I am obsessed with all forms of urban legends, myths, and folklore. I’m also really into podcasts lately, because it’s 2016. That being said, there’s one in particular that really scratches my itch to be creepily intrigued. That podcast is LORE. Lore is created and performed by Aaron Mahnke, who might be a robot. I say this because of the extensive and intricate research he undertakes in order to bring us fascinating stories every two weeks. Lore explores the terrifying truths behind common and uncommon folklore, and just recently it was revealed that the Aaron is partnering with the creators of The Walking Dead to bring Lore to a television near you! What better time to celebrate this addictive podcast?
Here’s a list of my top 10 Lore episodes, in order of release:
One of the most horrifying memories of humanity’s past is the state of the early mental institution, or asylum. Politics aside, it also happens to be one of my favourite sub-genres of horror movies; nothing scares me more than the human psyche and the torture inflicted on mentally ill people who were often just misunderstood.
“Settings are often just as important to a story as the tale itself. The Shining had the Overlook. The Legend of Hell House had the Belasco. We fear cabins in the woods and even our own basements. But the mother of all horror settings is the asylum, with a dark pedigree unlike any other.”
I could talk all day about early asylums, especially about Dr. Freeman - the man credited with inventing the icepick lobotomy. This episode of Lore addresses this and more while examining the Danvers State Hospital, the introduction of thorazine, and the fate of it all today. I wish this episode was twice as long. Might I suggest some supplemental reading? My Lobotomy: A Memoir by Howard Dully, which follows the story of the author, a misbehaving child who was treated with a lobotomy at the age of 12, and how it affected his life.
“When the authorities entered a building in Chicago’s south side in 1895, they weren’t prepared for what they found. Above and below the neighborhood pharmacy was a seemingly never-ending maze of doors and rooms. What those hallways and staircases led to, however, was beyond disturbing.”
If you’re a true crime buff or you watch American Horror Story, you’ll know who Henry Holmes is. Season 5 is aptly named ‘Hotel’ taking place, well, in a hotel. This was loosely based on Holmes’ hotel which was built to facilitate his murder spree. H.H. Holmes is one of the first documented serial killers in America and was also a successful con artist. Building his own version of a funhouse (called "the Murder Castle") to hide the victims of his crimes is not his only legacy, and I encourage you to listen to find out more.
“Few stories have the endurance to last centuries. Fewer still have a proven track record of documented, authoritative eyewitness accounts to back them up. Among those rare myths, one stands above most. For nearly 300 years, something has haunted an area of the country that is known for rare and unusual wildlife. So many people have seen it, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to deny its existence.”
Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of creature sightings. Whether it’s bigfoot, chupacabra, or nessie; I feel like taking an eternal nap when those blurry photos show up. But I can’t deny the effect these stories have on society - especially the Jersey Devil. In 1.1 million acres of mysterious untouched forest, stories are bound to come up. Since 1735, the origin of this folklore has been in question. No matter how it began, the descriptions of the creature remain the same. What does this mean for the story? Listen up and decide for yourself. This isn’t that X-Files episode, don’t worry.
“Humans have a history of making up stories to explain the unexplainable. Sometimes we use those stories to teach our children a moral lesson, or entertain our friends. Sometimes, though, those stories get taken seriously, and the results have been unspeakable.”
Thankfully humanity has evolved enough to eradicate some ridiculous theories we had about what was going on around us. We like to ask “why?”, and when no immediate answer comes to mind, we like even more to make them up. We tend to blame others for our misfortune, and sometimes even weird made-up creatures like The Changeling. To learn about the origin of Changelings, and the horrific things people did to rid themselves of them, listen to this one.
“History is full of people who took things too far. Humans are gifted at turning on one another, a skill we’ve honed over the millennia. But when a small town in colonial Massachusetts needed a scapegoat for a dying hero, they discovered a target who refused to go down without a fight.”
Just as we used to blame Changelings for our children's’ bad behaviour, we also blamed people we didn’t like for our misfortune. We are all aware of the Salem witch trials, a microscopic view of a panic that spread all across the nation. Listen to this episode of Lore to learn about a tenacious victim whose accusers worked outside of the legal system.
“We leave our loved ones there after they’ve passed. We treat the space with reverence and solemn deference. Cemeteries are meant to be a final resting place. Sometimes, though, the ones who should be gone try to come back.”
