Happily ever after. It's a promise we all cling to, it gives us hope and courage. It tells us things will get better. At least that's what we'd like to believe. And there are countless fairy tales that tell us that it's possible. The original Beauty and the Beast legend is a story about a young woman whose family has lost everything only to be sent to live in a castle of a strange, reclusive monster as punishment for her father's theft. Through the tale, we learn that both Beauty and the Beast have challenges to overcome, and together they find hope in the Native American folktale called the bird lover.
We meet a widow at the end of her proverbial rope.
She's lost her husband and is raising her two children through sickness and poverty, wondering if hope is something she will ever feel again. After meeting a strange talking bird that turns out to be a powerful spirit, the widow's daughter Minde falls in love with him and the pair eventually fly off into the sunset with Minde transforming into a bird rather than the bird becoming human. But despite the differences, it's the hopeful ending we've all come to expect. And while most of us have heard of James and the giant peach, few in Western culture know about the older Japanese folktale of Momotaro, the peach boy in the story, Momotaro is discovered as an infant floating down a river inside a peach.
But as he grows up, he gathers a party of faithful friends, and together they kill Japanese demons known as Onie before returning home to live happily ever after.
Of course, fairy tales help us dream of a better life teaching us that brighter days lay ahead. But where there is light, there are also shadows. Where there are people, there are problems, and wherever there are stories of happiness, there are also tales of the darker sides of life. Because the deeper you delve into history, the more it reveals a painful truth.
Not everything that's enchanted. Is safe. I'm Aaron Manke, and this is Lore. Mentioned fairy tales, and most people will conjure up images of gallant princes on white horses wielding long shimmering swords, they'll imagine tall towers topped with waving banners jutting from the sprawling fortress below. They think of royal intrigue, supernatural forces and monarchy gone bad. And just about all of those images come to us from one place, Europe, because for as diverse as its cultures and languages might be, one of the things that unites much of Europe is the centerpiece of so many famous fairy tales, the stereotypical castle and the best way to understand it and its influence it's had over the stories we tell is to do a little storytelling of our own.
In the crown of picturesque European fortresses, northern Italy's Castle Bardi is a prominent jewel seated on a tall hill that overlooks the vast countryside of the 9th century castles, stone walls and red tiled roof immediately draws old fairy tales to mind, and rightly so, because it's the site of its own fair share of stories. The most popular one involves, like so many seem to do, the daughter of the Lord of the Castle and a lover she was forbidden to marry.
It seems that this young woman, Celeste, fell in love with one of her father's knights, a man named Marcello. But it was a romance that was never meant to be because her father had already promised her hand in marriage to a rich landowner, a marriage that would have greatly increased the Lord's wealth. But Celeste never gave up on her love for Marcello and would watch for his return from each battle from the castle high above, according to the legend, no more polo took longer than normal to return, which caused her to worry.
When shape's did appear on the horizon, her heart sank. All of the writers were dressed in the colors of the enemy, convincing her that Marcello and his fellow knights had all perished in battle. Heartbroken over her loss, Celeste was said to have thrown herself from one of the high windows plummeting to her death. A death, it turns out, that was in vain because the writers that approached were indeed her father's knights who had put on the colors of the enemy in order to slip to safety and return home.
And writing among them was Celeste's lover, Marcoola.
Centuries later, there are still reports from visitors to the castle of ghostly sightings. Perhaps true love has kept echoes of Celeste within the walls as the stories of a woman in whites suggest. And some modern ghost hunters have claimed to see a mysterious image on their thermal camera the image of a man dressed in armor.
Hundreds of miles to the north, along the southern border of modern Germany sits another castle with its own tale of love and loss.
Wolfsberg castle was built back in the 13th century by a man named Erich von Labor to serve two purposes to be a stronghold for the region and to be a home for his family.
As a side note, sometime in 15 07, a very special map was produced right there in that castle, measuring roughly eight feet by four feet.
It was designed to hang on a wall and it showed off the entire known world at the time. And it was the first known map to use the name America, although that label was placed over South America, not North. But centuries before that map was created, the Castles builder Oelrich Van Labor was having some personal problems. It seems that he left home for months at a time to lead his troops in battle. And while he was gone, his lonely wife, Clara, was welcoming visitors of her own, one of which was actually one of her husband's sworn enemies, George Mueller.
