'The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures' is full of ghosts, gremlins, and everything in between

By Christian Holub
August 17, 2017 at 12:00 PM EDT
Del Rey

The line between reality and fiction can sometimes be more porous than we like to pretend. In his award-winning podcast Lore, Aaron Mahnke tells stories from across the world of real-life encounters with the strange and uncanny. Lore was already one of EW’s favorite podcasts of 2016, but this year it’s moving into the literary format with a new series of books by Mahnke called The World of Lore.

The first entry in the series, The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures, focuses specifically on mythical monsters. Accompanied by beautiful illustrations, Mahnke tells the stories of the Jersey Devil, European gremlins, and everything in between. These monsters may not be fully real, but they’ve nevertheless had an impact on the people who live in their communities.

The book contains a mix of both new stories and old favorites from the podcast. The excerpt below tells the story of the McMillan family’s eerie mausoleum on San Juan Island, and the ghosts they left behind there. Long-time fans of the podcast will recognize it from one of the show’s early episodes, while new readers can delight in the mysteries of the Afterglow Vista.

The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures is out Oct. 10 from Del Rey – just in time for Halloween.

Excerpt from The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke

The San Juan Islands are a cluster of small, wooded islands off the coast of Washington State, just across the water from Vancouver Island. The westernmost of those small plots of land is San Juan Island itself. With a population of less than seven thousand, it has the welcoming feeling of a small, quiet town.

Seriously, this place is quiet. The most exciting thing most people can think of about their home there is that one of the residents is Lisa Moretti, a retired female WWF wrestler. But on the northern tip of the island, just beyond Roche Harbor and the resort there, is a road that leads into the woods. What is hidden in those trees, away from the prying eyes of tourists and residents alike, is something so unusual—-so out of the ordinary and bizarre—-that it practically begs for a visit.

Traveling down the long dirt road that runs into the heart of the forest like a withered artery will bring you to an iron archway mounted on stone pillars. The words “Afterglow Vista” are woven into the metalwork. Beyond that, deeper into the woods, is a series of stone stairs that lead up a small hill. It is the thing on top of that hill that immediately catches the eye of every visitor, without question.

It’s an open–air rotunda, a ring of tall stone pillars standing on a flat circular limestone base. They’re connected at the top by thick Maltese archways, but nothing covers the rotunda; its interior is completely exposed and visible.

What’s inside it? A large, round stone table, surrounded by six stone chairs. Odd, but not creepy—-until you realize the purpose this monument serves.

It’s a tomb. Resting inside each of the chairs are the cremated remains of a human being.

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A History in Lime

In the late nineteenth century, San Juan Island became known for lime deposits. Then, as now, lime was an essential ingredient in important products such as steel, fertilizer, and cement, and the lime industry of San Juan Island provided much of the community’s jobs and revenue.

In 1886, a man named John S. McMillin purchased a controlling interest in the major lime deposits, and he eventually developed the industry there into the largest supplier of lime on the West Coast. In the process, he built the twenty–room Hotel de Haro at Roche Harbor, and the company town that surrounded it. In addition to the lime factory itself, he built the barrel works, warehouse, docks, ships, offices, church, general store, and barns. He even built houses for the workers, with single men living in large bunkhouses and families being given small cottages that had been built into neat rows. All the structures belonged to McMillin, but his army of employees—-more than eight hundred of them at the peak of the business—-gave them life. The town was self–sufficient, with its own water, power, and telephone systems, and he paid his workers in company scrip—-company currency that was only good at the local company store. Of course, workers could still draw their salary in US currency whenever they wished, but the scrip was used in the store all the way up to 1956.

That wasn’t all McMillin would build, though. He was far from done.

John S. McMillin was an uncommon man. He was born in 1855 and attended DePauw University in Indiana back when it was called Asbury College. There he joined the Sigma Chi fraternity and helped guide the young organization to form a Grand Council and Executive Committee at the national level. As a result, he was elected the very first Sigma Chi Grand Consul. In addition to his fraternity connections, McMillin was a Freemason, reaching the thirty–second degree (out of thirty–three). He was prominent in business and politics, and even counted as a friend Teddy Roosevelt, who frequently visited and stayed in the hotel.

McMillin had four children, and nearly the entire family considered themselves devout Methodists. Only one child, they say, left the family faith, and in doing so he might very well have locked himself out of the McMillin story forever.

You see, all of those worlds of interest, as different from each other as they all were, coexisted inside the mind of John McMillin. So when the time came to plan an eternal resting place for he and his family, each element had influence on those designs. The result, as you might have guessed, was the eerie stone edifice located deep in the forest.

The Mausoleum

The structure really is a thing to behold. Once you’ve read about it, you’ll want to visit some websites to see the true beauty of what McMillin built.

When it was first constructed, the forest around it was far less thickly wooded, and visitors could see Afterglow Beach off to the northwest, perhaps giving the structure its name. It was designed to be a tholos, a circular Mycenaean temple, and was crafted from local limestone and cement.

But what’s really fascinating is the large number of secret messages and hidden meanings that were built into the structure, some relating to the Knights Templar, and others reflecting McMillin’s values as a Methodist and a Mason. For example, approaching the mausoleum requires traveling up three separate sets of stairs, and each set has its own meaning. There are three steps in the first flight of stairs, and they are said to represent the three ages of man. The second set contains five steps, representing the five senses. And the third set contains seven steps, which stand for the seven liberal arts and sciences.

