Fall River Historical Society
Before the Hatchet Fell
You have to admire the energy and endurance of those Victorian ladies. Even in the sweltering heat of a July afternoon, corseted and wearing layers of clothing, they managed to look crisp and elegant. What’s more is that they managed also to have some fun while looking so well turned out.
It would be hard to believe that a person contemplating cold-blooded murder could have, a week before the crimes, presented such a fun-loving and carefree demeanor. It was common to get out of the big cities in the heat of summer while the men stayed behind laboring and making more money. Abby Borden herself had planned a little Swansea vacation with a lady friend to the Borden farm on Gardner’s Neck Road. If you have ever been, there is always a delightful breeze , good fishing, and beautiful scenery to be enjoyed. Abby’s companion had to cancel and so she contemplated a sojourn with a relative in nearby Warren instead.
Lizzie and Emma also decided to escape the city heat and take the train to New Bedford on July 21st. It must have been a great escape from the daily routine at #92 Second Street. Emma hurried off to Fairhaven to enjoy the cool breezes of Fort Phoenix with its bandstand and shoreline attractions and a long visit to the Brownells on Green St. while Lizzie trotted off to see the Pooles, mother and daughter, at a boarding house on Madison Street. Lizzie had thoughts of diversion in her mind: pleasurable shopping jaunts, chatting with the Pooles who had known Lizzie since girlhood, and thoughts of Marion nearby with its enchantments of fishing piers, beautiful homes, boating and fishing and good friends .
With all of this in mind, you can make a good case that this seems unlikely behavior for a would-be-murderess. Lizzie had a little shopping excursion on July 23rd, perusing dress fabrics and patterns and enjoying the shops of New Bedford. On July 25th a most amiable opportunity for a day trip to Marion presented itself. Lizzie was in the very distinguished company of Rev. Buck’s daughter Alice, Anna and Mary Holmes, Mabel and Louise Remington, Isabelle Fraser, Louise Handy, Annie Bush, Elizabeth Johnson, Mrs. James and Miss Edith Jackson, and Jennie Stowell.
(Converse Point, formerly Blakes Point)
Marion was a little “Newport North”with moorings for yachts, celebrities and artists, politicians and lawyers, doctors and the upper crust of society longing to get away from the heat and crowded cities. Charming cottages and stately waterfront homes dotted the shoreline. Tree-lined streets, a chapel, art studios, delightful quaint eateries and a music hall provided entertainment for the lucky residents and distinguished guests.
Lizzie’s lady friends were busily playing house at Dr. Handy’s cottage and relaxing, Bohemian- style with back hair down and corsets loosened . Lizzie was to join the band of merrymakers on August 8th for jolly hours at the fishing hole and some slapdash housekeeping and high jinx with “the girls”. Each lady had a little job to do which made the domestic chores seem so much more fun. It is said that Lizzie was to tend to chopping kindling for the cook stove and that when told the kitchen kindling hatchet was a “dull thing” remarked that she had a sharp one she would bring that would be just the ticket.
On the 25th of July, Lizzie left the Pooles and was at Blakes Point, which is now Converse Point, for a day trip. Over time, the name has changed to whoever lives on the point at the moment. A very snappy yacht was at the moorings, the MABEL F. SWIFT. She was a trim Fall River craft owned by Charles W. Anthony, and a familiar sight to the Newport Yachting community on regatta days. The Honorable Simeon Borden, the Honorable James Jackson, Holder W. Durfee, William Winslow, and R.W. Bassett were the gentleman aboard. Friends, fun and sun in the bloom of summer were the order of the day.
The next day, Tuesday, July 26th, Lizzie would travel by carriage with Mrs. Poole and her daughter Carrie out to Westport to visit her old childhood friend Augusta Poole who had married and lived in a Victorian farmhouse with husband, Cyrus Tripp. It was a bit of a journey out to the house by carriage and Lizzie spent most of the late morning and afternoon there visiting Augusta. The band of three ladies then departed for New Bedford where Lizzie parted company with the Pooles after a busy few days, taking the train to return home to Fall River.