Upon discovering his wife's betrayal, it said that Oelrich hired two servants to capture her while traveling and then assassinate her. Whether or not that decision haunted Oelrich, we do know that Clara herself seems to have left her mark on the castle. For centuries, people have reported unusual activity there, including strange lights, objects that move on her own and the occasional sighting of a ghostly woman dressed in white. And what tour of European castles would be complete without a visit to Romania and the fortress that's long been associated with a popular fictional vampire, the first fortification to stand in the village of Bran was a wooden one built back in the early 11th century, but it was replaced 150 years later by a stone version on orders of the Hungarian king Louis the Great.
And it's a castle you really have to look up to see it's true, haunting beauty for yourself. Those tall towers and crumbling stone walls practically scream for a fantasy story to be written about it. And that's one of the reasons why most people outside of Romania call it Dracula's castle. But there are a couple of problems with that.
First, although most people agree that the fictional Dracula character was partly inspired by Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century ruler of what is now Romania, there's no evidence that he ever lived in Brane Castle. And second, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula Never Stepped Foot in Romania. In fact, he did all of his research for the novel from the comforts of the reading room in the British Museum in London. So in a lot of ways, Brad Castle is a fortress devoted to folklore itself.
It carries the weight of a story it never played host to. And yet each year, thousands of starry eyed tourists snap photos of it. Assuming the rumors are true, all they would have to do is read the book and stokers description of Dracula's castle to see the truth for themselves. But there are other castles in Europe that take the association game a bit further, places that might not have inspired popular novels but have still left people whispering about what lurks in the shadows.
They might not be connected to the creation of monsters, but they've been affiliated with something worse. They have played host to them. They say home is where the heart is, it's where we create memories and share special occasions, it's where we feel safe and where we retreat when the world around us becomes a little too stormy. It's fair to say that just about everyone wants a place to call their own. But when that place is a massive stone fortress that towers over the surrounding countryside and has been doing so through countless owners and centuries, it becomes a very different sort of home and a great place to see.
What I mean is wyckoff Castle in the Czech Republic as picturesque fortresses go, wyckoff Castle doesn't disappoint.
It's built on the rocky spine of a tall peninsula that juts out into the confluence of two rivers about 60 miles south of the city of Prague. Seriously make a mental note to go look up photos of this place when the episode is over and you'll see why so many people call it the king of castles. The structure we see today is the product of centuries of building the earliest parts of the castle were constructed over 2000 years ago, but the enormous tower came many years later.
And as you might imagine, the castle was used by people to defend their land guard, the rivers and all the other benefits that castles typically provided. But for centuries, there have been rumors of something else living in wyckoff Castle back in the late 1400's, a new family took over the fortress and began the task of settling in. Part of that's involved some renovations. You don't just move into a place that's a millennia and a half old and call it a day.
No things needed fixing. Local legend says that as the workers were going about their job, bad luck began to follow them around. Buckets of paint would be knocked over, tools would go missing in projects they had just completed would fall apart right before their eyes. It's whispered that these pranks were all the work of the trickster imps that live within the castle walls. Some say these are supernatural creatures that have moved in and made the place their home, while others believe they are the spirits of the countless soldiers who have died in or near the castle.
Either way, they still make their presence known from time to time, much to the concern of the people who visit, tourists still encounter unusual problems with their electronics.
Animals behave oddly, and there's a general sense that someone or something is hiding in the shadows, ready to cause more trouble.
Less than 200 miles to the south, however, is another ancient fortress that's played home to a different sort of resident museum. Castle stands in southern Austria, about 50 miles outside Salzburg. And it's that connection that led to the stories that are still haunting the castle today. In the late 60s, hundreds, Matcham Castle became a key location in the Saltzberg witch trials, a decade and a half long social frenzy that saw the accusation of thousands and the execution of well over 100 hundred victims.
As most historians will point out, one of the things that made the Saltzberg witch trials so unusual was that most of the victims were men, and it was a horror that left a lasting mark on the castle. Today, we know why those trials happened, the region had just experienced the effects of war, leaving the community in poverty with threats of disease and starvation hanging over their heads. And nearly all of the witch trial victims were homeless individuals, people who were seen by the locals as less clean and therefore more prone to spread disease.
Like so many witch trials before the Saltzberg, trials were less about witchcraft and more about our ongoing fear of outsiders and social outcasts. And that's important to remember as the history of the castle unfolds from there, because a century after those trials, something darker moved in around 1790, the castle's funding was cut off by the local archbishop, leaving its walls undefended and in disrepair and leaving the area around it less secure. And not long after that, people started finding dead animals in the fields.
