The worn and be cloaked white lady statue standing above the grave of Magdalene Smith and her housekeeper Mary McNaughton was erected in their memory by Mrs Smith’s husband, John, a local carpet maker. The two women died in 1933 after being hit by a tram in Langside Road one rainy night as they headed home from church. Generally, this is the regular kind of tragic tale you will find associated with the graves in the Southern Necropolis in the Gorbals, where the two ladies are buried. But also typical of this cemetery – famous for a vampire hunt in the 1950s – this particular grave and statue comes with a story.
Many believe that the statue, known in Glasgow lore as The White Lady, is haunted. It’s an old story, one my grandfather was rather surprised was still doing the rounds. Given the date the women died, the story must have come to light not long after their deaths if it’s one my Grampsie can recall from his youth. The tale goes that the spirit of one of the ladies haunts the statue. People walking around the cemetery claim that the head of the statue follows them. The stare of the statue is also supposed to turn unwitting victims to stone; to prevent this from happening, it is advised to run around the statue three times chanting, “White Lady, White Lady, White Lady”.
Whether or not anyone has actually been turned to stone, it’s hard to say. There were certainly no surprised looking Glaswegians frozen in statue form when I went to visit the Southern Necropolis last spring. The stare of the White Lady must also be a long one, given the size of the cemetery. It took a good while to find the statue, made difficult by the fact it was stashed behind an overgrown bush. The neglect of the grave, presumably down to the fact the family are probably long gone, adds certain poignancy to the tale. It certainly looks like a grave that would have a ghost!
However, despite all my best efforts, the statue didn’t move its head and remained decidedly still. I’ve also yet to turn to stone. If anything, the story of the White Lady has to be one of Glasgow’s typical shaggy dug tales, probably created by the children who lived in the tenements that used to surround the cemetery. After all, it was the fertile imaginations of those same children (aided in by a US horror comic) that came up with the seven foot vampire lurking amongst the grave stones which sparked the 1953 hunt.
Dixon’s Blazes iron foundry used to be situated behind the cemetery until the mid 20th century. This caused the cemetery to be lit up with a red backdrop every night as the foundry worked 24/7. That would definitely be enough to inspire lurid tales from young fertile imaginations. These days it’s not as spectacular – the foundry has been replaced by a dull business park, whilst the tenements that used to surround the Southern Necropolis were razed in the 1960s. Other than strange stories surrounding an angel statue which hangs from a nearby apartment complex, The Gorbals are rather dull in comparison to the district’s heyday.
*To find out about the Southern Necropolis’ other creepy tale, the Gorbals Vampire, click here