Highgate Cemetery in the north of London is home to a storied history—it’s one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” and the final resting site of iconic figures such as Karl Marx. But during the 1970s, it was also home to a bizarre panic featuring rumors of an evil presence, teenagers carrying crucifixes, some desecrated corpses, and a pair of maniacal dueling magicians.
In this video from Atlas Obscura’s 100 Wonders series, Dylan Thuras details the strange events and explains some of the sociology behind them. As Thuras explains, by the early 1970s Highgate had become the site of what folklorists call “legend tripping”—nocturnal pilgrimages made by teenagers (usually) to the site of horrific or supposedly paranormal events. In Highgate’s case, the stories were encouraged by the press, as well as the pronouncements of a pair of magicians/exorcists named Seán Manchester and David Farrant.
The events reached a climax on a Friday the 13th in March of 1970, when a mob of teens flooded the graveyard after one of the magicians declared a “vampire hunt.” In the following months, a variety of corpses were found in the cemetery in various states of disarray—one without a head, another burnt to a crisp. While no “vampire” was ever found in the cemetery, one of the local magicians involved did get arrested, and Highgate has remained the site of paranormal and occult rumors. Learn more by watching the video above, and check out the rest of Atlas Obscura’s 100 Wonders series of amazing and unusual places to visit around the globe.
Header image via Atlas Obscura/YouTube.