It was probably a reluctant but dutiful Lizzie who decided to forsake the fun and friends to return home to obligations and household drudgery. Mrs. Borden would want to be going to the farm for a break, and someone needed to be at home to look after Mr. Borden, oversee his meals and well-being. There were minutes to take at one of her many charitable organization meetings and Lizzie was conscientious. But there was the happy prospect of returning soon to the cottage of Dr. Benjamin Handy and the vacationing ladies on a spree with fishing at the pier to come. Dr. Handy was born in Marion and was a surgeon and physician. Later on, Dr. Handy would report a “wild-eyed” man in front of the Borden house on Second St. around 10:30 on the day of the murders. His Marion cottage was much-desired by friends and family as a “getaway” in the summer months.
Thus was the story of Lizzie’s week leading up to the murders. On Tuesday night the Bordens would partake of swordfish steak for supper. The family was ill Tuesday night into the next day. Mrs. Borden was in no state of health to go visiting anyone and on Wednesday morning she crossed the street to see Dr. Bowen and pronounced she was probably poisoned and Mr. Borden was taken sick too. Later on, Dr. Bowen, much-concerned about his neighbors, crossed the street to call on the sickly Bordens only to be rebuffed by Andrew Borden for the house call and its possible expense. Lizzie, perhaps out of embarrassment at her father’s rude behavior, went promptly upstairs and Dr. Bowen went away. Abby suspected there was something wrong with the family store-bought bread as once she heard of someone being taken ill from spoiled cream cakes. Lizzie claimed to be ill herself that Wednesday, never leaving the house and resting in her room. Soon Uncle John would arrive, enjoy a late lunch at the Borden table, rent a carriage and go over the river to Swansea. The scene was set for the horrors to come the next day. Did Lizzie go to Smith’s pharmacy to try to procure Prussic acid from Mr. Bence that day? What was behind Lizzie’s proclamation to Alice Russell that Wednesday evening around 7 p.m. about “something is hanging over me. I am sleeping with one eye open”. What happened to that carefree young woman on vacation in Marion just a few days before? Those are the questions that haunt us. Still.
*References used in this article: Lizzie Borden Past and Present, Leonard Rebello, Al-Zach Press, 1999.
Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River, Michael Martins & Dennis Binette, Fall River Historical Society, 2010.
Photo credits: The Sippican Historical Society, Marion MA., Historic New England, Shelley M. Dziedzic (all rights reserved).
Providence Journal Launches Six-Part Serial for the 120th Anniversary of Lizzie’s Acquittal
A much-anticipated series debuted today in the Sunday Providence Journal. ” Projo” writer Paul Davis certainly did his homework for this six-part article which runs all week and features some new, never-before-published information. The writing is crisp, accurate and thought-provoking and highlights trial coverage from 1893 Providence Journals. Lizziephiles will be over the moon with the expansive coverage. If you cannot obtain a hard copy of the paper, read all about it at the newspaper online link.
A short trailer was put up on Saturday night to heighten anticipation.
A promotional online video is also on the Projo site and Youtube which features Warps and Wefts writer, Shelley Dziedzic who made a tour with Journal reporter Paul Davis in May. The tour encompassed all things “Lizzie” in and around Fall River and a jaunt to the New Bedford courthouse to visit the scene where the 1893 trial unfolded.
Post mortem photographs on display for the first time
The Fall River Historical Society special August-4-Sept 30 exhibit will display, for the first time, the post mortem photographs of Abby and Andrew Borden. Other rare and never-displayed items from the trial and trial lawyers will be on exhibit.
A Weekend with Lizzie Borden Not to Be Missed
For those who cannot get enough of the Borden Case, this will be a four-star weekend featuring the annual dramatization at the house on Second Street ( tickets on sale now at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast) and a VERY special exhibit which opens on August 4th and runs through September 30th at the Fall River Historical Society. For Letterboxers, a special letterbox will be hidden in Fall River to mark the 120th anniversary of the historic crime. Atlasquest.com will have the clue, so bring your stamp and notepad, an inkpad is provided in the box. To see the clue type Fall River, MA in the locator box at the Atlasquest.com site. Got Lizzie? And how!
