Wishing you a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving Day! Lizzie is thankful for turkey and all the trimmings – and no mutton broth in sight!
Join us on December 11th when Kimbra and I will be talking to historian (and Second Street Irregular) Kristin Pepe who will shine a light on nurse Jolly Jane Toppan, serial killer! Toppan is quoted as saying that her ambition was “to have killed more helpless people than any other man or woman who ever lived”.
Kristin was first to discover the connection between Emma Borden and Wheaton Female Seminary as well as adding to the knowledge on Officer Medley and William Moody. We’ll have lots of questions for Kristin about her adventures in sleuthing as well as her plunge into the dark life of Jolly Jane who died in Taunton Insane Asylum, just down the street from the Taunton Jail where Lizzie languished for 10 months. Join us for the disturbing tale of when nurses go BAD- very BAD!
The Borden Curse #9 The Fish Family
There is plenty of documentation that Lizzie and Emma ignored Abby’s half-sister Bertie Whitehead and her family when they came to call on Abby at Second St. But Abby had a full sister, Priscilla S. Gray who married George B. Fish in 1840 and spent her life after in various Connecticut towns. One can only wonder what Priscilla had heard and seen in the Borden home when she visited her sister or what Abby may have written to her in letters about those Borden sisters!. George and Priscilla were at the August 6, 1892 funeral. The couple read about the trial and it would be interesting to know what they both thought about the acquittal.
January would prove a disastrous month for the Fish family. About six months after Lizzie was acquitted, George, who worked for the railroad as a tallyman on the Trunk Line, died on January 3, 1894. Priscilla, Abby’s sister followed her husband 3 weeks later and died on January 25th. Their one grandson, Frederick (Freddie) H. Fish who also worked for the railroad died on January 7, 1915 at the age of 43, leaving 5 young children. His brother Harry died at age 2. The family is buried at Spring Grove in Hartford. They were a close family. Their home at 20 Canton Street was demolished many years ago.
The Borden Curse # 8 Officer John Minnehan
The week of February 1, 1893 was a rough one for the city of Fall River. There had been many deaths from various things like bronchitis (5) and six deaths from pneumonia. One of them was Officer John Minnehan, who, like Capt. Phil Harrington, died suddenly with pneumonia.
Minnehan was born in Ireland in on March 25, 1850 and had come to America, boarding the S.S. Siberia in Liverpool-Boston. He was the son of Mary Dempsey and Michael Minnehan. He left a wife, Bridget Lyons Minnehan and a daughter,Nora, born in 1887 and a son, John James Minnehan born in 1892.
Minnehan was on the spot for much of the day of the murders, part of the first search, standing guard at the house the night of the murders and the next day, and most notably, coming to the rescue of John Morse when Morse was set upon by an angry mob when he went to the post office. Minnehan got Morse safely back to Second St. and suggested he stay put inside #92.
During Lizzie’s trial, as you can see in the Fall River and Globe newspapers, it is mentioned that Minnehan would have been called as a witness but he had died on February 8, 1893, never knowing that Lizzie would be acquitted. He died at his home on Mulberry St. and is buried, like Harrington, at St. John’s cemetery. Minnehan had quite a grand funeral and send off as described in the clippings below.
The Borden Curse #7
Hosea M. Knowlton was a talented and accomplished man. Born May 20, 1847 in Durham, Maine, he excelled at Keene, New Hampshire High School, Tufts College, B.A. 1867, and Harvard Law School, class of 1870. He married an equally accomplished woman, Sylvia B. Almy and produced seven successful children:
John Wellington Knowlton
Abby Almy Knowlton
Edward Allen Knowlton
Helen Sophia Knowlton
August I. Knowlton
Sylvia Prescott Knowlton
Benjamin Almy Knowlton- one year old at the time of Lizzie’s trial
His portrait still hangs in the courtroom in New Bedford where Lizzie’s trial took place, and for all of the accomplishments including District Attorney, he is always remembered as the prosecutor in the Borden trial of 1893.
