'Ghost' Reportedly Photographed at Mary King's Close in Scotland

An image of a “man in a top hat and long coat” captured by the Spectre Detectors.  (Spectre Detectors / Facebook)

An image of a “man in a top hat and long coat” captured by the Spectre Detectors. (Spectre Detectors / Facebook)

UK-based paranormal group the Spectre Detectors released a handful of photographs and Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) recordings from a recent trip to Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh, Scotland to their Facebook page this month.

Mary King's Close is an historic close—or alleyway—located under buildings on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, in the city's Old Town area. Its name comes from Mary King, a merchant burgess who lived on the close in the 17th century. The close was partially demolished and buried after the Royal Exchange was built over it in the 18th century, and ended up closed to the public for many years prior to being reopened for tours. Mary King's Close has a haunted reputation going back centuries—possibly related to a nearby stagnant and polluted marsh known as the Nor Loch—and many paranormal investigations have taken place there.

Of the photos released, the one featured above has so far garnered the most attention.

“Photo taken at Mary King’s Close by Shayna,” the accompanying caption said. “I see a man in a top hat and long coat.”

Many who have viewed the photo say they are unable to perceive anything at all in the circled area, while those responding to the post on the Spectre Detector’s page claimed otherwise; although even they could not agree on what, exactly, they were looking at.

"I see a man but not in top hat," responded one person.

"Oh wow. But I see him as very scruffy?" wrote another.

“At first I thought [the figure] might have been added with an app,” said Emily Wayland, the Singular Fortean Society’s photography expert. “But it may be a pareidolic image formed out of a potted plant or something in the corner there.”

“It’s difficult to make anything out with this low quality of a photograph,” she added.

To those who do see something but are skeptical of ghosts and hauntings, the image might be written off as pareidolia—the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.

Pareidolia, however, explains only the how of an anomalous image, not the why.

“What if pareidolia is simply one of the means through which paranormal entities communicate?” asked Tobias Wayland; investigator, head writer, and editor for the Singular Fortean Society.

“Imagine ‘spiritual’ beings that exist on the level of human consciousness, and what they might need to do to communicate with us,” he continued. “Sure, they could ‘speak’ to us directly through dreams or visions, but how would they make a visible, physical appearance? Maybe human consciousness interacts with the paranormal in such a way that sometimes the end result is physical reality acting in accordance with our expectations regarding paranormal events, and maybe that explains the pareidolic images associated with certain phenomena; like ghosts, cryptids, or religious images.”

“In essence, we’re directed by paranormal phenomena to interpret carefully constructed—but seemingly random—stimuli in a way that allows us to ‘see’ a physical representation of something that is only psychically present,” said Wayland.

“Although it could be imagination and wishful thinking, too, in some cases,” he added. “Maybe even in this case. The real challenge is discerning between these possibilities.”

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