Lore Report: “Cutting Ties” (Episode 199)

When that boiling point arrived, though, it would unfold in a way that no one could have expected. Their lives would be shattered, a community would be horrified, and a nation would never forget. And at the center of it all was one young woman, a woman named Lizzie Borden.

The latest episode of the Lore podcast revisits one of the most notorious crimes (and greatest unsolved mysteries) in American history: the brutal murder of Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby, possibly at the hatchet-wielding hands of Andrew’s daughter Lizzie. Host Aaron Mahnke deftly sketches the family background, the prominent details of the gruesome crime, and the leading theories about who actually committed the murders and why. But this being Lore and not just another true-crime podcast, the listener expects to hear more, and this is where Mahnke’s narrative falls disappointingly short. In a matter of seconds, Mahnke glosses over the supernatural encounters that have been reported by modern visitors to the Fall River murder house (now a bed and breakfast/dark tourism site). His turn toward the metaphorical–citing the famous folk rhyme about Borden’s alleged deeds as “a ghost haunting Lizzie for decades to come”–feels forced. Ultimately, “Cutting Ties” is a cut below the usual Lore offering.


But the episode is aptly titled, since I have decided to retire the “Lore Report” blog feature here at Dispatches from the Macabre Republic (several weeks ago, I marked Episode 199 as an appropriate cut-off point). It’s not that I don’t enjoy the podcast anymore; I simply feel that I am risking redundancy by waxing ecstatic (typically) about it every two weeks. Although I still plan to remain a loyal listener, I will not post future reports (instead devoting my attention to other blog features, old and new).


Lore Report: “Curtain Call” (Episode 198)

Theater has long been the home of the unexpected. It’s a realm where ego and skill are put on full display, and where audiences are thrilled by scenes they might never experience anywhere else. To attend a show is to guarantee a certain amount of surprise and thrill. But there’s one truth above all others that’s proven itself time and again over the centuries. When it comes to those temples of performance and personality, the drama rarely ends just because the curtain has dropped.

The Lore podcast takes a dramatic turn in Episode 198, as host Aaron Mahnke focuses on the world of the London stage. The first half of the episode is devoted to the story of William Terriss, a star performer who was stabbed to death–by another, disgruntled actor–while entering the Adelphi Theater in 1897. A sensational crime at the time, for sure, but what makes the story Lore-worthy is the series of sightings of Terriss’s ghost at the scene over the next several decades. From here, Mahnke proceeds to catalogue various superstitions associated with stagecraft–a subject that’s as rich as it is interesting (and one I wish had been lingered on here). But the episode ends on a strong note by visiting the Theatre Royal of Drury Lane and exploring the building’s haunting by a mysterious figure dubbed the Man in Grey. “Curtain Call” isn’t the most substantive episode, but makes for a breezy listen and generates a satisfying bit of frisson.


Lore Report: “Taken” (Episode 197)

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that whimsical stories are often just a costume wrapped around a darker core. And when it comes to one corner of folklore in particular, that core might be more than just a little  frightening. It could very well be true.

Aaron Mahnke heads for the hills (and into the woods) in the latest episode of the Lore podcast, which is devoted to the subject of faerie lore. Countering the popular, innocuous image (think Disney’s Tinkerbell), Mahnke emphasizes the dark nature of faeries. These “creatures of bad behavior” are reportedly responsible for such nasty pranks as abduction of humans to the otherworld and the replacement of babies with changelings. Faerie mischief indeed is a rich topic, so it’s no surprise that Mahnke supplies several arresting tales (he also delves into the intriguing work of “faerie women”–well-versed humans for hire whose machinations counteract uncanny abductions). If lore functions to make the incredible comprehensible and perhaps even plausible, then “Taken” (the punning title references fascination as well as extraction) furnishes a quintessential example. This episode exploring the good folk is bound to leave Lore listeners more than a wee bit enchanted.


Lore Report: “Bad Seed” (Episode 196)

For thousands of years, the things above us have altered the way we live our lives down below. It’s a realm of folklore that might seem boring and predictable, but in reality it’s one of the darkest homes of our weirdest behavior. And I promise you this: you’ll never look at the sky the same way again.

