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.
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.
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.
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/
When digital cameras and cell phone cameras became available to all, many visitors at the house on Second Street were surprised to see what appears to be the face of a man with beard which appeared over the wash kettle in the cellar on the chimney wall. Many think what appears bears an uncanny resemblance to Andrew J. Borden. What do you think?
With the advent of AI imaging now found on My Heritage and elsewhere, and free programs which will colorize old photographs, clearer details are being revealed every day. In this famous crime scene photograph of Abby Borden, the bed was removed so that Mr. Walsh, the hired photographer, could get a full body view of Abby Borden. With new techniques in cleaning up old photos, colorizing them and sharpening the details, now the sewing machine in the northwest corner of the room comes into sharper view as well as the tapestry folding camp chair. The two perfume bottles on the dresser, a vase and a framed photo can be readily seen as well as Mr. Walsh’s camera in the mirror as it stands in the doorway.
The colorizing method also tinted the carpet maroon, which indeed was the color of the carpet in the guest room. But most astonishing is the dark pool of bloodstain around the head of Abby Borden which, with amplifying the contrast, shows very plainly. The bureau wood tone and burled wood panels appear clearly as well as the drawer pulls. The pattern on the carpet is somewhat distorted and elongated but the pattern is very plain to see. You can even see where the carpet has been patched in against the right wall.
The sewing machine still has its cover in place which would hint at Abby never living long enough to run up those pillowcases and you can see her sewing basket on the bureau opened up. The folding camp chair has been moved from above her head, leaning against the wall to its position in this photo. Abby Borden herself was moved at least once before this photo was taken, Dr. Bowen having turned her over after the body was found around 11:35 a.m.
This is a sample of a 1890 Singer machine with the cover which closely matches the one we see in this photo.
It was not uncommon to find a Victorian man married several times. A great- uncle of Lizzie’s married four times. Many women died in childbirth or complications after or during pregnancy. Andrew Borden himself was a stepchild as was Abby Durfee Gray Borden. Her father, a local tinsmith, blacksmith and peddler first married Sarah Sawyer, having two daughters, Abby Durfee Gray (Borden) and Priscilla Gray (Fish). When Sarah died in 1860, Oliver remarried a young widow quickly, a Mrs. Jane Baker Eldredge, who was 25 years younger than her new husband. Step-daughter Abby was only about 2 years younger than her new step-mother. Jane and her first husband had 2 children together, a son Henry H. Eldredge, and a daughter, Lucy J. Eldredge (Cahoon). Jane had lost her first husband, Obed Eldredge to the sea in 1857.
Oliver and Jane had one child together Sarah Bertha (Bertie) Gray (Whitehead) who was fifteen years younger than her stepbrother Henry. Oliver Gray died August 8, 1878 at age 77.
After Oliver died, Jane took in a boarder, Elijah Cahoon, a carpenter/cabinetmaker who would marry her daughter Lucy. That couple had two daughters, Jenny and Minnie and had the care of Jane in her old age. Jane would live to be just a couple of days short of 90.
One wonders how Abby got along with her stepmother who was young enough to be her sister. The house on Fourth St. (now Spring St. after it was moved) is not a large house and Bertie, her husband George Whitehead, Little Abbie and young Georgie all crowded in at one point together with Jane. Abby Borden would dote on Bertie and later on, her daughter Little Abbie, but was no doubt delighted to receive the marriage proposal from Andrew Borden in 1865 and have what she though would be a home of her own. Lizzie and Emma had something to say about that. The Gray- Whitehead house would cause no end of trouble when Andrew decided to give Abby the 1500 dollars needed to buy out Jane’s portion of the Gray house and lot. Andrew neglected to let his daughters in on this plan and Emma took her father to task for not compensating his own flesh and blood in equal share. Andrew then gave his daughters the old Ferry St. homestead to smooth over the situation. The girls would sell back this home to their father just before the murders in August, 1892, for $5,000 . The girls split the money.
