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.
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.