Aaron Mahnke talks about the weather in the latest episode of the Lore podcast, but the host’s discourse proves anything but banal. Sojourning back through world history, Mahnke discusses how the dependence on healthy crops led many cultures to adopt unusual measures to try to control the weather (ritualistic acts that make a Native American rain dance seem quaint by comparison). The central portion of the narrative is devoted to the Eastern European belief that the burial of decedents deemed “unclean” (contaminated by wickedness or awful misfortune) would spark a divine wrath that manifested in meteorological terms. When such a foolish burial occurred, and was superstitiously connected with drought conditions, the subsequent desperate and fear-driven act of disinterment could lead to a wild mob scene. The adjective of this episode’s title urns out to be the only negative here; superlative from beginning (an explanation of the mysterious phenomenon of crop marks) to end (an examination of lightning strikes), “Bad Seed” forecasts a sublime listening experience for Lore lovers.


Lore Report: “Straight to the Heart” (Episode 195)


And because it’s still here, we can see just how much our world has changed.  How the relative safety we enjoy today would have seemed impossible just a few centuries before. How a lack of systems and technology left people feeling adrift in a sea of fear and danger. And how folklore could often make the situation so much worse.

True crime and dark superstition intersect in the latest episode of the Lore podcast. Host Aaron Mahnke delves into the Ratcliffe Highway Murders that rocked the outskirts of London in 1811. The crimes themselves are of a strikingly gruesome nature–men, women, and children brutally dispatched via chisel and maul. A leading suspect dies while in custody (suicide? frame-up by the real murderers?), and the locals’ subsequent maneuvers with the man’s corpse prove quite curious in their own right. The lore of crossroads burial comes into play here, a rich topic that Mahnke might have mined even further. Add in a haunting account (in the episode’s concluding segment) about a ghost that attempts to throttle those it encounters, and “Straight to the Heart” succeeds in giving listeners the exact opposite of the warm fuzzies.


Lore Report: “Lawless” (Episode 194)

Every now and then, though, there was no court, no jury to hear testimony, and no judge to make an impartial decision for the common good.  Without that light in the darkness, many communities were left struggling to handle the crimes and claims that came their way. And in one town at least, that lack of authority led to something most people wanted to avoid: tragedy.

The latest episode of the Lore podcast travels back to Gold-Rush-era Montana and the mining community of Nevada City. Host Aaron Mahnke details how gangs of highwaymen arose to prey on prosperous, gold-carrying miners; such thefts and murders in turn led to the formation of “vigilante committees” that aimed to bring law and order to the area. What makes all this more than just an interesting history lesson is Mahnke’s proceeding to note the ghost stories that have been attached to Nevada City (including one involving a murderous highwayman sentenced to death by hanging). Similarly, Mahnke concludes by discussing the “shade”-iness associated with Deadwood, South Dakota. “Lawless” isn’t a terribly substantive episode (the narrative might have been fleshed out by considering bits of Old West lore other than ghost stories), but nevertheless pans out as an entertaining listen.


Lore Report: “Eye to Eye” (Episode 193)

And that line [between the truly human and the almost-] is where the most frightening stories can be found. The vampires, werewolves, and zombies of pop culture are terrifying because they straddle that line. And so does one other creature, one that is both highly regional and historically common. The stories are fascinating, yes, but if even some of them are true, they’re also absolutely terrifying.

Just in time for Fat Tuesday, the Lore podcast heads down to bayou country. Host Arron Mahnke delves into the folklore of the Louisiana-based creature called the Rougarou (“a regional variation on an older theme,” Mahnke summarizes: “a werewolf altered by time, culture, religion, and word of mouth, all working together to create something unique and special in the world of monsters”). The basic similarities between the werewolf and this Cajun relation are noted, but Mahnke also takes care to trace out the distinct mythological traits of the Rougarou. Fulfilling the introductory hype (quoted above), Mahnke shares a slew of hair-raising tales about the uncanny attacker. And adding to the bucket list of must-visit places in our Macabre Republic, Mahnke steers listeners toward Houma, Louisiana, and the town’s annual Rougarou Fest (a celebration that sounds like Halloween-meets-Mardi-Gras). For those who enjoy a walk on the nightside of everyday life (especially when the moon is full and bright), “Eye to Eye” will prove extremely agreeable.