Busy with Lizzie on a Sunday Afternoon
The house on Second Street had a special weekend guest when horror-thriller actress Brinke Stevens was in town for a premiere of her latest film at Durfee High. Brinke is working on a new Borden-related film project where she will play Abby Borden. Today she visited her “namesake” at Oak Grove and had a whirlwind tour of all Borden sites and sights in the city including Maplecroft, the Fall River Historical Society and the Gray-Whitehead Fourth Street house. She went back to California tonight with plenty of reading material, leaving lots of new friends back in Fall River.
With LeeAnn back at the house
Send for Mr. Walsh!
One very good reason the Borden case has made such a long-lasting impression in the public consciousness for so many decades must surely be the unforgettable crime scene photos of Abby and Andrew Borden. For these we have James A. Walsh to thank for forever capturing the brutal wounds inflicted upon the elderly couple.. Even in black and white, the victims and the grisly scenarios which unfolded that day in 1892 still fascinate and horrify today.
James Walsh was a portrait photographer- one of many with shops on North and South Main Street in the 1890s. It was fashionable to have photographs taken of all family members, individual portraits, groups, youngsters and even infants. Post mortem photographs were also commonly done to preserve one last glimpse of a precious family member recently- departed.
It is unknown just who on the police force decided the Borden homicides were important enough to be carefully photographed but Mr. Walsh and his camera were sent for on the afternoon of August 4th. His home was on nearby Rodman Street and the studio was at 66 South Main, neither very far from the Borden residence on Second Street. The police departments in most cities did not include a crime scene photographer on their payroll. It is doubtful Mr. Walsh could ever imagine that so many years later, those memorable photos would still be carefully studied by so many interested in the case.
The prints online of the crime scenes, interiors and exteriors of #92 Second Street do not do justice to the original prints held in the Fall River Historical Society archives where the details are much clearer and sharper. Unfortunately, by the time Mr. Walsh arrived late in the afternoon, the bodies of both victims had been examined and moved and so the positions seen in the photographs were not exactly as they were following the attacks. Mrs. Borden had been turned over and back at least once, and Mr. Borden’s pockets had been gone through to see if burglary had been a motive. It is even likely that he was arranged in a more decorous manner on the sofa for the photo, befitting his stature in the city. His arm is clearly propped up with a pillow and it is likely his slip-on Congress boots were put back on his feet. It is hard to imagine police forensic work today without the all-important crime scene photos. During the Jack the Ripper investigation, one policeman suggested photographing the victim’s eyes as the last thing seen would still be imprinted on the retina! Those photos have also immortalized the Ripper case.
Cartes de visites (CDVs) or cabinet photos by Walsh are fairly common on Ebay in the 4-5 dollar range and are fun to collect. Often the back of the card is as interesting as the front; Walsh’s were very elegant. Who knows- more photos of the Borden family might still be out there! (scans below W&W archive with thanks to Joseph Soares)
Emma’s summer wardrobe
The following is a copy of a note to a dressmaker, Mrs. Cummings, dated March 23, 1897 from Emma Borden, written at Maplecroft. (Copy courtesy of Mrs. Florence Brigham, Fall River Historical Society)
The little note is a good window into the personality of Emma as being a practical person, religious, and also caring as to the welfare of her friends and those who furnished services for her comfort. Lizzie also concerned herself with the well-being and comfort of servants and staff. The small, neat handwriting is refined and ladylike. By 1897 leg o’ mutton sleeves had grown very big as fashion dictated before disappearing altogether by the turn of the century.
“I received your message last evening and think you are very kind to remember me. I hope to be in the country some this summer so think one dress will be all I need. India or China silk are useful as any thin dress and if you will bring a pattern of something with dark ground,something suitable for church wear and for calling. I will go to see you the middle of the week-I suppose you will be home by that time.
