Nance O’Neil’s Ghostly Guest
It is know that on at least one occasion, Lizzie Borden was part of a house party thrown by her new friend Nance O’Neil which went on for a full week. Most likely Lizzie was told all about the ghost which frequented the halls of Nance’s estate. This article mentions that Nance sold the estate because it was haunted. It is more likely that she sold it because she lived quite above her income and was forever plagued by creditors- but the ghost story is a good one for this time of the year.
The Lowell Sun, February, 1907- Excerpts
“Only a few days ago the spook appeared before Nance O’Neil, the actress, who was on a visit to her old home, Tyngsboro Manor, before leaving for Europe. The sudden appearance of the ghost drove Miss O’Neil into such a state of excitement that she fled from the house.
Miss O’Neil lived in Tyngsboro Manor three years. During this time she asserts that she saw the ghost twice, that it touched her and brushed past her at least five times, and that she was frequently awakened from her sleep by raps upon the walls of her chamber and the head of her bed, or by the attempts of unseen hands to remove the coverings of the bed.
This ghost, according to those who claim to have seen it, has the form and nature of a beautiful young woman. She is described as wearing the garb of a century ago, her dress being pure white. Her face is pale, her features regular, and her raven black hair flows unbraided below her shoulders. Sometimes she is surrounded by a phosphorescent glow, while at other times she appears as an ordinary human being.
Not only is it declared that she appeared before people, but several residents of the town state that she spoke to strangers, and upon one occasion took in a belated woman traveller who was caught in a storm, provided supper for her, showed her the bed chamber, and then went outside and put up the horse, after which she disappeared.
Then came Nance O’Neil’s experience with the ghost. In 1904 the actress bought the 150 acre estate and its three-storey colonial house, barn, farmhouse and other buildings. This house was built by the husband of Jonathan Tyng’s granddaughter.
The first time she entered it she felt a draft of air and a chill pierced her like a knife.
“From the moment I started to live in at the manor I was uncomfortable,” says Miss O’Neil in telling of her experience. “I felt oppressed and could not explain what the matter was, I was in good health.”
“I began to hear strange knocks and then groans and other weird noises. At night the walls of my bedroom and the head of my bed resounded with unexplainable rappings. I became convinced that the place was haunted.”
“Finally came my most terrible experience. I saw the ghost. Coming out of one of the rooms on the first floor, I turned to ascend the stairway. Looking up, I saw at the top the figure of a young woman with long, unbraided glossy hair. The sight froze me in my tracks. I tried to shout but could not. Overcome with weakness, I sank on the stairway. When I looked up the figure was gone.”
Guests of Miss O’Neil frequently complained of strange noises in their rooms. Several of them claim to have seen the white-draped wraith and Miss O’Neil became so nervous that she sold the place. Returning to it the other day to sort out business affairs with townspeople, she claims that the figure appeared to her again. She is said to have become hysterical and to have fled from the house. At present the house is untenanted but it will be occupied soon by the Sisters of Notre Dame of Lowell, who are planning to build a school upon the estate.”
Back to Jail
The Preliminary is over and Judge Blaisdell makes his finding: “The long examination is now concluded, and there remains but for the magistrate to perform what he believes to be his duty. It would be a pleasure for him, and he would doubtless receive much sympathy if he could say ‘Lizzie, I judge you probably not guilty. You may go home.’ But upon the character of the evidence presented through the witnesses who have been so closely and thoroughly examined, there is but one thing to be done. Suppose for a single moment a man was standing there. He was found close by that guest chamber which, to Mrs. Borden, was a chamber of death. Suppose a man had been found in the vicinity of Mr. Borden; was the first to find the body, and the only account he could give of himself was the unreasonable one that he was out in the barn looking for sinkers; then he was out in the yard; then he was out for something else; would there be any question in the minds of men what should be done with such a man?” So there is only one thing to do, painful as it may be—the judgment of the Court is that you are probably guilty, and you are ordered committed to await the action of the Superior Court.”
Lizzie is Arrested
In late afternoon on August 11, 1892 Lizzie heard the news that she would be heading to Taunton Jail. The newspapers reported that she became nauseous and was sick when she realized how her life would change forever. For a little time police officials were worried that Lizzie had provided herself with a possible way out in a desperate attempt at suicide, unable to face what was ahead. Having heard the testimony about Prussic acid, instantly there was a fear Lizzie herself had “taken something”. As it turns out, the shock and anguish set off a normal reaction. Lizzie was searched by Matron Russell later. What a horrific night of stress Lizzie had ahead. Meanwhile, in the holding tomb at Oak Grove, the headless bodies of Abby and Andrew Borden lay after the autopsy that morning.
“Nature could stand no more. She was seized with a violent attack of nausea. The kindly matrons were quick to do all possible for her relief but the sudden illness so alarmed them that they sent word to the marshal. The thought of poison flashed instantly in their minds. They knew of the story of Lizzie’s attempts to buy a deadly drug and of the theory that she desired it for suicidal purposes in case of her arrest. They feared that she had accomplished her purpose, but it is thought impossible that such an attempt will be made. Nature had given way, that was all.”
Lizzie was searched by Mrs. Russell to make sure there was no poison concealed on her person with which she might end her own life.
A pathetic scene is described as Lizzie realized to the full extent what will happen to her life going forward. In this newspaper description, she presents a sympathetic figure in the black lace dress she had worn to the funeral only a few days before..
