• Before the Hatchet Fell

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    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.

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    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 .

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    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)

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    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.

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    (Marion waterfront)

    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.

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     Dr. Handy’s cottage (original home photo courtesy of the Sippican Historical Society)

    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.

     

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    The Mabel F. Swift (Courtesy Historic New England)

    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.

    (The home of Mrs. Augusta Poole Tripp, Westport)

     


    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.

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    Dr. Seabury Bowen

    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.

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    *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).

  • Bertha Manchester- that other hatchet job. . .

    The hatchet killing which happened just before Lizzie’d trial began and which was referred to in the Lifetime movie this past weekend was the Bertha Manchester crime- which thankfully was solved. Care was taken that Lizzie’s jurors did not learn about this case as it would seem to suggest a killer was still on the loose in Fall River with a hatchet. Bertha Manchester is also buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50B17F7345B1A738DDDAC0894DE405B8385F0D3

  • Looks like more of the same

    There’s always a silent hope among Borden case fans, when a new Lizzie film is announced, that somebody might get it right this time.  Most know that sticking to the thrilling TRUE story of the crime will not be enough for Hollywood.  Box office is the prime motivator, sad but true.  Too bad that the “suits” feel they must dumb down the real deal and offer schlock that follows a tried and true formula.  Audiences are underestimated.  Even diehard “cheesy horror fans”  deserve first class special effects, good casting and costuming and a decent script.  There are surely elements in the Borden saga that would work very well for the horror movie genre, put in the hands of capable horror-thriller writers.  Sadly none of these writers have been brought on board and the newest schlock-shocker in the arena, Lizzie The Movie, promises to be no improvement on the last endeavors, Curse of Lizzie Borden and  Prom Night.

    The trailer has been released, and pretty much says it all.  Nothing new here.  The web site and blog are still in development but have a little information to check out.  Gary Busey and Corbin Bernsen are the “names” to draw the audience.  Busey has had some brilliant onscreen moments, and Bernsen has good acting chops on TV and some big screen.  Actors have bills to pay- that must be the reason for taking on the role in this latest Lizzie flick. 

    Someday, somebody will get over using black and red, hatchets, dripping blood, and other cliche tricks and see the real potential of the Borden case.  Hold out hopes for the proposed Chloe Sevigny-Tom Hanks project.  Maybe NEXT time. . . .

    Lizzie: The Movie trailer at http://lizziethemovie.com/

  • Taking a Whack at Lizzie

    This year the August 4th production at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast will debut a new leading lady.  She is no stranger to the part.  The photos here are taken from an episode filmed last summer for the Travel Channel.  Kathleen Troost-Cramer, day manager at the famous B&B in Fall River, may be remembered for performances in years past as Irish maid, Bridget Sullivan.  This year, having gotten in a few practice whacks with a hatchet, Kathleen is ready to take on the legendary Lizzie Borden, probably the most difficult role of the lot as expectations are so varied and anticipated by the sold-out crowd which assembles every year on the 4th to re-live the Borden tale of mystery.

    Mild-mannered mother of two, and Bible scholar, this role is quite a stretch, but anyone who has been “under the hatchet”to Kathleen can testify- she means business!

    Congratulations and “break-a-leg” to Kathleen as we wait to see her unique spin on the unforgettable Lizzie Borden!

    First performance on August 4th at 10:30 a.m., last performance at 3:30 p.m.

  • Oddity in the Borden Kitchen

    Many visitors at the Borden house are delighted to capture video and photos of peculiar phenomena while on tour or spending the night. In the photo above, it is clear that the glass door knob and brass lock above it are merely smears, perhaps from motion of the camera while the picture is being taken.  Even the round “orb” at the top center might be explained as dust or moisture.  What is very odd, however, is the appearance of a wooden handle which seems to appear springing from  the middle of the door.  Do you see anything peculiar in this photo which was taken August 4, 2010? Maybe the missing hatchet handle is making an appearance at last!