In 1902 Mr. Knowlton’s mother died in an horrific accident in Boston. In December of that same year, Hosea himself was struck down suddenly with apoplexy while at his summer home in Marion and died on the 19th, only 55 years old. He and Sylvia had just built a beautiful house there and he was finally enjoying the fruits of his hard labor. Eli Bence and Defense Attorney and former Massachusetts Gov. George D. Robinson would also suffer the same fate, apoplexy- in their prime. Knowlton’s youngest son, Ben, who was just a year old at the time of Lizzie’s trial would die of cerebral hemorrhage in 1960. Knowlton’s remains were cremated and ashes scattered over the harbor of his beloved Marion. His name is on a memorial stone in Rural Cemetery, New Bedford where many of his relatives are buried.
The Borden Curse #6
You will remember young Lucie Collett as the girl sitting on Dr. Chagnon’s Third St. porch on the morning of the murders. The doctor had been called out of town and Lucie was to meet his appointments and tell them Dr. Chagnon was called away with his family to an anniversary celebration that day. Lucie had to sit on the porch as the door was locked when she arrived around 10 minutes of 11. She was unsure just how long she stayed outside but it was after 11 o’ clock for sure. She did not recall seeing anyone jump over the Borden fence or hearing any odd noises coming from the Borden house behind the Chagnon house. The prosecution had high hopes of Lucie’s testimony supporting the fact that no stranger came into the Borden yard.
Lucie was born in Quebec and moved to Fall River where she lived all of her short life. In 1896 she was married to Dr. Chagnon’s clerk, Dr. Jean Normand until her tragic and early death from tuberculosis (Pulmonary phthisis) in 1900 at the age of 26. She was childless. The couple is buried in Notre Dame Cemetery.
Maplecroft: Mansion of Mystery #5
A thoughtful convenience for the iceman at Maplecroft was this ice door on the back porch where the big blocks could be pushed through with tongs without dripping through the kitchen. The back door on the porch contained a one time a panel of glass with a fancy etched “B” in the glass. Over time it has been broken. The side door in the photo was no doubt handy for tradespeople and delivery services as it leads directly into the kitchen.
Maplecroft: Mansion of Mystery #4
There’s nothing as creepy as a cellar and this one certainly is, especially after dark. The cellar, as you will see, is divided into numerous rooms filled with pieces of the past – and a hatchet! Run time: 6 minutes!
The Borden Curse #5
Josiah Coleman Blaisdell (1820-1900) will probably be forever remembered as the judge who, at the Preliminary, informed Lizzie Borden that she was probably guilty and would be held for trial. It is said that he had a “tear in his eye” when he made this pronouncement. Blaisdell, born in Campton, N.H. had his own share of life’s sadnesses before the trial with the death of three sisters, his mother and his first wife with whom he had six children, two, including his namesake dying at age 3. His career had been a fairly distinguished one, even serving as mayor of Fall River for two years in 1858 and 1859.
In 1885 there had been a scandal involving his oldest son, John, who was a clerk at Weetamoe Mills with the company’s books being audited and young Blaisdell absconding.
Scandal would follow Judge Blaisdell as well due to his practice of seeing clients in his continuing private practice even when he became a judge. This was a sticky business as some of his own private clients, who paid him well, would come up before him on the bench. Although Judge Blaisdell said this was not a conflict for him, and he had ruled against his own clients before, – another lawyer in town, Arba Lincoln,brought suit. The bar association (of which Andrew J. Jennings was a member) decided to do a thorough investigation. Clearly worried about this turn of events, Blaisdell immediately resigned, effective April 21, 1893, only months after his connections with the Borden affair.
Blaisdell was, at another time, accused of some shady business in regards to being a benefactor of a certain lady’s will. The problem here was that the will was in Blaisdell’s own handwriting! Pleading ill health, and having to be assisted into his chair on the bench, Blaisdell gave ill health as his reason for retirement in 1893- in fact he lived for another healthy seven years and died of “old age” according to his death certificate.
The Borden Curse #4 The Trickey-McHenry Affair
Henry Trickey was born in New Hampshire in 1868 and was an honor student at school, with journalism aspirations for a bright future. By 1884 he had found a place with the Boston Globe covering Boston suburb news, winning acclaim for his coverage of opium dens, criminal cases, and even interviewing Jefferson Davis! Then came his big downfall when he decided to trust information he received from a very shady character, Edwin McHenry.
