Friday, October 16, 2015

Forty Whacks: A Visit To The Lizzie Borden House

Lizzie Borden is Fall River's most famous resident, and let that one sink in for a second.

Marshfield's most famous resident is Daniel Webster. The village of Monponsett has the "Kilroy was here" guy. Ruth Wakefield rules Whiman's history for inventing the Toll House Cookie. Frances Ford Seymour was Henry Fonda's wife, Jane Fonda's mother, and a Fairhaven High School graduate.

Myles Standish (or perhaps Joe Perry) is the most famous person from my hometown of Duxbury. He killed more people than any Borden did, but he also had a job where killing was sort of expected of him.

Lizzie Borden, if you believe the Hype, did her dirt by her lonesome, and pretty much for personal reasons. She didn't use the typical Angel Of Death poisoning motif, no. She got her hands dirty.

Lizzie Borden is famous for the alleged axe murders of her parents. It is a crime that has transcended time, and even has a nursery rhyme attached to it.

Seeing as Fall River became famous as the town with the worst crime rate in Massachusetts, with a pile of different nationalities killing/assaulting/raping each other, it's kind of funny that the tone was set by a blue-blood white girl from that era when everyone walked around all herky-jerky like a Charlie Chaplin film or Babe Ruth highlights.

Fall River has always been a little bit ugly ever since.

Special rates for serial killers and patricide proponents...

It all started on a nice street in Fall River, directly across from a brand-spankin' new St. Anne's church.

Kids will be kids, and Lizzie was just like lots of spoiled rich ones. Lizzie and her sister had a rich father (Andrew) and a new stepmother. There were some money issues with the miser father, and the kids hated the stepmother, Abby. Lizzie referred to her stepmom as "Mrs. Borden."

At 9 AM on 8/4/1892, everyone was all right. By 11 or so, the Borden sisters were orphaned.

Abby got done up first. Her attacker was facing her, and hit her right in the face with an axe. She fell, the attacker pinned her down, and Abby took 18 more axe shots to the back of the head. Andrew, who was sleeping, took 11 shots, including one that split his eye.

The murders were remarkably brutal and bloody, although the "forty whacks" thing is an embellishment. Of course, when you're talking "axe wounds to the dome," the numbers are merely academic and matter only to coroners and nursery rhyme writers. Very few people are going to say "Bah, she only took 19 axe strikes to the head, not 40. What a lightweight!"


It looked just like that, except it was more bloody, less blurry, and Chloe Sevigny wasn't there. No, I don't know what Chloe was doing in Fall River. She has been linked romantically to Duxbury philanthropist Stephen Bowden before, but we can find no confirmation of that story and it may be apocryphal.

Lizzie looked shady almost right away. A maid put her upstairs with the stepmom's body at the time of her murder. Lizzie found her father's body, perhaps by looking under her axe. This was 122 years before that crime scene investigator show with LL Cool J, so forensic investigation was piss-poor during this time- despite this being an era when Sherlock Holmes was popular.

Lizzie was too calm, gave the 5-0 many contradictory answers, and she was caught burning a dress on the stove after the murders. She was shown to have been seeking to purchase poison before the murders. The attorney trying her later sat on the US Supreme Court, but Lizzie handled him, too.

About 100 years before the term "OJ jury" was coined to describe a dozen stupid jurors, Lizzie Borden found an OJ jury. As guilty as Lizzie looked, there was little forensic evidence standing against her. She was acquitted of the murders, after the jury had deliberated for only 90 minutes.

"Yeah, I'm a backdoor mannnnnn..."

Fall River wanted nothing to do with her, even after she was Not Guiltied. She bought a new house, changed her name to Lizbeth and set about spending her share of Daddys loot (Andrew Borden was worth whatever 7 million dollars was worth back then). She threw lavish parties that many contemporary celebrities attended.

The Lizzard may have even snagged herself some celebrity skin, as rumors of an affair between her and actress Nance O'Neill still get kicked around. There are some interesting letters between the two, although NON went strictly dickly with her 1916 marriage. Borden lived and died as a spinster, albeit a well-off one.

Lesbian or not, I bet Nance slept with one eye open at the Maplecroft house that Borden moved to after the trial.

Other than a shoplifting incident that didn't result in an arrest, Borden lived the rest of her life quietly. She patronized the arts, left a fortune for the Animal Rescue League, and didn't, say, hack anyone (else) to death with an axe.

A black cat... crossing our path... at Lizzie Borden's House... on October 13th

Lizzie got a nursery rhyme ascribed to her for the rest of History. I was unaware of there being more than one version, but there seem to be three.

From Wikipedia

Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.


Lizzie Borden took an axe
Gave her mother forty whacks,
Then she hid behind the door,
And gave her father forty more.