Sometimes it was cattle from their own herd, while other times it was local deer that the hunters depended on. Either way, I hope you can see why the people would have been frightened by this. The reason for the killings, they believed, was a pack of werewolves that had taken up residence inside the castle. Coming out at night to hunt for food with memories of the witch trials still part of a community's whispered history, they immediately began hunting for townsfolk who they could try and execute.
And those who were arrested were held in the old dungeon beneath the castle. In the end, at least two people confessed under torture, of course, and I doubt it would surprise you that these people were poor beggars, much like their homeless counterparts from a century before. Both men confessed to robbing a black salve on their bodies to cause their transformations a salve they acquired from the devil himself. Amazingly, both men escaped execution in town, but the records do show that they were sentenced to something called Gallie Punishment.
It sounds like forced labor on a ship such as being forced to work the hours until they died from exhaustion. But Gally, punishment was something else entirely. It actually meant that they were each chained to the rudder of a ship where they either died from drowning or from exposure to the harsh elements over time.
Clearly, some castles have become home to stories of evil over the years from their creation as tools of dominion to their transition to ruins or relics. Many European castles have also slowly shifted from benign dwellings to dark abodes. So it's easy to see why fairy tales today are filled with stories of castles haunted by evil forces. It seems that given enough time, these castles have a tendency to become home to darkness. But in one case, at least, that evil.
Was by design. None of it made any sense when they first built the castle. Its location defied all the logical reasons for doing so. There was no source of fresh water. No one moved in to call it home. Even more unusual than that, it was simply too far from any real location of strategic value to make its construction worthwhile. It was in a lot of ways, a waste of time and resources, and yet they built it, which left a lot of unanswered questions and more than a bit of mystery.
Of course, humans love to fill in the gaps in our world.
Tales of undiscovered creatures and lost civilizations are just two subjects where we can see that tendency at work. When people lack information or a solid explanation for something mysterious, we tend to flesh it out with story legends and rumors and folklore.
Story is the speckle of our world view. The castle was built by the king of Bohemia, a man named Autocar, the second, although many refer to him by a much more fantastic sounding title, The Iron and Gold and King. His reign lasted for 25 years, beginning in the year 12 53.
And at some point while he was in power, he ordered construction of a castle that will leave so many people scratching their heads. It was built near the community of Houska and is roughly square shaped with an open courtyard in the middle. But Houska Castle, is it known for its architecture? Its famous for what?
The building sits on top of a cave and not just any cave, either.
Local legend tells us that the castle sits atop an opening that leads straight to hell by building the structure there. The King's workers built a barrier over this gateway in an effort to stop the demons that spilled out at night. And while I realize this sounds like something out of an episode of Supernatural, there is no magic Colt Revolver or circle of salt to be found, just an enormous castle with no kitchen and a cover story that it was an administrative building.
Here's the best part, though, there really is a pit in the basement of this castle, it's dark and deep and easily looks like the sort of opening that legions of demons might crawl out of. And when the original builders started their work, the first thing they did was build a Christian chapel directly on top of it. One early story about the castle tells of how all of their protections and barriers seem to be failing, monstrous creatures were so common that they were sometimes even seen during the daytime.
So they demanded that the authorities do something about it. What they got, it seems, was a cruel experiment. It said that they offered a deal to a local prisoner if he would consent to be lowered into the dark pit on a rope, they would set him free. And considering how he was facing the death penalty, he took the deal. A short while later, he was seated on a board at the end of the rope while a group of soldiers lowered him down into the darkness.
For a while, there was no sound, just the hard breathing of the men as they let out more and more rope. But after a while, a terrifying scream could be heard deep down in the pit. So they quickly began to pull the prisoner back up when he appeared at the mouth of a pit. They say that his hair had turned white and his mind had been broken by whatever it was that he experienced.
As the centuries ticked by, ownership of the castle changed hands a number of times and as it did, the stories piled up like refugees at the bottom of a pit, some previous owners have seen objects levitate inside the castle, while others have heard unexplainable sounds and cries of torment emanating from the floor of the chapel. Others claim to see demonic creatures with the body of a man but the head of an animal roaming through the courtyard at night.