McHenry, who started his working career as a bootblack in New York, then a bartender, and finally styling himself a “private detective” in Providence, R.I. by 1886, was pretty much a scoundrel. Pinkerton’s was the premier agency of the day and McHenry promoted himself as one of the first class gumshoes- Pinkerton’s in actuality had never heard of him. But he could sniff out a good opportunity when he saw it and quickly jumped on a train from New York to Fall River when he heard about the Borden murders. The day after the crime, McHenry wasted no time in ingratiating himself with Marshal Hilliard of the FRPD who convinced Mayor John Coughlin to hire McHenry to work the Borden Case.
Seeing a way to make even more money out of his position on the inside, McHenry contacted young Trickey with his “valuable” information on the Bordens for an exclusive in the Boston Globe. Trickey eyed the scoop and pounced on it with both feet, believing his career was now made from this on-the-scene advantage. The only problem with this unexpected windfall of news was that it was all entirely fabricated by Ed McHenry. Nothing but a pack of lies.
The exclusive ran in the Globe on October 10, 1892 and contained the most sensational and outrageous claims. Lizzie had a devastating secret and Andrew had found her out! Someone had seen Lizzie in Abby’s room with a hood on her head! Lizzie’s sister accused of treachery and kicked her in anger! Each claim was more sensational than the last. The Globe sold thousands of issues.
Alas, McHenry’s luck ran out and Jennings exposed the pack of lies and other nonsense. The Globe was obliged to publish extensive retractions in the Oct. 11th and 12h editions and poor Trickey had egg on his face, sterling reputation in tatters. Trickey left town as soon as possible and headed out to Illinois in November to visit his wife’s family until the heat in Boston had died down.
When news of Lizzie’s indictment came to his notice on December 3rd, Trickey panicked, fearing some legal repercussions of his own and decided to get out of the country. Trickey left Hamilton, Ontario to go on to Guelph. While trying to jump aboard the smoking car of the train, he slipped on the platform trying to swing himself up, falling between the car and the platform. The brakeman and a passenger on the train jumped off to see what was to be done, but Trickey was crushed and died in mere moments. Trickey was only 24 years old. McHenry went on with his nefarious life, finding himself in and out of jail for many offenses over the years. His end is not known.
The Borden Curse #3
The earnest face of Smith’s pharmacy clerk, Eli Bence, is known to all who study the Borden case. Bence would identify Lizzie by voice and sight as the lady who entered his store on the morning of August 3, 1892, asking for ten cents’ worth of Prussic acid for the removal of moths in a sealskin cape. Bence’s testimony would be allowed at the Preliminary but lucky for the Defense, dismissed as being too remote in time at the 1893 trial. One has to wonder how Bence felt about that. His evidence was very damaging, but not allowed to be considered by the jury.
By 1894, one year after Lizzie’s acquittal, Eli and his English wife,Sarah (Hayhurst) had moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts where Eli set up a neighborhood apothecary at the corner of 4th and Russell Streets. His young son, Roy, was now five years old as the couple settled down to married life away from the aftermath of Lizzie Borden, Fall River, and her acquittal. 119 Fourth Street (now Purchase Street) is a large, rambling Victorian house in what was an upper middle class neighborhood of similar homes. The apothecary was a first floor walk up steep stairs from the street. The little family lived at 74 Willis Street, in a lovely neighborhood further north in the city. The house is still standing. In 1898 the family moved to 103 School Street, just a short walk to the apothecary store for Eli. That house is no longer standing but was in another charming residential neighborhood. But happiness was once again – elusive. Sarah died just two weeks before Christmas in 1899 leaving a grieving Eli and an inconsolable 10 year old son.
Joy again entered Eli’s life in 1903 when he married Annie C. Maxfield, a school teacher at New Bedford High School and in 1901 a principal at a small country school in Acushnet. Annie’s father had a thriving plumbing business, C.P. Maxfield’s, on Bridge Street in Fairhaven.
By 1904 the family appear in the Pittsfield, Massachusetts directory as living at #20 Hamlin Street with Eli employed at 75 North Street. By 1907 Eli has set himself up in his own business, an apothecary at 49 North and the Morton Block. The family moves to 23 Howard Street in 1908 with new baby girl, Priscilla born in 1907 and Roy who, like his father and uncles, went to work at age 15 helping in his father’s store.