It seems, in the end, Jane Gray fared better than any of them. She lived to a ripe old age, cared for by her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters. One has to wonder what she thought about the events of August 4, 1892. Jane and Bertie always tried to visit Abby on Second St. when Lizzie and Emma were gone as they were roundly snubbed by the Borden “girls”. Family dynamics can be brutal.
1863 At the bedside of the dying Sarah Borden begins the story of the future Lizzie Borden. “Promise you will always look after little Lizzie, Emma”.
1892 “She is not my mother- she is my stepmother.
“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity. It dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path. ~Agatha Christie
Mother’s Day is May 9th! Sarah Anthony Morse Borden, mother of three, and Abby Durfee Gray Borden, despised stepmother and childless. How sad would be the end for both women.
Sometimes it’s hard to think of Lizzie Borden as just another little girl, innocent, unknown, just a school girl with her whole life ahead of her. Here she is posing happily, with no clue what the future would bring, and never giving a thought to being remembered a century later.
While some are happy that the house on Second Street will continue to operate as it has done since it opened for day tours and as a B&B, others are worried that the new owner will boost the popular paranormal focus on the historic home and leave history in the dust.
With the craze for the paranormal and supernatural over the past decade, just about every paranormal television program has made a stop at the Borden house in search of Lizzie or the ghosts of Abby and Andrew hoping to get the inside scoop on whodunnit. Seances, paranormal teams, ghost cams, and other ghost hunting equipment are nothing new to the house where two grisly murders took place. Although the B&B did not begin with this sort of focus back in 1996, over the years it has become a destination for otherworldly pursuits. Can history and ghosts live comfortably side by side? Both day and evening tour guides give the historical background on the murder case as they escort the curious through the 1845 home. What happens after dark is up to the overnight guests as many enjoy bringing their equipment and staying up all night to see what or who may show up! Borden case historians and case purists are standing by to see how it all will work out. One thing is for sure- interest in Lizzie Borden and the enduring mystery of what happened on August 4, 1892 will be around for a long, long time.
Old Fall River made much of this special day. There was a very large Irish community in the city and Lizzie’s neighbor, Dr. Michael Kelly was the organizer of the annual St. Paddy’s Day parade. It is said that every Irish politician passing through the city soon found his feet under the table of Caroline and Michael Kelly .
Many would like to spend an hour or so interviewing Alice Russell, former neighbor and friend of Lizzie and Emma. Alice had to work to support herself and her widowed mother. It was a very different life from that which Lizzie lived. For about a decade Alice and her mother had rooms in the house next door which would become the Kelly house. The Kellys moved in sometime in 1891, bought the entire house for home and patient calls, and Alice moved down to Borden St. Alice was closer to Emma’s age than Lizzie’s and had opportunity to know the family well. Alice was the first person Lizzie thought to send for when the body of her father was found. Alice was the person asked to stay for a few days during the funeral planning. Alice saw Lizzie burn a dress the morning after the funerals. Alice was the one to whom Lizzie confided that Andrew had an enemy and “something is hanging over me- something might happen”. Alice’s testimony about the dress would bring down an indictment in December 1892. Alice is a big player in the Borden case. Sadly we have one known photo of her as an elderly lady at the Adams House retirement home. It is not a very good photo and was used first on the cover of the Lizzie Borden Quarterly and more recently in PARALLEL LIVES with a wider shot of the room at Adams House. This portion of the photograph was carefully restored by HGF Grafix before putting into the animation software and gives some idea of what Alice looked like in old age. She wears glasses and the image is not perfect but we get an idea. Oh, the questions we could ask her!
Thanks to the magic of AI animation from My Heritage, personalities from the Borden case can now come to life. Colorization and animation add so much to a still black and white photograph. See many more animations at our Facebook address. Click on the link above to see Lizzie’s old friend, Augusta Poole Tripp. Augusta had a visit at her home in Westport from Lizzie on July 26th, about a week before the murders.