I hope this wind will go down before night that you may have a pleasant and safe passage to New York.
Truly yours, Emma L. Borden “
The “Lizzie News” Round-Up
So much has been happening in the Borden sphere of late that you need a program to keep up. Not all has been happy news, but most has been cause for celebration.
1. The Central Congregational Church: Things are looking grim for Lizzie’s old church on Rock Street with hopes high yet for a reprieve once again. http://www.heraldnews.com/news/x962233671/Fall-Rivers-former-Central-Congregational-faces-wrecking-ball
2. HBO Mini Series The much-anticipated four-hour series starring Chloe Sevigny and backed by Tom Hanks’ Playtone Productions is still simmering on the back burner. Hopefully when Miss Sevigny wraps her latest project, this fresh take on the Borden saga will get cookin’!
3. Donation of Andrew Jennings’ private notes and journal to the Fall River Historical Society was the exciting news this past weekend as the famous “hip bath collection” yielded one more treasure which was turned over to the historical society. http://www.heraldnews.com/news/x1785609188/Handwritten-journals-from-Lizzie-Borden-lawyer-donated-to-FRHS
4. Parallel Lives is recognized at New England Book Fair http://www.heraldnews.com/news/x570348962/Parallel-Lives-book-on-Lizzie-Borden-wins-honorable-mention
5. Coming Soon! Fall River Revisited by Stefani Koorey. Preorder now at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0738576840/ref=tsm_1_fb_lk
6. The Dead Files visit in January to the Borden house should be airing March 16th at 10 p.m. on the Travel Channel. Check the website for schedule and more on hosts, Amy and Steve. http://www.travelchannel.com/tv-shows/the-dead-files
The temps are falling and the long quiet season has arrived. After the excitement of the release of Parallel Lives in November, the Victorian house tour in December and virtually a year’s worth of Lizzie suspense, we’re all looking for January adventures. Many of us are reading the massive volume, Parallel Lives. Down on Second Street, the B&B is only open weekends for overnighters although the day tours continue through the week. The B&B web site has had an overhaul. Re-runs of last year’s paranormal sessions at #92 are in full tilt on television, no update on the Chloe Sevigny HBO mini-series has been released yet, and the historical society is closed for the winter.
“Axed”, two one-act plays has debuted and will be running this month http://www.pressherald.com/life/go/on-the-case_2012-01-05.htm No new ideas here, but a fresh treatment. January is a great time for catching up on our Lizzie reading and some new entries in the historical crime arena. W&W recommends Murder and Mayhem in Essex County by Robert Wilhelm. Murder and mischief was alive and well in Massachusetts long before Miss Lizzie! http://www.murder-in-essex.com/ If the name sounds familiar, Mr. Wilhelm also publishes the popular vintage crime blog, Murder by Gaslight and The National Nightstick, all great reading for the amateur armchair sleuth on a cold winter’s night. http://murderbygasslight.blogspot.com/ and http://www.snakeoilgraphics.com/NightStick/ Stay tuned for reviews. Here’s wishing you a cozy January by the fire and a good wallow in crimes of the Past.
Victorian House Christmas Tour
A Red Letter Day in Fall River
Christmas came early this year for those who enjoy Fall River history and have an interest in the Borden case and the enigmatic Miss Lizzie. Parallel Lives was released this morning to the public. By 11: 30 a.m. a long line snaked its way down the pavement toward Maple Street and there was a feeling of restless expectation in the air as the noon hour approached. . A man came around the corner bearing two copies of the coveted tome as heads swiveled to catch a glimpse. A spontaneous outburst of appreciation went up from the crowd followed by many comments as to the SIZE of the massive tome.
No preview copies were released for reviewing to anyone, so it was with enormous excitement today’s release was anticipated. Beginning on Friday, the benefactors of the publication enjoyed a special gathering, followed by Saturday night’s annual Christmas Open House for members, and capping off an extraordinary weekend with today’s public release of the book, viewing of a special exhibit of materials featured in the book (cards, letters, gifts Lizzie presented to friends, etc.) and a tour of the Christmas decorations, always an annual treat.