I don’t know if it’s normal to have a burial plan before you’re 30, but I’ve already decided I’ll be cremated. Graveyards naturally creep people out - they’re places of mourning, mystery, and hauntings. They’re not particularly nice places to visit, unless you’re a wayward teen drinking vodka coolers and partying at the "Baby Graves"^ at the edge of town. In any case, when people are buried there they’re not expected to come back. Listen to this episode to see how true that really is.
^For context, the "Baby Graves" were in a small town I went to high school in. The town had a regular graveyard and then a "forgotten" graveyard out in the bush from the early 1900s where allegedly a plague had killed a bunch of babies and young children. They were all buried out there in fear that whatever they had was contagious so it was left to ruin over the years. You could go down this dirt road and go into the bushes a bit and there were a ton of unmarked graves, sunken into the ground. People dared each other to go in the middle of the night to see who could last the longest. There were eerie little white picket fences and crosses around a couple of them, but it was common to sink into some that you couldn't see. There was a single marble headstone far back into the trees that had the name Volkmar Bellack on it, but we never found out anything of note with that name. It was particularly scary in the winter as you would often hear grouse doing a mating call by thumping their feet on the ground which echoed and sounded like a panicked heartbeat. The "cool kids" tended to go out and party in the bush, drinking and leaving their bottles around the graves. It was a weird place, and in a small town with nothing to do it wasn’t uncommon to hear “want to go check out the Baby Graves?” on a Friday night.
“For as advanced and civilized as we are, humans are still led by very basic desires. We are drive by a need for safety and shelter. We long for a community to belong to. And we hunger. But not every method of sating our desires is good. Upon occasion, those methods have become downright evil.”
First of all, I love this episode because much of the material is from my home province of Alberta, and I get some weird satisfaction knowing that there’s cannibalism in the history there. The idea of eating other human beings is taboo, so when we hear stories of people driven to enough desperation to do so, a chill gets sent up the spine. Even scarier are those who ignore the taboo and feast on flesh anyway, after being touched by a creature called the Wendigo. Listen on, if you liked Hannibal.
“There are places in the world that we rarely see. Our busy lives never take us there, and as a result, they don’t come to mind when we think of chilling tales and frightening lore. But they exist, and despite their inherent light, they too hold a deep darkness.”
If you had to pick just one episode from this list, I would suggest Rope and Railing. This is my favourite episode thus far and I heartily recommend it to anyone who will listen. Having an affinity for the sea and a natural curiosity has always attracted me to lighthouses. Every lighthouse I’ve visited has a story behind it that locals tell with a glint in their eye, but none of them have a story as fantastic as the one shared in this episode of Lore.
“Over the centuries, all sorts of methods have been used to govern people. And while some have been just and humane — such as most modern legal systems — others have been more unusual. Social fear, religious tyranny, and military might. However, few examples stand out as much as the events that took place over a century ago on a small island off the coast of Chile.”
This is the episode that gave me chills, and my second-highest recommendation. This episode revolves around a particularly nasty cult of warlocks. Blackmail, curses, forced deformities, this one has it all. Journey with Aaron into the secret cave where some of the darkest and cruelest actions allegedly took place, and then let me know how you sleep after. I’ve been thinking about this one ever since I heard it, and my second listen-through for this list affected me just as much.
“Humans have been obsessed with escaping the grasp of death for thousands of years. It’s impossible, of course, but we dream of it nonetheless. Which makes the events in a small Caribbean village all the more horrifying.”
Zombies! They’re kind of real-ish and we all know it. Whether you prefer them shuffling or running, you’ve seen enough of them to last you the next 10 years right? Regardless of how they’re portrayed on TV and film, there is a strange history behind their folklore that reignites my interest. If you’re not zombied-out, check out this episode for some real freaky history.
There you have it! These are all my favourite episodes of Lore. My only complaint is that I wish the episodes were even longer. I learn so much when I listen to the podcast that I’m starting to drive my coworkers crazy with my excited retellings. Even those stories I think I know a lot about are enriched after listening to what Aaron has to say on the subject. What about you? Share your favourite episodes below!
If you like this list, you'll probably also like 10 More Great Episodes of Lore.