But it wasn't until the late 1930s when those local legends took on a new flavor. That was when the growing forces of Nazi Germany began to grab hold of locations all around Europe. And Huesca Castle was no exception. The most common story told about that era is that the head of the SS, a man named Heinrich Himmler, moved a large portion of his occult library to the castle, and he used the location to conduct unusual experiments. We don't know if this was actually the case, but we do know that Himmler was obsessed with the occult and owned over 13000 books on magic and the supernatural.
So you can see how tempting it is to believe that he'd be interested in Huesca Castle thanks to those rumors of a gateway to hell directly beneath it what those experiments were. There's no record. But in recent years, researchers have located a number of skeletons in the courtyard at the center of the castle Nazi soldiers who had been killed by their own superiors for some unknown reason. At the end of the day, though, Huesca Castle shows us just how insignificant all that folklore can be in the face of humanity, visitors today might still go looking for ghosts or demonic creatures.
But just 80 years ago, actual Nazis lived and worked there.
It seems that we don't really need the stories about monsters to be true because we humans have enough potential for darkness all on our own.
Everyone dreams of a fairy tale ending, we all have challenges that stand in our way and look forward to a day when those barriers are broken to pieces, a day when we can, as the saying goes, live happily ever after. But however inspirational fairy tales can be, they are nothing more than fantasy painted against a stylized background. And for a very long time, many of those stories have been set in a utopian version of medieval Europe, the towers and high walls and knights on horseback.
All of it just pulls us in. But it's fiction and nothing more. No, it seems that in reality, European castles make an easy setting for tales of the unexplainable. They were viewed as mysterious and threatening, and they were out of reach for most people for a very long time. What better way to fill those ancient walls than with frightening stories? But after taking a tour through a few of them with me today, I hope it's clear just how far those stories are from fact.
After all, how many tales of ghostly women in white as one continent need? Well, it turns out there's at least one more and it's a doozy. Dragsholm Castle is an 800 year old Dutch building that has exactly the sort of history you'd expect from an old castle, it was built in the 12 hundreds as a palace, but converted into a fortress about three centuries later. Since then, it's had a long list of owners, mostly passed down through family lines.
But it's an early episode in the Castle's history that's of interest to me. It said that one of the early owners of the castle became angry when he discovered that his daughter had fallen in love with one of the lowly builders working on the site even after demanding that they call off the romance. The father caught them again, setting him off into a fit of rage. The worker was sent away and his daughter was locked indoors, hopefully settling the matter for good in his mind at least.
But the man's newfound peace was shattered weeks later when he discovered that his daughter was pregnant. Now, there were many things that could have been done. Of course, he could have allowed the lovers to reunite and live happily ever after. Perhaps, but that's not the sort of man her father was. Now, instead, he locked her away in her room in the castle, hoping that with enough time she would forget the young man and change her ways.
Instead, she used her time in confinement to craft a wedding dress for herself and pass notes with her lover through various servants who took care of her needs. When her father got word of this, he put a quick end to it. He had the door and windows of her room bricked over, trapping her inside for all eternity. It said that as she died, the castle was filled with the sounds of her fingers scratching on the stones. Ever since, as you can imagine, that legend has returned in the form of unusual sightings, sightings of a woman in white.
It's exactly what one might expect from folklore, isn't it? One rumor with little proof gives birth to more stories over time. And on and on it goes. Except for one last detail. A century ago, new owners of Dragsholm Castle were doing some small renovations to bring the building into the 20th century, from what I can tell, they were installing a new toilet, which, if you know anything about medieval bathrooms, was probably a fantastic idea.
But in doing so, they tore down an old brick wall and behind it. Well, I'm sure you can guess what they found. It was a skeleton. A skeleton dressed in a white bridal gown. Medieval castles have certainly become important characters in many beloved fairy tales over the centuries, but at the top of that list is a fortress built by a very unusual man, and its impact is a lot closer to home than you might realize. Stick around after this brief sponsor break to hear all about its.
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They were a family pulled straight out of some coming of age after school special mom hated dad and Dad hated mom. There are two sons, Otto and Ludvig hated each other, too. And to make matters worse, mom and dad hated the kids. It was a cold home life for sure.
So it should come as no surprise to anyone that Ludvig became interested early on in anything related to fantasy worlds and make believe his reality was hostile and a breeding ground for anxiety, after all. So it made sense that he spent his days creating alternate worlds, places where people lived happily ever after. And of course, those fantasies were all built around the idea of kings and queens in their mighty castles. After all, his father had been born a prince and his mother a princess.