Surprising news broke tonight of the listing for sale of the popular bed & breakfast, open as a business for day tours and overnights since 1996. The listing details will be posted tomorrow morning with Century 21 as real estate agency. Visit the link below for more information.
Colorization can sometimes add another whole dimension to vintage black and white photos. We’ve done this one of the crime scene which makes you feel that this could be today and you are in the room. That may be the sheet used to cover Andrew to the right, just over the top of the rocking chair. There is a small table there with books and a straw boater hat on it- looks like the sheet is tossed on top the table in this photo. Mr. James Walsh, a local portrait photographer, hired by the police department, began photographing the crime scene around 3:30 in the afternoon. You will note the presence of a man standing far to the right, by the kitchen door. That man is likely a policeman, there are several possible candidates for who he might be.
You may recall that the Borden neighbor to the north, Addie Churchill, on the morning of the murder had just returned from a trip to Hudner’s meat market on South Main St. She would observe Bridget running up and down the driveway and the flurry of excitement near the Borden side door from her kitchen window. Addie called out to Lizzie who replied, “Do come over Mrs. Churchill, someone has killed Father.” The rest we know, but who were the Hudners? They were of Irish descent and had done well in the city of Fall River, by 1892, owning a chain of fine meat and provision markets in the city. Here is an excerpt about the Hudners. A small sign saying “Hudner” can still be found on the building on Old Second Street.
There are so many questions and things to ponder when considering the Borden case in its entirety, but let’s just think about August 4th until just a few days prior to the Inquest. Inquiring minds want to know:
- Lizzie was alone in the house at the time of Abby’s murder and saw no other person coming in or going out of the house although she was in the kitchen by the side door most of the time. Bridget was outside washing windows. There are witnesses who saw her washing them.
- Bridget came in to fetch supplies and says the screen door was open and did not say she saw Lizzie in the kitchen. Where was Lizzie?
- Bridget will say that Lizzie laughed softly from the top of the stairs when she let Mr. Borden in the front door. Bridget will forget all about that 10 months later.
- Lizzie sees her father when he comes home around 10:45, and tells him Abby had a note and was gone out which stops him from looking for her. No note is ever found or the writer of the note. Lizzie suggests Bridget might want to go up to North Main St. to a dress goods sale. Bridget declines and goes up to the third floor to lie down. Lizzie is again alone downstairs with Andrew.
- Lizzie has admitted to the girls in Marion that she has a sharp hatchet she will bring with her Monday on her fishing trip. Her job will be chopping kindling for the stove.
- Lizzie claims to be in the hayloft at the time Andrew is murdered. She has to be out of the house. There is a dead body on the second floor, the dead body of Andrew on the first floor and Bridget is on the third floor napping with both other rooms locked up there. Lizzie gives different reasons for being in the loft and the length of time she says she is up there does not fit the timeline.
- Lizzie is in control of the alarm-sounding. Bridget is sent out of the house to fetch help, Lizzie never makes a move to get out of the house where a killer could be lurking. She has time to hide a weapon and tidy up before Mrs. Churchill makes a brief appearance and hurries off to get help.
- Lizzie goes upstairs after the body of Abby is found and changes into a pink and white striped wrapper and spends the day upstairs, frequently left alone. She will make two trips to the cellar that night. One is with Alice Russell, a friend staying in the house to help, who tags along, the other right after Alice goes to her room and she can return to the cellar alone.
- On August 6th she is told by the mayor that she is a suspect, late in the day after the funerals. On the morning of August 7th, alone in the kitchen for the moment, she tears up and burns a dress in the stove but is discovered by Alice Russell who walks in and Emma who steps out of the sink room to see what is happening. Where had that dress been the day of the search?
- Officer Medley, Edson, Desmond and others go back to the Borden house at 10 a.m. Monday, August 8th to resume looking in the cellar. Medley finds a handless hatchet with a short stub of freshly broken handle . It appears to have been recently washed and is coated with dust. Nobody saw this on the main search of the house Saturday.
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).