Lore Report: “Time Will Tell” (Episode 192)

But the most fascinating aspect of stories like these is what they do to our perception of time. They wow us because they seem to break the rules. They put the impossible on display, and they expose just how brief and fleeting all our lives seem to be in the face of history. Time might move at the same speed for all of us, but if we break the rules we risk inviting dangerous consequences.

In the latest episode of the Lore podcast, host Aaron Mahnke takes the time to tackle temporal matters. He opens with an informative account of time measurement (discussing, for instance, the religious influence on the creation of clocks, and explaining how such devices got their name). Naturally, the narrative turns to that ever-fascinating subject of time travel, and besides referencing classic works of fiction (by the likes of Washington Irving, Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, and Jack Finney), Mahnke shares the real-life story of two woman who claim they stepped back through time and encountered a famous French historical figure while touring the gardens of the Palace of Versailles in the summer of 1901. The most entertaining bits of lore, though, are reserved for the closing segment: an account of the Orloj, a medieval clock (pictured above) in Prague that has acquired an ominous reputation over the years. All told, “Time Will Tell” is well worth the investment of a thirty-minute listen.


Lore Report: “Throwing Voices” (Episode 191)

There are a lot of deeper concepts that can be discussed in relation to the tradition of John Frum, but the thing I want us all to notice is right on the surface: it took just a couple of generations for an entire community to buy into a whole new piece of folklore.  And it makes you wonder: if something new can be that influential, how much more so would a tradition that’s thousands of years older and much more terrifying?

The devils are in the details in the latest episode of the Lore podcast, as host Aaron Mahnke deals with stories of demonic possession throughout history. Refreshingly, Mahnke takes a predominantly non-Catholic approach to the subject. A good portion of the narrative is devoted to John Darrell, an ostensible exorcist working his cures in 16th Century England. High art (a connection to one of Shakespeare’s plays is established) as well as the lowbrow (an accusation of witchcraft via flatulence is somewhat cheekily referenced) are treated here, and Mahnke also invokes pop culture by relating the impact the film The Exorcist had upon him as a teenager. This a strong podcast right through the closing segment, a tale of alleged possession that proves just how appropriate a choice was made for the episode’s title. “Throwing Voices” is an episode that Lore listeners will certainly hearken to with rapt attention.


Lore Report: “All That Glitters” (Episode 190)

In the end, veneer is all about appearances. It represents the unusual, the expensive, and often the unattainable, without letting us see what’s really beneath it all. And it’s just as true for people as it is for bookshelves; even places have a veneer. But few locations have such a dark past hidden beneath its glittering surface than [sic] the place that pumps out visions of our wildest dreams. It might seem like everything there is picture perfect, but if you look close enough the truth is more than a little frightening. So pack your bags, grab your coat, and put on your walking shoes, because I want to take you on a trip into the shadows behind the sunshine.  We’re going to Hollywood.

Beneath the glitz of America’s movie capital lies the Gothic, the ghoulish, and the ghostly, as host Aaron Mahnke endeavors to demonstrate in the latest episode of the Lore podcast. He shares a series of quick, Tinseltown-related stories, starting with the gloomy background of the iconic Hollywood(land) sign. Hauntings at landmark clubs, theaters, and hotels are addressed, as is one of the area’s grisliest bits of history: the “Black Dahlia” murder, a horrific crime that appears to have left behind a ghostly legacy. Mahnke wraps the episode up nicely by tracing the movements of a cursed ring that allegedly brought tragic misfortune to anyone who wore it, including screen legend Rudolph Valentino. All told, “All That Glitters” is a shining example of the dark lore that Mahnke mines better than anyone else in the world.