One Dark Night

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One Dark Night:

The Morte Safe was an 18th century invention to protect a grave and prevent the body from being dug up and used for medical research.

Shadows of the Past Illustrated Stories

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Outside the Auld Kirk of Ayr at night in 1828.

The two men tiptoe into the Auld Kirk at midnight. They pass through the lychgate and into the burial grounds. A horse and cart can be heard clattering down the main road nearby. The moon showers light over the cobbled stone of the Auld Kirk and the graves in the grounds which the men sneak past. The two men come to a halt. One reveals a ratty piece of paper from his inner pocket. He squints his eyes and scratches his head, whispering to his companion.


“I can’t read this, John.”

John tuts and snatches the piece of paper to examine it.

Silhouette of man with shovel and lantern


“It’s upside down ya numpty… And it’s soaking!”

John squints his eyes trying to read.


“Why the hell is it wet?”

The two men look at each other, Robert nervously bites his fingernails.


“I used it to wipe the table at the inn.”

John glares at him.


“Why did you do that? We can’t see the name now!”

John throws the wet piece of paper back at Robert. An eery gust of wind passes through the graveyard as the men stand looking around. Robert puts his hands in his pockets to reveal a dry piece of paper. He casts his eyes upon it and clears his throat.


“John. Look.”

 He hands the piece of paper to John who examines it and rolls his eyes.


“Can you stop being an idiot for just two hours? I want my ten pounds to take this body to Edinburgh.”


“Ten? I thought it was eight?”


“Err, I meant eight after taxes an all…”

Robert nods and looks around the graveyard and gets a chill.


“Is it true that they cut the bodies open in Edinburgh?”


“Aye in the name of Science. You know, we should consider ourselves lucky to be part of this. Me and you are two gentlemen at the forefront of the medical revolution!”

Robert hawks up phlegm and spits it out like a grunting warthog.


“Right, let’s go and dig up this body. Maybe it’s still warm.”

A thin layer of fog now covers the graveyard. A dog barks in the distance. The two men roam around the graveyard like two foxes at night seeking out food. John stops to read the piece of paper once more and Robert clatters into the back of him.


“Don’t walk so close behind me!”

Robert removes his hat and wipes sweat from his brow; he looks nervous.


“I don’t like it here John, this place scares me.”

John reads the name on the paper out loud.


“Isobel Melley…How do I know that name?”


“Maybe just familiar.”

John now takes his hat off and wipes the sweat from his brow. The eerie silence is broken by the two mens’ footsteps. They approach a grave with wide eyes, at the head is a huge piece of granite. The two men stop with a confused frown on their faces. They look at each other then back to the metal structure entombing the grave, at first glance it looks like a giant bird cage protecting the grave.


“What is that…”


“No idea.”

John grabs the metal structure over the grave. He yanks at it with both hands. It doesn’t budge.


“That’s solid.”


“Come on, put your back into it.”


“Why don’t you come help before I rattle your face into it!”

Robert runs to the other side and the two men heave and ho, pulling and pushing the metal structure to no avail. The two men take a moment to pant and catch their breath. Taking off their hats to wipe their heads they look round at the other graves, to see that several other graves have the same structure over them.


“What the hell is going on? What are these?”


“John, I’ve got a bad feeling about this. What if these metal gates are keeping the dead from rising again! I don’t want my brains eaten!”

Robert begins to slowly move back in fear he might wake the dead.


“Robert don’t be silly, the people in these graves are dead.”

At that convenient moment a deep voice comes from behind them in the darkness.


“You there. Stop where you are!”

The two men let out a high-pitched scream and turn around like spinning tops. Standing behind them are two men; a police constable with a baton grasped in his hand and a little man with a moustache.


“Mr Melley, I think you’re right. These two look like a couple of grave robbers.”

John and Robert have one last defeated look at one another.


“Thank God for the Mortsafe or you two would be off with my wife!”


“We should have planned this better in the pub…”

Map location of silhouette


Mortesafe – a construction designed to protect graves from disturbance from Resurrectionists (body snatchers) who supplied schools of anatomy since the early 18th century with bodies. This was due to the necessity for medical students to learn anatomy by attending dissections of human subjects. There was a limited supply of dead bodies to these institutions, so body snatchers were ILLEGALLY employed to make up the shortfall. An example of one can be found in the Lych Gate of Ayr’s Old Kirk.

Lych gate- a gateway covered with a roof found at the entrance to a traditional churchyard. The name resurrection gate is also used.


Written by: Neil Boyle
Illustrations by: Urtė Rusteikaitė
Audio by: Gregor Campbell, Fran O’Hare & Elisha Bennison
Audio recording and mixing by: Scott Andrew