Tragedy would strike yet again with the death of Eli’s precious daughter Priscilla in 1909. In 1910, at the age of 37, Annie presented Eli with Maxfield Hudson Bence, named for her father, and Eli’s mother. With business prospering, Eli moved his family to #64 Commonwealth Avenue in 1913 and life was good. Eli had risen to the top of his profession and was held in the highest esteem by his colleagues as a pharmacist, revered by his community and active in the Masons and many civic organizations.
While driving with Annie one May morning in 1915, Eli suddenly became ill, and after a brief illness, succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage and died at home at the age of fifty, leaving Annie and Maxfield, aged 5, and Roy, now 26 and newly married (July 3, 1914) to Minetta Welton Steel to mourn. The front page of the New Bedford Standard-Times printed Eli Bence’s obituary on the day of his death, and as always, the Lizzie Borden trial and Eli’s testimony about the Prussic acid was told . Annie lived on until 1923 in Pittsfield until she joined her husband and daughter Priscilla in Riverside Cemetery in Fairhaven, dying also at the young age of 50. Maxfield was left an orphan of 13.
Maplecroft: Mansion of Mystery #2
The casual visitor to Maplecroft may miss the tiny figure on the fire screen of Lizzie Borden’s back bedroom on the second floor addition. This addition over the back porch was constructed in 1908, after Emma had left Maplecroft forever. In the surround of the fireplace opening of the raised-hearth in the corner, sits a cunning cast iron salamander with a very satisfied little face. Although a high school drop-out, Lizzie was very well-read. Did she know the legend of the salamander when she chose her furnishings? The salamander today is the logo mascot for asbestos workers everywhere, and throughout ancient Greek myth , was the only animal which could go through the fire unscathed. This is partly true, as salamanders exude a milky substance when exposed to high temperatures, and are rendered, at least briefly, impervious to flame. This phenomenon was observed over the ages as salamanders like to hide in logs, and when a fire was ignited, they would be seen scampering out of the flames triumphantly.
It’s fun to think maybe Lizzie may have been leaving a message, as she did , in fact, go through the “fire” and did not get burned in her acquittal on all charges. Lucky little salamander. . . .
The photos of the brick fireplace are from 2021 and 1980s.
Maplecroft: Mansion of Mystery #1
As a lead up to our October 16th podcast, a nightly series of photos, videos and short articles about 306 French Street will be posted. Hopefully you will find out some small detail you may not have known. There will be no chronological order to the posts but rather a random harvest of details which we hope you will enjoy. Tonight, let us have a look at the bathroom fixtures! How’s that for random? We know Emma and Lizzie shared the hall bathroom with the beautiful blue tile border and the bath tub ( a clawfoot) is most likely the one the ladies soaked in at leisure. After the wash bowl and pitcher of Second St., a dedicated bath must have been a real luxury. Of interest are the faucets, and the waste water drain. The toilet in this bathroom appears to date to a time when Lizzie would have been in residence, but of course it is hard to know for sure. What is rather interesting is the bath tub in the cellar. According to a former owner, when the back addition bathroom was remodeled, he had the claw foot tub removed and stored in the cellar. This would have been the bath tub from circa 1908 when Lizzie added on the ensuite bath and room over the porch. How we take bathrooms for granted nowadays!
The Borden Curse #2
Along with Phil Harrington, William Medley had his doubts about Lizzie Borden’s innocence. On the day of the murders he went to the barn loft and discovered no evidence that anyone had been walking around in the dusty loft. When he placed his hands on the floor and withdrew them, there were clear marks on the floor. Not satisfied with the main search on Saturday, he and Officer Edson returned on Monday, August 8th, when Medley discovered a dusty hatchet head casually tossed on the top of a box in the cellar. Medley would enjoy a very successful career in law enforcement thereafter and would become Fall River’s first Chief of Police. His photograph is to this day, prominently displayed on the wall at the police station. His success and happiness was not to last. He became the victim of an horrific automobile accident at the corner of Locust & Linden Streets in 1917. His wife and young daughter survived the crash.
