• Lizzie comes home

    Home from New Bedford

    July 26, 1892 – Lizzie has had a busy vacation visiting the Pooles, going on a day trip to Marion, shopping in New Bedford, but now duty calls and she must return to Fall River on the late afternoon train. There are obligations to meet, minutes to take at the upcoming meeting, and Emma is still in Fairhaven and will be no help at home. So back to the steamy city she goes, thinking wistfully of the good times, social chitchat and cool breezes she has left behind her. The next time she gets on and off a train- it will be to Taunton Jail!

  • Tea & Murder Welcomes Robert Wilhelm

    As the anniversary of the Borden murders approaches, Kimbra Eberly and I are looking forward to our third Tea & Murder crowdcast on Facebook Live at 7 p.m. August 1st. Please join us as we have a look at nineteenth century lady poisoners, Prussic acid and Eli Bence, the widespread use of arsenic, or “inheritance powder” as it was called, and revisit some famous cases such as Amy Archer Gilligan, Jane Toppan and Mary Ann Cotton. We are delighted to welcome author and historian, Robert Wilhelm who has written all about sensational murders of the nineteenth century.

    You will enjoy spending time perusing Robert Wilhelm’s facebook pages and blogs including Murder by Gaslight http://www.murderbygaslight.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MurByGaslight At the moment there is a special free downloadable copy of MURDER ILLUSTRATED being offered to subscribers of Murder by Gaslight!

    A link will be posted here for you to join us LIVE on August 1st at 7 p.m. The link will be posted prior to broadcast. Mr. Wilhelm’s books are available on Amazon.

  • Lizzie’s Jury – Dining out on their “15 Minutes of Fame”

    After the acquittal was turned in by 12 good men and true in short order on June 20, 1893, Lizzie returned to Fall River and her champions returned to regular, unremarkable lives once more. It’s hard to know if anything as exciting as the Trial of the Century ever happened to these men again in their lifetimes. After sitting for a dignified portrait, which they presented to Lizzie as a souvenir and remembrance (one would think she would prefer to forget it), the gentlemen decided to re-live past glories by holding an annual luncheon for themselves at the famous Revere House Hotel and Restaurant on Bowdoin Square in Boston. The Revere House was an upper crust establishment, frequented by Boston’s notables and boasted superb chefs and impressive menus, catering to society’s special needs.

    In its heyday

    It would be interesting to have eavesdropped on the conversation at their table at these annual assemblies. Did they drink a toast to Lizzie or share reminiscences of their moments in the national spotlight? The Revere House Restaurant and Hotel was built in 1847, beginning as the former residence of a prosperous Boston merchant and burned in January, 1912 in an horrific fire which killed twelve people. It is not certain just how long Lizzie’s jury met annually or if, after the fire they relocated to another fine eatery to mark the occasion of her acquittal and their part in history.

    courtesy Commonwealth Archives
    courtesy Boston Magazine

    https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2014/01/30/throwback-thursday-revere-house-hotel-burned/

  • Lizbeth: A Victorian Nightmare

    Producer-director Ric Rebelo has today, in memory of LeeAnn Wilber, former co-owner of the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, released this award-winning film for public view on Youtube. This was filmed in 2010, some of the participants in the production are no longer with us today. What was recorded in 2010 has not changed much today in 2021, only intensified in fascination.

  • Lizzie Was Not a Redhead

    Every once in a while, the question comes up about Lizzie’s hair color. Lizzie was not a redhead as is portrayed on so much merchandise and in media.  According to her passport application, she was five feet three inches tall and had light brown hair.  Her eyes were gray, but her preference for the color blue in her wardrobe may have given her eyes a bluish tint. Lizzie certainly had a penchant for blue if her choice of sapphire jewelry and many blue garments is any indication. The red hair story may just have been connected to the association with a hot temper! Thanks to Mike Poirier who was was first to locate this passport application years ago. It has helped to dispel a myth. Lizzie’s hair color was a question on Jeopardy shortly after this passport application was made public- nobody got the correct answer!

    (Ancestry.com, courtesy of Michael Poirier).
  • Donations to the Animal Welfare League of Fall River

    Friends of LeeAnn Wilber may wish to make a contribution at the link below .