     

  • Lizzie Borden Cupcakes are a winner

      Cupcakes have been a trendy foodie item recently.  After the TV success of shows such as Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, and now Cupcake Wars, it was only a matter of time before Lizzie made it to the cupcake competition.  Iron Cupcake, an organization which celebrates the miniature morsels and hosts themed cupcake bake-off contests, has cupcake affiliate chapters all over.  In October of this year, the Toronto branch had a Halloween competition. The entries were creative and tasty, and the competition was fierce,but in the end it was the Lizzie Borden display which won. The photo of the winning display below is from the “Cake Bites” web blog of Gabriella Caruso who was a competitor in the Halloween challenge. http://cakebitess.blogspot.com/2010/10/iron-cupcake-toronto-halloween.html

    The white chocolate hatchet is spectacular and the cupcake shown on the ribbon and lace bedecked round platter in the background has a small skull on the top.  Monica Law was the creator.

    For more on the competition, read an article about the contestants and entries at the link below.

    http://news.nationalpost.com/2010/11/27/bake-off-brawling-at-the-iron-cupcake-competition/

  • W&W’s Top 10 Borden Case Errors

     

    Axe or hatchet?  –  Most likely a hatchet or a short-handled axe.

    Top Ten List of Most Often-Quoted  Borden Case Errors

     

     1. Lizzie was found guilty by jury of the murders of her mother and father.

    Actually Lizzie was acquitted on all three counts, the murder of her father, her stepmother and both at the trial in New Bedford, June 1893.

     2. Lizzie Borden was a redhead.

    According to her passport she had light brown hair.

     3.  Lizzie’s father cut off the heads of  Lizzie’s pet pigeons with a hatchet.

    Andrew Borden did kill the pigeons, but by wringing their necks, according to Lizzie’s inquest statement.

     4.  Lizzie decapitated Abby Borden’s tabby kitten.

    We have only the interview of Abby Borden’s niece, Abbie Whitehead Potter stating that Lizzie killed a kitten. The Whitehead family, with reason, had very little sympathy towards Lizzie, and this tale cannot be validated.

     5.  Lizzie Borden was a big, mannish woman.

    Lizzie was 5 ft. 3 inches tall according to her passport, average for the times.  She had put on weight during the ten months she was incarcerated in Taunton jail. Her face did have a heavy lower jaw and was described by one newspaper as a face with attributes very common to the region.

     6.  Lizzie and her sister sold the house where the murders took place on Second Street after Lizzie was acquitted in 1893.

    The sisters held on to the property until 1918.

     7. Lizzie was a kleptomaniac.

     Legend has it that she shoplifted at local Main St. stores and that the bill for what she had pilfered would be sent to her father to pay.  Shoplifting was surprisingly not uncommon among ladies of the period. There is no documentation at present in existence  that Lizzie was a kleptomaniac and that Andrew paid the bills.  The only corroborating bit of evidence is of a documented thievery of a porcelain wall ornament which went “missing” from the Tilden and Thurber jewelry  store in Providence.  When the item was taken back to the store for a repair, the owner was questioned about its provenance only to be told Lizzie Borden had been the gift giver. This matter was eventually settled privately. It is possible that Lizzie was a shoplifter in younger years, but not proven so.

     8. Andrew Borden was a mortician.

     Andrew Borden was trained as a carpenter and then went into business as a furniture and household goods retailer.  He invested wisely in real estate, including two small farms, all of which would bring him a good financial return, and as a sideline, he was an undertaker.  Undertaker in 1890 parlance meant a person who would supply items needed for a funeral.  He was neither a funeral director, embalmer, nor mortician. An invoice has been found for his services and for a casket, signed by Borden.  It was not uncommon for furniture retailers to supply wooden coffins and caskets and have a showroom or warehouse facility containing these items.

     9. Lizzie committed the two murders in the nude. 

     Thanks to the 1975 film starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Lizzie, the nude murderess scenario has its supporters.  In 1890, the thought was put forth that the killer must be saturated with blood, and it should have been impossible to hide or escape without the telltale blood evidence being detected.  In fact, the killer need not have been covered from head to toe with blood, or could have worn, then later destroyed a protective covering garment. It would be unusual for a lady  in the era of corsets and petticoats to have stripped bare twice on a sunny morning and walked around the house in broad daylight , then to clean up in between in a large tin basin in the cellar. Not impossible- just unlikely.