The Borden Curse #1 Many students of the Borden case have, over the years, noticed an unusual amount of unfortunate events happening to people associated in some way with the Borden case. Of course natural death due to old age, accidents, mishaps, etc. happen as a matter of course but it can be said there is an extraordinary amount of sad occurrences on the Borden timeline.
One of the earliest after Lizzie’s acquittal was Captain Phil Harrington, the officer who gave the extraordinarily detailed description of Lizzie striped house wrapper on the day of the murder. Phil was a very popular figure on the force, and I have written a great deal about him here and on our website. On February 10, 1893 Phil was appointed Captain and went on to duty at the central station first as a night officer, then on to daytime duty. His second marriage to Kate Connell, daughter of John (O’)Connell, ticket taker for Old Colony Steamboat Company, was quite an event in fashionable Catholic circles and was performed at St. Mary’s ,right across the street from the Borden house on October 11, 1893.
Stopping off in Newport before taking the night boat to New York to commence his honeymoon, Harrington was taken violently ill with pneumonia and could not continue. He lingered some days in excruciating pain, nursed faithfully by his bride. He passed away on October 28th at the home of Councilman McCormack, who had been one of the wedding ushers.
The wake held on Whipple Street continued right up until the hour of the Requiem Mass- 6,000 mourners passed by the coffin. The funeral on Halloween was one of the largest seen at St. Mary’s, with the city marshal, police force and friends packing the church to capacity. A thousand more stood outside the church and joined in the procession to St. John’s Cemetery on Brightman St. Harrington lived long enough to see Lizzie Borden acquitted. He was 34 at the time of death.
Two series are debuting tonight: The Borden Curse & Maplecroft, Mansion of Mystery on the Warps & Wefts facebook page and blog. Although this is not a NEW idea, it has often been remarked upon that many dreadful things happened to so many people connected to the Borden Case. We will take a look at some of these shocking stories and the terrible but true things which befell some names we all know. Maplecroft: Mansion of Mystery will present daily facts about the house that Lizzie called home for 34 years. The series will run as an introduction to our podcast on October 16th. Ready to get a little spooky?
Kimbra and I are are excited to announce our special October podcast guest! Many of you will know Sue Vickery from #92 Second St. where she worked for many years, giving tours of the house and telling the Borden saga to the many visitors and overnight guests. Sue also became the caretaker of Maplecroft- a very singular and unique title to be sure! Nobody knows Lizzie’s Mansion of Mystery better, and we are thrilled to hear about what Sue has concluded after examining every square inch of the famous French St. address. Sue also has a paranormal channel with her production partner, Deb Vickers, and as it ’tis the Spooky Season, we will want to ask Sue all about that as well as discussing the history of Maplecroft. Please mark your calendars and plan to be with us on Facebook or Youtube for a Livestream! Visit our Facebook page to submit questions for Sue and read more about Maplecroft!
The prosecution and defense have wrapped up the Preliminary on Sept. 1, with Phebe Bowen being the last to give testimony on August 31st. There is a lot to be learned from the Preliminary transcript, especially useful as it is very close in time to the actual crime. Bridget’s testimony is especially thorough and we learn a lot about her past from it: She has worked for the Bordens 2 years and 9 months. Washing, ironing, cooking, scrubbing and sweeping the front hall were her duties. Sweeping was done every other Friday. She had come to Abby from Mrs. Remington’s up in the north end on High St . where she had lived for 7 months. Before that she had spent 15 months with Mrs. Reed on Highland Ave., also in the north end. Before that Bridget was in South Bethlehem, PA for a year doing housework for the Smiley family. When she came over from Ireland she landed in New York but headed north on a steamer and got off in Newport, R.I. where she worked for the Perry House hotel doing kitchen work, and lived with the Sullivans until she got a place. Bridget gives a good amount of detail about the day of the murders and before, in great detail and seems to be a good witness , calm and thorough in her accounting. Of course maybe on the inside she was nervous. Many believe Bridget could have told more about the family dynamics if she had chosen to do so.
Her testimony alone is worth the price of buying the transcript! No matter how many times you read it, something new always seems to pop out to consider.