The authors held court in the front parlor at a beautifully decorated table with a red rose Christmas arrangement, signing autographs and having photographs taken with visitors. On the lawn, on the stairs, and anywhere one could sit, people clutched their volume, looking eagerly through the pages. From all corners came appreciative little shrieks of excitement as never-before-seen photos were discovered, especially those showing Lizzie herself. Even those who vowed not to ruin the surprise until they could sit at leisure soon gave way to overwhelming curiosity and were soon leafing furiously through the pages. Some had driven hours to pick up their copies.
It would be presumptuous to attempt any sort of review of this major work until the whole was digested, therefore the Warps & Wefts review will be forthcoming in the near future. Suffice it to say, Parallel Lives is as plummy a Christmas pudding as anyone could ever wish for, chock full of juicy morsels, delicious facts and photos, fascinating history, surprises and many hours of enthralled reading. To reveal too much would be to ruin your own Christmas surprise- so-
Just spring to your sleigh, to your team give a whistle,
To Rock Street fly like the down of a thistle.
Parallel Lives is the gift sure to please, so take heed,
Happy holidays to all, and to all a good read!
Come and Get It!
Put on your best bonnet and race to the corner of Rock and Maple Streets on Sunday, November 20th between noon and 3 p.m
Have your copy of Parallel Lives autographed. Pre-ordered your copy? Not to worry, pick it up Sunday at the Fall River Historical Society Book Signing! Don’t let your friends beat you to the punch! 1000 pages and over 500 photos. You just may have to take your vacation next week! Come back over the holidays to see a very special exhibit of ephemera and other items discovered while researching for the book: notes, cards, letters and more from Lizzie’s own hand. Who could ask for anything more?
Coming July 19th- A Guide to Oak Grove
Just in time for Lizzie’s birthday: the guide to Borden-related graves in Oak Grove Cemetery. The booklet contains maps, biographies of people connected with the case who are buried at Oak Grove, three walking tours with maps of how to locate both minor and major personalities in the Borden story, a history of the cemetery, fun facts and trivia, who is NOT buried at Oak Grove connected to the Borden case, and articles on the Victorian celebration of death, symbolism on funerary statuary and much more! Designed in a black and white “Edward Goreyesque” style, the publication will go on sale July 19th. Pricing and outlets which will stock the guide will be finalized and announced here on July 15th.
She’s Back for August!
In addition to anticipating the upcoming release of the historical society’s Parallel Lives, August will welcome a new play about the famous case. The Herald News reports:
A new play, “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe,” depicting the well known Lizzie Borden case will be staged in Fall River for the 119th anniversary of the hatchet murders of Andrew and Abby Borden.
There will be two performances on Aug. 5 and 6 at the Nagle Auditorium at B.M.C. Durfee High School by the Covey Theatre Company of Syracuse, N.Y.
Fresh from winning two Syracuse Area Live Theatre awards for Best Original Play and Best Costumes, as well as the Gloria Peter Playwright competition from Aurora, NY, “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe” left critics enthralled and Bordenophiles raving.
“Lizzie Borden Took an Axe” will be staged Friday and Saturday, Aug. 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling 315-420-3729 or online at” www.thecoveytheatrecompany.com.
Read more: http://www.heraldnews.com/archive/x2108614302/-Lizzie-Borden-Took-an-Axe-to-be-staged-at-Durfee-High-School#ixzz1QatgYTzn
The annual costumed recreation of August 4th will take place as usual at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast on the 4th, which this year, will be a Thursday, just as it was in 1892.
Plenty of Lizzie on the way for August!