Remembering the Victims
Andrew Jackson Borden & Abby Durfee Gray Borden
Rest in Peace
The End of the Morgan St. School
Farewell to the Morgan St. School
The N. B. Borden School was built in 1868 and on August 5, 2021, it fell victim to the wrecker’s ball. Many people tried to save the graceful old structure. Built on a granite foundation and made to last, it served Fall River’s children for so many decades- but the efforts to rescue the school were all in vain. The character of the city of Fall River has taken another hit as one by one, the architecture and tradition of the city’s history crumbles. Not all buildings should be saved. Not all can be saved. This one was an exception. Lizzie Borden was a student here once. There were so many possibilities for re-purposing the building. Now it will become a restaurant parking lot. It was gone from sight and history in eight hours.
What Lizzie Borden Wore
This video will give you a good idea of how Lizzie got dressed every morning. We know a great deal about her clothing right down to her black tie Oxford shoes. This video shows the lady in a combination undergarment which turned the chemise and drawers into something like a “onesie” that babies wear today. There were still women who preferred their crotchless knickers and long chemise with corset over it and then a corset cover on top of that. The little “bum pad” was not meant to be a bustle- by 1892, the second bustle period which was ridiculous to the point of a small dog being able to perch on one’s backside was long gone. This bum pad was to smooth out and support the line and back weight of a demi train or heavy fabric. Actually this young lady in the video does not put on a corset cover which is why you see a ridge of the corset top under her blouse. Picture Lizzie doing this every day in summer! In winter there were even more warm knitted garments to put on.
In the Legend of Lizzie Borden, Elizabeth committed the murders in the nude. Considering all the clothing shown in this video which a lady of 1892 would have worn, it is hard for us today to imagine oneself having the flexibility of movement to have carried out a crime in such an outfit. One saving grace was the wide-bottomed skirt, sometimes called a “morning glory” as it had anywhere from 3 to 7 gores allowing for a wide, roomy expanse at the bottom of the skirt for walking and running and movement in general. The dress Lizzie would burn in the stove was actually a blouse (basque or waist) and a skirt made of the same fabric, giving it the appearance of a dress. The famous blue bengaline which Lizzie handed over to the police as the dress she wore on the day of the murders was actually a Navy blue blouse and silk Bengaline skirt. These she handed over with a petticoat, black stockings and tie Oxford shoes. She said she had washed the stockings. There are many interesting facts to consider when examining all of the textiles in this case. If only a skirt and blouse needs to be removed and replaced with a different skirt and blouse, it can be done in about two minutes.
The Rocky Point FRPD Excursion
Imagine just how much the officers at the Fall River Police Department were looking forward to their annual picnic and excursion to Rocky Point on August 4th. Some of the men took shifts so the fellows with children could make a day of it. What a good thing Marshal Hilliard decided to stay down at the station! These are a few postcards of old Rocky Point from the early 1910s – and the YouTube documentary below is the award-winning history video of Rhode Island’s famous amusement park. The early history through the 1890s is covered from mark 4:00 to mark 19:00 but the entire video is fascinating. The park closed November 7, 1994.
Lizzie comes home
July 26, 1892 – Lizzie has had a busy vacation visiting the Pooles, going on a day trip to Marion, shopping in New Bedford, but now duty calls and she must return to Fall River on the late afternoon train. There are obligations to meet, minutes to take at the upcoming meeting, and Emma is still in Fairhaven and will be no help at home. So back to the steamy city she goes, thinking wistfully of the good times, social chitchat and cool breezes she has left behind her. The next time she gets on and off a train- it will be to Taunton Jail!
Tea & Murder Welcomes Robert Wilhelm
As the anniversary of the Borden murders approaches, Kimbra Eberly and I are looking forward to our third Tea & Murder crowdcast on Facebook Live at 7 p.m. August 1st. Please join us as we have a look at nineteenth century lady poisoners, Prussic acid and Eli Bence, the widespread use of arsenic, or “inheritance powder” as it was called, and revisit some famous cases such as Amy Archer Gilligan, Jane Toppan and Mary Ann Cotton. We are delighted to welcome author and historian, Robert Wilhelm who has written all about sensational murders of the nineteenth century.
You will enjoy spending time perusing Robert Wilhelm’s facebook pages and blogs including Murder by Gaslight http://www.murderbygaslight.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MurByGaslight At the moment there is a special free downloadable copy of MURDER ILLUSTRATED being offered to subscribers of Murder by Gaslight!
A link will be posted here for you to join us LIVE on August 1st at 7 p.m. The link will be posted prior to broadcast. Mr. Wilhelm’s books are available on Amazon.
Lizzie’s Jury – Dining out on their “15 Minutes of Fame”
After the acquittal was turned in by 12 good men and true in short order on June 20, 1893, Lizzie returned to Fall River and her champions returned to regular, unremarkable lives once more. It’s hard to know if anything as exciting as the Trial of the Century ever happened to these men again in their lifetimes. After sitting for a dignified portrait, which they presented to Lizzie as a souvenir and remembrance (one would think she would prefer to forget it), the gentlemen decided to re-live past glories by holding an annual luncheon for themselves at the famous Revere House Hotel and Restaurant on Bowdoin Square in Boston. The Revere House was an upper crust establishment, frequented by Boston’s notables and boasted superb chefs and impressive menus, catering to society’s special needs.
It would be interesting to have eavesdropped on the conversation at their table at these annual assemblies. Did they drink a toast to Lizzie or share reminiscences of their moments in the national spotlight? The Revere House Restaurant and Hotel was built in 1847, beginning as the former residence of a prosperous Boston merchant and burned in January, 1912 in an horrific fire which killed twelve people. It is not certain just how long Lizzie’s jury met annually or if, after the fire they relocated to another fine eatery to mark the occasion of her acquittal and their part in history.
Lizbeth: A Victorian Nightmare
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.
Lizzie Was Not a Redhead
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!
Donations to the Animal Welfare League of Fall River
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.
June 1, 1927
What’s new at #92?
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.
Maple leaves at Maplecroft
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!
Alone and Forsaken
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.