    What I have done, for those who have been calling and writing, is to consult her friends about a suitable charity. I thought of the Animal Rescue League of Fall River (Faxon) which, as you might know, benefited by funds left to it by Emma and Lizzie Borden. Their photographs are in the lobby. I phoned today and set up a fund in LeeAnn’s honor. Everyone who knew her will testify that LeeAnn was an animal lover, especially cats- and know of her beloved Max, who was a mascot down on Second St.

    May I suggest a donation to this shelter, a cause dear to LeeAnn’s heart. I have spoken to the director who tells me at present, the shelter is caring for abandoned and unwanted cats and the need is very great there. One cat in particular required emergency surgery this past weekend and there is a thousand dollar vet bill. We can sponsor the adoption room (Meet and Greet Room) provide assistance, for vet bills, food and many needs. This rescue is at present cats only- and for anyone who really knows LeeAnn- you know this would be her wish to help feline friends.

    Please make checks payable to: Animal Rescue League Fall River, 474 Durfee Street, Fall River, MA. 02720 In the memo line please write LeeAnn Wilber Animal Rescue Fund and the shelter will keep a running account of donations. You can also use PayPal and click on the donate button on their website. Please put LeeAnn Wilber Fund in the message line so we can keep track of donations. Visit their website at http://arlfr.com They all know LeeAnn there and want to honor her and keep all of us posted on the things your donations can provide. Max would thank you too, I know. There is also a link for PayPal or credit cards on this page at the top right.

  • What’s new at #92?

    The local paper finally got around to this story, for those who have been wondering what the future of the Borden house will be like. The story could not be embedded but the link should take you to the Herald’s feature story.

    https://www.heraldnews.com/story/business/2021/05/28/us-ghost-adventures-owner-has-plans-lizzie-borden-house-museum-tours-overnight-gift-shop-history/7456810002/?fbclid=IwAR3aVhD28fI4ZHoSBAB7NKdlLU-Fla4bQf88JsShktcOyj5dcTYfMHroiI8

  • Maple leaves at Maplecroft

    5-lobed maple leaf

    In the years before Maplecroft became more accessible, many writers, newspaper journalists and tellers of stories in general would often write or repeat things about Lizbeth’s house of mystery which were not always accurate. One of the stories I recall from the early 1990s was that Lizzie had a maple leaf carved into the newel post of the front staircase at Maplecroft. This was an exciting notion and it found an appreciative audience. It was rarely questioned and assumed as part of the great legend surrounding the enigmatic Miss Borden. With the advent of cell phone cameras and increasing access to Maplecroft by the public, this colorful story has proved to be untrue. Although the charm of those stories has dimmed about the house fittings, the fireplaces, (themselves having been the source of notions and stories), were more than likely installed, as was the staircase, by the man for whom the house was built, Charles Allen. In which case Mr. Allen was responsible for the newel post, or possibly the builders or architect. As you can see, there is no maple leaf motif. More than likely the name Maplecroft was chosen for the trees surrounding the house on French St. Thought to be an aristocratic show of superiority by Lizbeth in naming her house, there was actually a handful of other homes in the city which had a name.

    No maple leaf in the newel post

    Lizzie was, however, entirely responsible for this!

    Front door steps of Maplecroft
  • Alone and Forsaken

    Image- Skinner Auction Gallery, Boston

    Chances are, if you have visited the house on Second Street, you may have noticed this picture above the bed in Lizzie’s old room on the second floor. In actuality, a print or copy of this relatively unknown painting was said to have been given by Lizzie, as partial payment to a Mr. Barrows for work done when she was living at Maplecroft. The image seems to have been a somewhat popular one, painted in 1887 and copied by Sunday afternoon artists and others. Vosberg did a copy as well. It seems to symbolize a young girl abandoned and left to shift for herself on the troubled waters of life’s journey. The fact that Lizzie gave it away would seem to indicate that she did not hold it in high regard- maybe its symbolism was too close to home! The following article gives great detail about this painting and artist and how it has in recent years become sought-after, thanks to its association with Lizzie Borden.

