Lore Report: “Invention” (Episode 145)

But whether or not these rumors are true, they highlight an undeniable fact: we are obsessed with the idea that we can reinvent ourselves. That through the sheer power of our intellect, we might be able to put the past behind us and craft a new self and a new future, and that in the battle between who we are and who we wish we could be, we can actually win. And when we hear about it, it almost seems like magic, right up there with all the great tales of supernatural transformation. Except sometimes, it actually works.

Host Aaron Mahnke spends the first half of the latest episode of the Lore podcast presenting the biography of Eliza Jumel–a determined social climber who rose from an impoverished childhood to become (circa 1832) the richest woman in America. Eliza’s life story includes some interesting connections to Napoleon Bonaparte and Aaron Burr, and the suspicious death (involving that American Gothic icon, the pitchfork) of Eliza’s husband also grabs the listener’s attention, but still one wonders whether all this material could have been condensed. Mahnke’s mention of magic and the supernatural in the quoted introduction above seems like an over-hyping of his topic. Yes, there incidents of haunting related here, centered on the Mt. Morris mansion in Manhattan owned by Eliza, but these seem relatively short-changed in the episode’s overall narrative. It is highly surprising that Mahnke mentions the mansion-haunting ghost of a Hessian soldier yet never references the most famous ghost story in American Literature: Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Episode 145 ends where it probably should have begun; it’s concluding segment (concerning the mysterious disappearance at sea of Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia) constitutes the best part of the podcast. But Mahnke devotes too much time throughout to a topic–self-reinvention–that just isn’t that compelling (and seems more a quintessential American act than anything unusual). Regrettably, “Invention” is not an effort to be patented.


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