Deaths in the Borden House
For most visitors to the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast house museum, the interest is in two deaths primarily- Abby and Andrew Borden. Psychics who perform seances in nearly every room in the house have picked up various presences and often ask about other possible deaths in the house over the years. Considering the era, and the general occurence of being born, dying, and being waked in one’s home, the probability of other people dying a natural death in the Borden house is high. After the Borden sisters moved out in September of 1893, the house functioned as a rooming establishment, and then in 1918 was sold and changed hands and families over the years.
Built in 1845 by Southard Miller for woolen mill carding room supervisor, Charles Trafton, the house was built on land once owned by Lizzie’s great uncle Lawdwick (or Lodowick) Borden. In the 1850 census Charles Trafron is 45 and living with his wife Hannah, aged 32 and Rhoda White at the house. Unfortunately we do not know exactly the date the couple move into the house nor when their infant son was born and died.
Hannah Trafton died a tragic death from tuberculosis, which at the time was called consumption, a disease which affected young to middle aged adults primarily. Her date of death was January 11, 1851 so the couple had not lived long at the new house on Second Street.
Identifying and understanding the contagious nature of the tuberculosis bacillus, the building of sanitoria, and medications for the disease came several decades after Hannah Trafton’s death. The disease, sometimes called “wasting away” disease caused prolonged coughing, spitting up of blood, and a gradual heartrending decline of the affected victim. The quality of the air and water were suspected causes and the treatment consisted of fresh air and making the victim as comfortable as possible as they grew ever weaker and paler. In 1851 Fall River, it is probable that Hannah Trafton did die in her bed on Second Street. The Traftons inhabited the first floor, and what is now the dining room would have been in 1851, two small bedrooms. It is also very likely that their infant son Charles Jr. died at the house.
The words “Town Lot” on the death certificate refer to the Old North burial ground on North Main at the corner of Brightman, the city lot before Oak Grove Cemetery opened in 1855. Charles Trafton remarried as appears in the 1870 census with his second wife Susan. They had no children. After Charles’ retirement, the Bordens arrive on the scene in 1872, and the Traftons moved to Somerset where Charles died on Feb. 23, 1878. Susan remarried Frank DeCaro, an Italian barber. Frank returned to Italy after her death. As was the frequently- seen custom, Charles is buried between his two wives.
Although not as horrific as the murders of the two Bordens, Hannah Trafton’s sad demise and that of her child is tragic. How many other deaths at #92 can only be imagined. The dining room, which saw the preparation of Abby and Andrew’s bodies, the removal of Mrs. Borden’s stomach, and was the bedroom for owner, Mrs. Josephine McGinn in her final days, was a place which had witnessed much sadness and horror. There should be enough hauntings for almost any psychic.
Kathryn M Bennett
Great history! Do you have any idea who were parents of the Traftons? I am trying to figure out where they fit in my genealogy.
Shelley, Digging into the past of the Lizzie Borden House makes it’s history come to life. Thank you for making it so real. I enjoy all your articles and look forward to your next one.
Jo Anne Giovino
Somehow, you always manage to” bring these people to life ” ;so when I hear of their demise, such as poor Hannah, I feel sad for a young life lost. As always, Shelley, another interesting nugget of information. Thanks!
Thanks! Sometimes it’s hard to remember, just reading names in a book or article, that they were all people just like us, multi-dimensional, with all the cares and worries and faults and virtues and tragedies too. When a house gets to be as old as the Borden house, it is amazing to think of all the human drama that has unfolded within its walls.
We did a whole story on Trafton in the Fall 2009 issue of The Hatchet.
Lovely photo Shelley, as always!