Today Show visits Second Street
The Borden house is hosting guests from the TODAY show this afternoon. The filming, which was to have taken place last Wednesday, was postponed until today. The segment is slated to air sometime in May. The crew will be filming at the house, with an interview by Barbara Borden Morrissey and will then relocate to the Fall River Historical Society to film case artifacts and to discuss the upcoming Parallel Lives. The crew picked a beautiful day to be in the city, with high temps and plenty of sunshine.
The Buzz is Global on HBO project
Chances are if you Goggle Lizzie Borden under the “News” heading, you will find several pages of stories on the Chloe Sevigny HBO project for a four hour mini-series, including stories in Polish, French, Russian and Italian! And if you live in Connecticut, Rhode Island or Massachusetts, tonight at 6 p.m., Channel 10 news jumped on the promotion band wagon. With all of the very positive buzz and excitement, it is hard to believe Tom Hanks and Playtone would change their mind about producing the four -hour series. To view the Channel 10 clip, http://www2.turnto10.com/entertainment/2011/mar/17/sevigny-may-play-lizzie-borden-miniseries-ar-426649/
The casting of Miss Sevigny as Lizzie is spot-on. She has all the right physical attributes, right down to the mesmerizing and unsettling eyes, and is of the right age to pull it off. She is also a better-than-good actress. It will be very interesting to see who will be cast in the major roles. Maybe Uncle John Morse will be included this time around.
Due to street noise and the encroachment of modern living, and many other factors, the house on Second Street will not be a likely candidate for the filming venue. The 1975 Elizabeth Montgomery attempt did a pretty fair job of recreating Borden house interiors on stage sets.
There are very high hopes in Fall River, among the Borden house bed and breakfast employees, and students of the Borden case and Fall River history that this version will get the facts right and do the story justice. Playtone and Hanks are synonymous with quality productions, so the end result holds very great promise. It is surprising that it has taken so long to revisit the case and Lizzie Borden as the topic has been building momentum and interest since the Borden house opened for business in 1996.
The buzz about the upcoming Fall River Historical Society’s Parallel Lives, detailing Lizzie’s life and Fall River has been the hot topic around Fall River for many months as it promises revelations about Miss Borden which will open a few eyes. The date of publication has not yet been announced but the long-awaited tome is in final proofing and chances are it will be published by late Spring. The nearly thousand -page volume will feature over 500 photographs, including some new views of Lizzie herself, and will disspell some commonly -held notions about her. It will be a must-read for Miss Sevigny and should have some major impact on her characterization of the enigmatic Lizzie. The series will probably have an early 2012 air date according to some sources.
In any event, Lizzie is bigger now than ever, and the upcoming series will be a boon to the city as well as book sales of Parallel Lives. It will be a very exciting year ahead.
Debut of cover art for Parallel Lives
Today the Fall River Historical Society has released the working cover art for its long-awaited volume, Parallel Lives, a history of Lizzie Borden’s Fall River. The cover features an expanded view of the famous “pansy brooch” portrait of Lizzie, with her dress tinted in a rich shade of burgundy and was designed by Charles S. Medeiros of Burnt Toast Graphics. It is a rare treat to see colorized photographs of the well-known black and white images so familiar to students of the Borden case. The rich hue used for the dust jacket is one which perfectly reflects Victoriana. Lizzie truly comes to life. The photograph in black and white featured in the background is of the wedding day of the William Lawton Slade Braytons, June 18, 1913.
For all the latest on publication date, follow the historical society online at http://www.lizzieborden.org/ParallelLives.html and on Facebook. The volume is currently in final revision with a publication date soon to come- and not a minute too soon for the many eager enthusiasts and historians who are eager for the new photographs of the Bordens and more than 500 photographs in all.
Mysteries at the Museum presents the hatchet
Tonight the popular Travel Channel program, Mysteries at the Museum, which features unusual artifacts from around the country, presented a segment on the handle-less hatchet found in the Borden cellar. The segment filmed at the Fall River Historical Society and the house on Second Street and showed excellent close-up footage of the hatchet head and break on the handle stub. The seven-minute portion was well-done and worth a look. It airs again tomorrow, December 1st at 3 p.m.