Around the table are seven pillars that hold up the arches above. Oddly, one of the seven pillars is broken—-the westernmost one—-but it was intentional. Only a small portion can be seen on the base and protruding from the archway above. This break is said to be a reminder that death never lets us finish our work.

There’s room around the table for seven chairs, but the spot that should hold the seventh—-closest to the broken pillar, in fact—-is missing. Some say it was never there to begin with, and that it’s meant to represent the son who walked away from McMillin’s Methodist faith.

Depending on who you are, if eternity is a gathering at the table, not finding a seat with your family would be a ruthless punishment indeed.

Hauntings

These are all fantastic architectural details, but what can’t be documented in any photograph of the mausoleum is the long list of reported sightings, all of which started sometime in the mid–1950s.

The mausoleum was built with no dome on top, although the plan had originally been to construct one. The dome would have been expensive, amounting to about 40 percent of the total budget, and so it was scrapped near the end to save cash. Even still, visitors on rainy days have frequently reported that they feel no rain on them while inside the ring of stone pillars. Some people have spoken of cold spots near the table, while others have heard voices, even when no one else is around.

Those daring enough to actually sit on one of the chairs—-keeping in mind that they are tiny little tombs containing the remains of the McMillin family—-say that they felt very uneasy doing so, and more than one person has reported the sensation of hands pushing them off.

A frequent account is of seeing strange lights at night, including blue lights that seem to hover above the chairs. Some visitors have also reported seeing the members of the McMillin family themselves on nights with a full moon, seated around the table laughing and talking.

The mausoleum isn’t the only place with uncanny activity, though. 

Originally John McMillin built the family home right beside the Hotel de Haro, and his longtime secretary, Ada Beane, had a cottage on the other side of the hotel. Later, the Roche Hotel was built around the old hotel, and the other buildings were combined into the structure. Beane’s cottage, for example, became the current dining room and hotel gift shop.

That hotel restaurant has been the focus of quite a bit of the odd activity. The resort’s restaurant manager has reported that on more than one occasion he has closed up shop, turned out the lights, and headed for the door, only to look back over his shoulder and see that a candle on one of the tables had reignited. When he walked back in and blew it out, all of the kitchen hood fans turned on at once.

Other appliances have been known to turn on as well. Employees over the years have reported stoves, blenders, and toasters switching themselves on and off. The storeroom door has been known to open and close by itself. Furniture in the back room has even been found rearranged in the morning with no explanation.

The gift shop, located in another part of the old cottage, has also been home to spooky activity. One former employee once watched as several glass shelves cracked and shattered one by one, all without anyone touching them.

In the hotel itself, there are rumors of ghosts. The second floor is reported to be haunted by what has been described as a middle–aged woman wearing a long dress. Employees have told the owners that they frequently hear the sound of rustling clothing in rooms where no one else should be.

Is it the ghost woman’s dress they hear?

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Leftovers

It’s funny how the people who live around us have a way of making an impression on us. We feel them when they’re here, like the gravitational pull of another planet, but sometimes we even feel them when they’re gone. After their death they leave behind memories, treasured gifts or belongings, or perhaps a worn spot on a favorite piece of furniture.

Ghosts are a concept almost as old as time. The people we love are here for a while, and then they’re gone, and humans have always struggled to understand what happens to them after death. Maybe ghost stories are a way for us to grapple with our own loneliness and loss. Perhaps they’re our way of bolstering ourselves against our own impending death. We must go somewhere, right? Are we ready? Will we be forgotten?

John McMillin believed with all his heart that his life needed to be remembered, and that his body and those of his family deserved a resting place equal to their position in life. The Afterglow Vista stands as proof of one man’s faith in something beyond the veil.

And that light over the limestone seats that some people report having seen since the 1950s? Well, it turns out there just might be an explanation, depending on what you’re willing to believe.

Remember how the building that houses the hotel’s gift shop and dining room used to be the home of Ada Beane, McMillin’s longtime secretary? Along with being a key figure in the day–to–day business of the company, she also helped as a governess to the McMillin children. She was practically part of the family.

So when Beane died before McMillin, it was obviously an emotional loss. Rumors persist to this day that her death was suicide, but official records list nothing more than natural causes. Regardless, the family lost someone dear when she passed away.

After her death, her body was cremated and the ashes placed in a mason jar, and that jar somehow made it onto the mantel in the office of Paul McMillin, John’s youngest son. It wasn’t until the mid–1950s that the resort manager learned from Paul—-still alive and working for the company—-that she was there. And that’s when they moved her.

Where did they take her remains? Why, to join the others. Her ashes were added to the copper urn in one of the seats around the stone table in the mausoleum, putting her back where she belongs, among friends as dear to her as family.

But Beane might not have been too pleased about that decision. Perhaps, after looking over the family and estate for all those years, being moved to the cold, dark tomb didn’t settle well with her. It was only after the move that people began to see lights and hear voices there. At the same time, the pranks and unusual activity started up inside the hotel.

Coincidence? Or the actions of an upset woman who would rather spend her eternity away from the tourists and cold rain of the Afterglow Vista?

Can you blame her?

Excerpted from The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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