The man in the pic hanging in the air is an out of work Portuguese actor performing Street Theatre in Dundee. Just yards from where the pic was taken between Reform Street and City Square another man was seen hanging in the air almost two hundred years previously in rather different circumstances. He was an Irishman named Mark Devlin and unlike the Portuguese actor in the picture he had attracted a huge crowd. For he was about to be hanged as a member of the Black Band Criminal Gang.
But there was a problem. In that Dundee had been experiencing difficulty recruiting Executioners because the citizenry still objected to the hanging of popular Jacobites some 90 years after the 1745 rebellion!! So the City Fathers outsourced to Edinburgh. But the Edinburgh hangman seemingly didn’t fancy the Dundee gig and City Hall had to find a replacement. An hour before the scheduled hanging on May 30th 1835 they found a volunteer executioner with the deal being he had to wear a mask to hide his id from the crowd who loved executions but hated executioners!
Soon word went round the stand-in was James Livingstone a Travelling Fairground Salesman from Forfar. He despatched Mark Devlin to meet his maker and melted back into the crowd. Meanwhile the er….. real James Livingstone was operating a merry-go-round in er…….Forfar! The executioner incredibly was just some random Dundonian from the crowd!! James Livingstone had to get an affidavit that witnesses had seen him in Forfar at the appointed time.
Around a hundred and twenty years later and a few hundred yards to the West of all this I was in a huge crowd surrounding another masked man – the Lone Ranger. As a then five year old he was my great hero and he came to Dundee. To Green’s Playhouse the second biggest cinema in Europe then. Small boys have difficulty seeing in large crowds and he never took his mask off that I could see. It was probably just as well – because if he had done and turned out to be another impostor instead of Clayton Moore who played the Lone Ranger there would have been another fine riot I can tell you!
Green’s Playhouse is now Mecca Bingo and not nearly as grand as it was in its heyday. But I still go back and gaze from the outside and wonder about those masked men.