Monarchy and power were part of the family language, and Ludvig grew up around all of that. And then at the age of 19, his world changed. His father, King Maximilien, died from an infection in 1864, leaving Ludvig in control of Bavaria, but he didn't inherit the kingdom at peace. Tensions had been growing throughout his part of Europe for years. And in 1866, all of that erupted into what's called the Ostro Prussian war. Now, I won't bore you with the political chess game that was going on, but the most important thing to know is that Ludvig, being rather new to the job of King, ended up backing the wrong neighboring country and they lost hard.
As a result, his kingdom of Bavaria became absorbed into Prussia as sort of a sub nation. And it was this loss of power and autonomy that really pushed him over the edge. Two years later, he decided to build the perfect world around himself. He chose a spot in the foothills of the Alps down at the very southern edge of modern Germany, and began construction of his dream castle. All of those years as a child daydreaming of his fantasy world were about to be poured into this new structure, a castle he called Neuschwanstein.
It took his workers two decades to complete it. But even before it was done, Ludvig was there, enjoying its tall towers in high stone walls, being a more modern castle, though it also incorporated modern comforts. There was a private theater, an artificial lake with a swan boats and a hydroelectric plant that he used to animates many of its outdoor features.
But all of this came at a cost. Over the years of construction, Ludvig burned through his family fortune and then began to borrow from family and friends.
As time went by, he became more and more indebted to other powerful people all across Europe.
And that made his advisers and administrators very nervous. After all, how could he make sound decisions for his kingdom if others pulled his strings so they plotted a way to remove him? They hired a man named Dr Bernhard von Goulden, who specialized in the new and growing field of psychology to come and perform some evaluations of Ludwigs mental states. But instead of learning about the king by speaking with him directly, he limited himself to conversations with the same people who hired him.
So, of course, he concluded that Ludvig was unfit.
As a result, the king was removed from the throne in 1886 and taken to Bird Castle near Munich, where he would live out the rest of his days as a political prisoner. And it's there, far from the glorious halls of his beloved Neuschwanstein Castle, that the final chapter of his troubled life played out on June 13th of 1886. Doctor Good and the reason for his imprisonment join him at Bird Castle for dinner. After their meal, the pair stepped outside for a walk in the rain, seeing as how they were safe on castle grounds.
The only guard was waved away and the two men walked and talked as the sun began to set. After a number of hours passed without the return, though, the servants and guards began to go looking for them for a while, no clue could be found as to where they had gone. Perhaps Ludvig had escaped or maybe good and had experienced a change of heart and has snuck him out himself. And then the guards found them at the back of the property where the manicured lawn ran west to the shore of a lake.
They could see two shapes at the water's edge. When they approached, their hearts sank. Both men were dead, floating face down in the cold water. There are a lot of articles and books about that mystery where the two men murdered or was it a murder suicide and if so, who was the last to die? Thanks to time and messy recordkeeping, it's a puzzle that might never have a chance to be solved. Neuschwanstein Castle is still there.
It was completed the same year King Ludvig died, and today it's a popular tourist attraction, drawing in well over a million visitors each year. And it's easy to understand why the surrounding landscape is breathtaking.
And the castle itself is a stunning example of what happens when someone builds for idealism rather than practicality. More amazing of all, though, is just how influential those tall, narrow towers have become in our world today. In a rare example of happily ever after Neuschwanstein, Castle became the centerpiece of another man's construction project, this one wrapping up in 1955, he had built a career out of telling stories, many of which, it turns out were fairy tales.
And his new project, an entire fantasy world that people could visit and enjoy, was built around a small castle modeled after the one King Ludvig had built eight decades earlier. It's amazing to consider, but without the wild ideas of a 19th century Bavarian king, we might not have one of the most iconic buildings in the world. Disneyland's centerpiece, Sleeping Beauty, kessell. This episode of law was written and produced by me, Aaron Manque, with research by Robin Miniter and music by Chad Lawson, law is much more than just a podcast.
There's a book series available in bookstores and online and two seasons of the television show on Amazon Prime video. Check them both out if you want more law in your life. I also make an executive produce a whole bunch of other podcasts, all of which I think you'd enjoy. My production company, Grim and Mild, specializes in shows that sit at the intersection of the dark and the historical. You can learn about all of the shows we make and everything else going on over at grim and mild dotcom.
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