  • Memories of Second St.

    As so many changes come to Second St. and Maplecroft, I wanted to make a small tribute to all the amazing people who, over the years from 1996-2021 have gone the extra mile to bring history to life for thousands of visitors. This is a long, but by no means comprehensive video and ten minutes just scratches the surface. So cheers to the tour guides, cooks, housekeepers, managers, Second Street Irregulars, “Muttoneaters”, Pear Essential Players, Acquittal Crew, and most especially Ron Evans, Martha McGinn, LeeAnn Wilber and Donald Woods who had the vision to make history accessible to the public. And thanks to all, some now gone and some with us still, who made the experience of working at #92 like being part of one big family.

  • PBS Rhode Island Weekly Visits #92.

    Last month the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast had two special visitors who spent the night and had a tour of Maplecroft, Oak Grove, and #92 Second St. The rain was pouring and there was atmosphere aplenty as darkness fell. It was a great pleasure to be a part of this broadcast, and as ever, rewarding to share the Borden case once more with others. I suspect Lizzie might be consoled to know that over the many years since she passed away, she has been the focal point for so many friendships and fellowship among those who come to visit Second Street.

    https://watch.ripbs.org/video/lizzie-93ospv/

  • Relics of the Past

    A popular question posed by visitors to the Borden house is if there is anything original remaining in the house interiors. One thing seems to be confirmable: the doors, many door knobs, moldings, framings, stairs and mopboards, a few windows (sitting room), and radiators. The radiator in the front entry foyer was photographed in 1892 by Mr. Walsh and in that photo we also see the stair railings and newel post which we can match today. It is exciting to think about being able to walk in the past, touching things that were there on the day. It is as close as we can come to history.

    Touched by generations, including all the Bordens , many visitors- and one killer
    1892 photograph: James Walsh, photographer
    Staircase and new post 2021
    The same radiator, heating the front hall today as was apparent in photos in 1892- cast iron and built to last!
    Guest Room radiator, the room where Abby was murdered
    Master bedroom radiator, also very likely to be original.
  • Helen Craig, The Abby Borden You Love to Hate

    Along with Bertie Whitehead, Abby’s half-sister, May 13th was also the birthday of Helen Craig, famous stage actress best-remembered for Johnny Belinda. Helen Craig, who played Abby in The Legend of Lizzie Borden was born May 13, 1912, a month after Titanic sank. Helen Craig was not a great beauty by Hollywood standards, but a very fine actress. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0185871/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

    Helen Craig

    Her portrayal of Abby Borden as a mean, greedy glutton, more than any other thing, has affected the way most people think of Abby Borden. Sadly it was not an accurate portrayal. Helen did some television in her later career, most notably The Waltons. She died in New York City in 1986. She was married to stage and film actor John Beal who played Dr. Bowen in Legend of Lizzie Borden. They are seen together in the publicity photo below.

    Unspecified – 1975: (L-R) John Beal, Helen Craig appearing in the ABC tv movie ‘The Legend of Lizzie Borden’. (Photo by American Broadcasting Companies via Getty Images)
    In a scene from the film, Abby is found dead on the floor in the guest room.
  • 1892 Mourning, Lizzie Lacked “The Look”

    1891 Mourning Fashions

    There was much tongue-wagging about how Lizzie appeared on the day of Abby and Andrew’s funeral, Saturday, August 6th. She wore a black gown and a “somber bonnet” according to newspapers. The gown was of lace and not actually recommended mourning attire demanded of society in 1892. This did not make a good impression on the throngs waiting outside the door of #92 to see how Lizzie would look.

    During her trial in 1893, her lead attorney, former Gov. George Dexter Robinson would beseech Lizzie to look more grief-stricken and asked her to wear black every day at court. She bought several new black dresses but topped one black hat off with cherry red berries and ribbon. Read more about mourning on our cemetery page, Friends of Oak Grove Cemetery , a companion page to Warps & Wefts.

    https://friendsofoakgrovecemetery.org

    Elizabeth Montgomery as Lizzie, wearing that black hat with cherry red ribbon. Costuming by Guy C. Verhille. The Legend of Lizzie Borden, 1975.

