In this old wood were half a dozen large old trees, some bushes and brush and a path which extended to the school boundary. The first tree had a Tarzan swing on it. It was an excellent spot because children could swing out from the ridged hillock over the immediate drop, which curved away to the grassy valley below.
Comiston House Stables (Photograph by Alan Brown)
At the far end of the copse was a metal fence which formed the extensive boundary of the school. On the other side of the fence were the former Comiston Farm buildings and Comiston House. It was here that some girls had sworn they had seen and been terrified by the appearance of a ghostly white lady. The girls were in such a state of shock that the headmaster Mr Mackenzie and schoolteachers became involved and also the local police too. The sighting went viral and many pupils were seriously spooked, upset and in tears. This happened deep into the autumn months when there were heavy mists around in late October or early November, 1965.
Sheer bravado on my part, I joined a few friends at lunchtime and we headed up to the copse to see if we might catch sight of the ghostly figure. It was very quiet. The only sounds which could be caught on the autumn breeze were distant children’s voices playing in the far playgrounds. Of course, we didn't see the ghost. We weren't disappointed as it only added to the tension as to what might be out there.
Later that day after school and just as dusk was beginning to fall we ventured out to the old farm buildings. As we roamed around the gloaming and the mist enshrouded surroundings we were on red alert. Darkness was beginning to fall. Talk about a finger on the trigger- when we were very close to Comiston Farm, of a sudden someone screamed out that they had heard something and that was enough-we all turned tail and took to our heels like Tam O'Shanter and ran toward Oxgangs Broadway, down Oxgangs Street and all the way home to the sanctuary of The Stair, without ever looking behind once, in case we might be turned into a pillar of salt!
The day after, a dictat went out from the school-until further notice, the copse and the immediate area of the old farm were firmly out of bounds to all pupils-rather similar to when we were banned from visiting the army's firing range at Dreghorn where we collected used ammunition.
Decades before the advent of social websites and the internet, knowledge and information came slowly. It's understandable how rumours could spread and create mass hysteria in the locality. So much so that many children didn't venture out after school and during playtime and lunch breaks we remained close to the sanctuary of the school.
If someone had asked about this episode in later years I would have laughed it off as nonsense...and yet...and yet, how does one explain the following quote from Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes by Robert Louis Stevenson:
The district is dear to the superstitious. Hard by, at the back-gate of Comiston, a belated carter beheld a lady in white, 'with the most beautiful, clear shoes upon her feet,' who looked upon him in a very ghastly manner and then vanished.
I would be surprised if the girls were familiar with the works of RLS, particularly as this is one of his lesser known books. So, perhaps they really did see something. Clearly the City Fathers have recognised this by the new addition to the area's names: White Lady Walk.
Comiston (Photograph by Alan Brown)
Today some of the children at the new local Pentland School occasionally tell tales of The White Lady. Certainly, I'd be reluctant to venture there on a late autumn, misty day, toward dusk.
Anonymous Comment, 2 March, 2016: 'When I was around the age of 10 in the early 70s I used to go up to Bonaly, Oxgangs and the Pentlands Hills with my friend during the school holidays. One occasion we got such a scare that we didn't stop running until we reached home; we were both walking down a dirt footpath near an old rubber mill and for some reason we both turned around and witnessed a woman with a white dress hovering off the ground and you could see the grass underneath her feet. It spooked us and I have never run so fast in my life. On getting home I explained this to my mum who said, 'Oh that will be the White Lady'. As the days passed we just got on with our lives and tonight for some reason it popped into my head again so I did some checking on line and came across this Blog.’ Did mass hysteria have a ghost of a chance of happening in Oxgangs in the early to middle sixties?