Lizzie Borden took an axe
and gave her mother forty whacks,
when the job was finally done
gave her father forty one

Remember, kids... Mom got 18 or 19, Dad got 11. Even combined, no one got 40 whacks... except the lady who runs the B&B there now, of course....

She is very rarely tailgated, even in Rhodey.

Lizzie got pneumonia, and died in like 1921 or something. Plenty of good seats were left at her funeral. She was buried next to her estranged sister.

She was a force of nature, a murderess during a time when women were supposed to be timid. She was a wealthy woman, but ostracized by the local well-to-do. She was a patron of the arts, a lover of animals, and only Paul Bunyan- maybe- is more famous for swinging an axe.

Some of the better theories:

- Fugue State Lizzie, who was Miss Borden operating under a Dissociative Disorder featuring reversible amnesia.

- Lesbian Lizzie, caught in the act by Stepmomma while slappin' hips with Bridget Sullivan. Stepmom was less than understanding, so Lizzie brained her with the first heavy item she found, and then finished her off with an axe. She confessed this crime to Dad, who also reacted in an axe-worthy manner.

- Perfectly Reasonable Lizzie, daughter of a miser millionaire who refused to put indoor plumbing into the house.

- Sullivan, the Borden's maid, confessed to helping Lizzie by changing her testimony. Sullivan is also listed as a suspect. She married a man later, so she was bisexual at best and abused help at worst in this scenario.

- William Borden, an illegitimate son, may have killed him after an extortion bid failed.

- Emma Borden, Lizzie's sister, kills for the same cash Lizzie scored. She established an alibi in Fairhaven, snuck back into Fall River at just the time when both parents were napping, killed both parents, and then galloped back to Fairhaven ahead of the telegram man with the bad news. Emma inherited a pile o' money after the deaths, and scrutiny fell upon her more oddball sister.

- John Morse, Lizzie's uncle. An infrequent guest at best, he arrived in town one night before the murders.

- A guy named "Manny."

- OK, I just made Manny up.

Bad Axe, Michigan deserves a franchise, as does the lesser known town of Patricide, Utah.

Lizzie is long gone, but you can still check out her spot. The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast is just the place to take Mom and Dad when you see the nursing home bills. Hell, bring your disaffected goth teen daughter, she might get into History.

They also have tours. As the sign says, they run from 11 AM to 3 PM. I think it was $17 to get in, I may have it confused with nearby Battleship Cove, which I was also too cheap to pay for.

I went to the Cove back when I was teaching, with a bunch of my ghetto landlubber kids. It does rule, but it doesn't fit into this story, so we'll come back to it later.

Battle Cove is part of Free Family Fun Days or whatever that program we wrote about is. We'll check it out then. Two adult admissions to Battleship Cove would be worth more than Cranberry County Magazine is currently worth, although we may rally between now and Thanksgiving.

I don't think that the Lizzie Borden B&B is part of the Free Family Fun Days.

Of course we looked for ghosts. The B&B is rumored to be haunted, and it does have an eerie vibe about it. A lot of blood spilled in that house, and they even have the horror-movie-requisite scary ass daughter.

The Borden website does have Ghost Cams, but I was already on the grounds. Granted, I was too cheap to go in, and I don't work for the newspaper that my only press pass is from anymore.

So, being 6'5" or so, I just walked by the rooms, stretched out my big geek arm, and fired a few shots into whatever windows I could reach. I was hoping to sneak up on the ghosts.

Yeah, it worked about as well as you'd think it would. Don't say that I didn't try. I just didn't try for $34 worth.

Nothing to see here, let's move along...

The scene of a double axe murder is a funny place to put a B&B. I wonder what else is out there? Is there a Jeffrey Dahmer Steak House in Wisconsin? Maybe there's a Lane Staley Apothecary or a Christopher Reeve horse-racing track?

Come to think of it... not too far to the North, there's a city getting a lot of tourist money out of the fact that a bunch of near-primates slaughtered every sketchy person in town in a witch hunt.

I think Salem got 19 bodies, but our Lizzie did her dirt by her lonesome... always impressive. The first two are always the hardest.

We bought a coffee mug. I try not to disappoint people like the Bordens. I don't even like to disappoint the people who own the house now. I'm a bury-the-hatchet type, if you'll pardon the pun.

It may have been done before my time, but why is there not a Lizzie Borden movie?

Chloe Sevigny or however she spells that could play Lizzie. She can at least find the house. If she did play Lizzie, I'd go heavy on the Bridget Sullivan angle.

Hey, it's two murders, pretty much one after the other. We'll get a little Johnny Cochran or maybe Atticus Finch in the court scenes, but we need Action. Chloe and Bridget type action. This isn't 12 Angry Men we're talking about, folks.

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