Maplecroft. Mansion of Mystery
For half of her life, Lizzie A. Borden lived in modest homes in the unfashionable south end of the city. For the other half, she lived a life of quiet luxury on the Hill section in the north end of town in a dream house of her own taste and furnishing. The trip to Maplecroft is the pilgrimage all true Borden scholars must make. Briefly a B&B back in the 1990’s, no house in the city is surrounded by more mystery, because photographs, even in its public days, were forbidden inside. For all who want to understand Lizzie, the desire to see what is left of her gilded cage on French Street is a heart’s burning desire. Perhaps the fact that the house is closed to inquiring eyes makes knowledge of her private palace even more desirable.
As the house was not built for Lizzie and Emma, – they took occupancy in September 1893 – it would be nearly impossible to say with any certainty just how much of the interior furnishings such as woodwork, fireplace mantels, built-ins, etc. are Lizzie’s taste, and how much were the previous owner’s. Some things are known to be Lizzie’s additions, such as the back bedroom over the kitchen, the stone chimney, the back yard granite block wall, – and perhaps the mantel in her library with her favorite hymn and Scottish thistles, At Home in My Ain Countrie. Of course there is always just the chance that the mantel was there first, and inspired her love of the hymn after. We may never know.
One mantel in particular has captured the imagination of Bordeniaphiles for years however- the second floor front mantel with this verse:
And old time friends and twilight plays
And starry nights and sunny days.
Come trooping up the misty ways
When my fires burn low.
Whether this room which faces French Street on the front second floor of the house was a bedroom or reception room is unsure, but the verse in the mantel invokes a deep sense of wistfulness as one contemplates how it may have held great significance for Lizzie’s solitary life after Emma departed Maplecroft in 1905. For the loyal handful of friends who braved the criticism of Fall River high society, and called upon Lizzie there, theirs must have been a warm welcome. These were the “old time friends” who drew near when Lizzie’s “fire burned low”. The poem is surrounded by clusters of clover leaves, tokens of good fortune. The message of the mantel is not lost upon those who care to look.
The mantel today is no longer in its old familiar place. It has been replaced by one of marble. Eighty years ago a frail woman sat by this mantel perhaps thinking over her life and all the secrets locked away within the walls of Maplecroft. If places retain the resonance of those who have dwelt within them, surely Maplecroft holds dark secrets and mysteries still.
Click on photographs for enlarged image
(c) S. Dziedzic 1992