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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Lizzie was, however, entirely responsible for this!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.