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.
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)
Referred to in old city documents as the City Tomb, the strange structure built into a hill at Oak Grove Cemetery near the entrance is more recently called the holding tomb. There are two similar structures in the cemetery, the other being only slightly east of the Borden-Almy plot. The purpose of these tombs was to provide a place in winter where coffins could be stored until the ground thawed enough for a grave to be dug. There were also other circumstances when a coffin could not be immediately buried, either because of a dispute as to plot ownership, police matters which might require further investigation, or a delayed burial for legal reasons. Early regulations going back to 1856 define time limits for how long a body was allowed to remain in the holding tomb, the shortest of ten days being in the summer months. Except by order of the mayor, the deceased was required to be a citizen of Fall River to be held in the City Tomb.
Today the holding tomb contains gasoline for the lawn equipment and is locked, its former use no longer required. The descent into the holding bays is steep. There are four bays on each side of the underground vault, each capable of holding three coffins on tiered shelves inside the bays.
Notably, Andrew and Abby Borden spent a week awaiting their full autopsy (done on August 11th in the Ladies’ Comfort Station near the front gate) inside the structure with heads intact, and nearly another week, thanks to Dr. Dolan, with heads removed in the holding tomb before burial at last in the family plot. Even in hot weather, the temperature deep inside the holding tomb remains very cool.
Chances are that if you were to Google or Bing “Andrew Borden,” most of the photos under IMAGES will be of Lizzie Borden. The accused is more famous than the victim. Andrew Borden has taken a pretty hard rap over the decades, and has been charged with some foul things from incest to extreme frugality. A visitor to the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum once declared, “He deserved what he got!” Sadly, very little of what is commonly bandied about as the truth about Andrew Borden and his family relations is true. People will believe what they want to believe or what they see on television “reality shows” which are made purely to titillate and entertain, but seldom educate.
Thanks to PARALLEL LIVES, we now know that there existed a warm and affectionate feeling between Lizzie and her father. We have known for many years that he died with Lizzie’s little gold ring on his hand. We also know that to placate his daughters after the real estate transaction deeding the Fourth Street house over to Abby Borden, Andrew settled the Ferry Street house on Emma and Lizzie and what’s more, he bought it back from them for cash in July 1892 when it became too much for them to manage.
The house on Second Street had city water, central heating, wall-to-wall carpeting, and a toilet in the cellar. Things were not so bleak and dreadful as many have promoted over the years and were a lot more luxurious than many in the city lived in 1892- and Andrew Borden was not the monster so many have portrayed.
Father’s Day did not become an official U.S. holiday until 1972 although the idea was tried out in 1910 without much success. Andrew never celebrated Father’s Day, nor did Lizzie and Emma make little cards and gifts on the third Sunday in June. But fathers in Victorian times, as the cross stitch sampler above will testify, were venerated at the hearth as head of the family and the final arbiter in all matters. There is little doubt Lizzie and Emma had a great respect for their father. Parenting is the hardest job of all.
And, if you believe Lizzie was guilty of the crime- well, Andrew Borden probably should have spent more time inspecting that window for Mr. Clegg and should have arrived home MUCH later- it might have all had a different ending. . . .
Happy Father’s Day Andrew Borden- wherever you may be.
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.
The Jefferson Borden 1875
One thrilling scenario made the rounds of who-dunnit in the newspapers after the grisly remains of Abby and Andrew Borden were discovered – one or more savage sailors slithered into the Borden home and extracted revenge for Andrew Borden’s testimony against them involving a mutiny at sea! It was juicy stuff to be sure, and the Jefferson Borden did exist (at one point the article references the Richard Borden as being the schooner)- the only difficulty was that Abby and Andrew Borden were not on board- and the mutineers were not free at the time of the murders. Still, it makes for a dramatic story.