    10. Lizzie Borden killed her stepmother and father.

    So often assumed as fact ,  –  in fact, nobody will ever have the final answer to this one. Based on the evidence given to the jury then, and in re-examinations of the trial evidence now, Lizzie is acquitted. Her inquest testimony, prussic acid evidence, and dress-burning evidence were not allowed at the trial.  The fact that a side door remained open for almost an hour, and that an intruder could have entered the house and concealed himself, allows for reasonable doubt.  And therein lies the fascination with this case.

    Got a favorite oft-quoted but unsubstantiated Borden case statement to share?  Please leave a comment!

  • 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.

  • Lizzie’s Hatchet is one artist’s inspiration

     

    River’s Edge Library in North Jersey is the venue for a unique art exhibit running through the end of the month.  Works by the artist are inspired primarily by fictional things such as the Mad Hatter’s teacup, arranged as an artistic “artifact” to give a feeling of reality to a literary character.  Lizzie’s hatchet is one of the two items which draws upon reality for its inspiration.

    ‘”Arcanifacts” is a collection of 21 works taken from a larger project River Edge resident Scot Ryersson began in 2007. Ryersson said he invented the term from the Latin words arcanus (secret) and factum (thing made) to describe an artifact containing both mystery and truth.”

    For more about the exhibit visit http://www.northjersey.com/news/105409913_Exhibit_inspired_by_fictional_characters.html

    No, the statue above is not Lizzie Borden- but she is to be found in Massachusetts- in the town of Haverhill at GAR Park.  Her name is Hannah Duston and her fame commenced in 1697 after an incident with a local Native American tribe.  Hannah’s statue is said to be the first erected to a woman in America.  For more about this grisly and bloody true story, visit this very informative and entertaining New England folklore blog.

    http://newenglandfolklore.blogspot.com/2010/04/hannah-duston-heroine-of-haverhill-part.html

  • Lizzie Borden is Halloween’s New Pin-Up Girl

    As Halloween draws nearer every year, there seem to be more and more “Lizzie sightings”.  Whether in haunted corn mazes, horror theme attractions, Halloween costumes or a proliferation of Lizzie Borden-based plays- the little gal with the hatchet is everywhere from August right through to All Saints Day!

    The Discovery Channel has set the Ghost Lab show of the investigation of the Borden house for Oct 25th, with a preview on the 19th. The Travel Channel repeated its look at America’s Most Terrifying Places again this past weekend, Nance O’Neil is coming to a close this weekend in Manhattan and coming soon- a new play, Lizzie Borden Took An Axe, by Garrett Heater will be the debut production of a brand new theatre group.

    http://blog.syracuse.com/entertainment/2010/10/new_theater_company_stages_ori.html

    Stay tuned for all-new Lizzie & Family productions coming this Fall on the Discovery channel, a landmark book on Fall River and Lizzie coming from the Fall River Historical Society, and the Borden case documentary shot by Ric Rebelo this past spring will be airing Saturday, October 30th at 7pm on Rhode Island PBS– the day before Halloween.  And Sunday night, the 31st,  is ALWAYS a special night at #92 Second Street and is sold out a year in advance!

  • Hatchets in the news today

    Hatchets:  Not just a Victorian weapon of choice.

    Elderly fruit vendor in Melbourne http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/man-jailed-for-killing-wife-of-50-years/story-e6frf7jx-1225914909320

    Australia:  76-yr-old man is sentenced in wife killing, 36 blows to the head

    http://manningham-leader.whereilive.com.au/news/story/keen-to-go-back-home/

    Breaking news in Nebraska:  Angela Mann’s murder trial http://www.ketv.com/r/25194981/detail.html

    Iowa’s Lucas Faulkner hatchet murder trial -Iowa http://www.kimt.com/content/localnews/story/Wright-County-Murder-Trial-Delayed/gnml05_swUqRun0BHzVWug.cspx

    California Death Row inmate Kevin Cooper waits for execution in 30 year old case  of four 1983  hatchet slayings http://www.redlandsdailyfacts.com/news/ci_16191554

    San Diego– Border Patrol agent Rivera on 10 million dollar bail awaiting trial for hatchet attack http://colorlines.com/archives/2010/09/as_border_patrol_expands_so_do_reports_of_misconduct.html

    Texas man wanted hatchet in homeless man slaying http://lubbockonline.com/crime-and-courts/2010-09-15/grand-jury-indicts-confessed-killer-homeless-stabbing