  • Sarah Bertha Gray Whitehead May 13, 1864

    Born on May 13, 1864

    Today marks the birthday of a character often forgotten in the Borden saga but one whom Lizzie and possibly Emma must have resented very much. When Abby Borden’s mother, Sarah Sawyer Gray died, her father Oliver, a tin peddler, married the widow Jane Baker Eldredge in pretty short order. She had two children from her first marriage: Lucy J. and Henry H. There were 25 years between Jane and Oliver. They had one child together, Sarah Bertha Gray, perhaps after Oliver’s first wife (which was a common custom). Bertha was the name of Jane’s mother. By this point Abby Gray Borden and Jane, her stepmother were barely 2 years apart in age. Abby Borden doted on little Sarah Bertha, called “Bertie” by everyone.

    Jane Baker Eldredge Gray in later years

    Bertie worked in a harness factory at age 16 and married George Washington Whitehead ( son of Richard Whitehead of England and Mary J. Marquand) when she was just 18 and George was 22. They married in Fall River on Christmas Day 1882. George was the eldest of 6 boys and one little sister Mabel who died at age 2. He is listed as a laborer. They had 2 children together, Abbie Whitehead (Potter) born in 1884 and George Oliver (after her father) born in 1887. Life would be hard for the Whiteheads and money was always an issue. When Andrew Borden deeded Jane’s half of the Gray homestead over to his wife Abby in 1887, it caused no end of a fallout between Emma and Lizzie and their father. Andrew Borden had to deed over the old family home on Ferry St. to the Borden sisters to restore peace. The girls would sell it back to their father for $5,000 just before the August 4th murders. Lizzie stopped calling Abby “Mother” and the hard feelings and fear Abby would inherit the most at their father’s death became a constant concern.

    The Oliver Gray house on Fourth St. that began all of the trouble

    Bertie and later on Bertie’s daughter Little Abbie Potter never had much good to say about the Borden girls.

    Sarah Bertha reveals a great deal in testimony with prosecutor Hosea Knowlton  :

    Hosea Knowlton:  “Were you on congenial terms with them?”(Lizzie and Emma)

    Sarah B. Whitehead: “Well I don’t know as I was.  I never thought they liked me.”

    Knowlton:  “Not on particularly friendly terms then?”

    Sarah B. Whitehead: “ No, I always felt they thought they were above me.”

    One can only imagine what Bertie thought about Lizzie’s acquittal. Bertie received $1,000 and some of Abby Borden’s personal things after the funeral. Sadness would visit her family on July 7, 1898 when George died of peritonitis leaving Bertie with two children to raise. By 1910 Bertie was living in a rented apartment at 165 Farneth St. In 1912 she had tried a life in New York City for a bit but would come back to her roots and eventually ended up in Swampscott living with her son George and his wife Ellen and her two grandchildren George and Barbara J. They lived at 149 New Ocean St. 9A. Ellen was a nurse from Haverhill and George turned his hand to the printer’s trade. He and Ellen would later move to Providence where George worked for Auto Mutual Insurance company. “Little Abbie” would make a good marriage with a prosperous business man. Bertie made several trips to Canada and passed away in Winnipeg, Manitoba on April 22, 1932. She is buried with her husband in Oak Grove Cemetery near her parents in the Gray family plot.

    There is a cartoon of Bertie in a newspaper during the trial, and photographs of her husband George’s brothers who had very successful careers- but none of George. Abbie Potter gave an interview to Yankee Magazine before she died and there is a photograph of “Little Abbie” as an old lady. There are many descendants of the Whitehead family living today.

  • Lion’s Den Theater Trial Audio

    Not to be missed, the continuing episodes of the Borden trial as recorded by Lion’s Den Theater. Borden scholars will not want to miss these on Youtube. Perfect for listening on a long drive, or just about anywhere, audio lends a whole new dimension to the doings in New Bedford in June of 1893. The playlist includes an introduction, and is at the moment up to day four.

    For more about the non-profit Lion’s Den Theater projects, visit their facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/lionsdentheatre/