Fall River remains one of those cities best viewed from a distance. Up close her blemishes neither beckon nor embrace. Lizzie Borden, on the other hand, forever beckons, blemishes and all.
From a historical perspective, Fall River is as associated with Lizzie Borden as Dallas is to the JFK assassination. Both horrific and shocking events, both forever embedded in American history.
The Lizzie Borden story is not just about a 32 year old spinster who wielded a hatchet, (let me repeat that – HATCHET) on a highly humid August 4th day, but is a case about class structure in a stratified society with the poor deferring to the power and control of the founding families. It is the incredulity of the circumstances of such a heinous crime in broad daylight with suspicion of a Borden – and the younger daughter at that – which gives this Victorian patricide its compelling and enduring mystique. It is a case that was so out of the bounds of reference for local law enforcement and the public’s imagination in general that weaves into the tapestry of Fall River’s history.
To Fall River residents who are little charmed or largely exasperated by the “Lizzie Borden” association to their city, like it or not this case has legs – and has for 117 years. Like it or not dozens of books on the Borden case, hundreds of dedicated chapters in compendium books, numerous plays, an opera, a ballet, musicals, documentaries, a made for TV film, thousands of websites, blogs and YouTube uploads have continued to feed the hungered curious.
Morphed into the popular culture this mystifying maiden has had her face and form replicated into Goth dolls, bobble heads, woodcuts, miniature die caste game pieces, original “Lizzie art” offered on eBay, CafePress, Itsy, and more. These all serve as the cemented footprint that this case is destined for durability and forever associated with Fall River.
It is a case that gets discovered by every succeeding generation of those who have an interest in true crime, specifically unsolved true crime. In all the world and in all the world’s issues, conflicts and topics be they political, social, environmental – cumulative scholarly interest in the Borden case is but a small niche. A mere pimple upon the landscape of life’s Bigger Issues. But for pockets of society drawn to classic unsolved murders and readers of true crime this case endures, spawning new devotees with each successive decade. Indeed, of all classic unsolved true crimes two names emerge unchallenged with worldwide recognition: Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper. So like it or not Fall Riverites – Lizzie Borden is there to stay.
People flock to Fall River just because of Lizzie Borden. And more often than Fall River’s office of tourism would like, only because of Lizzie. Whether a weekend or just a day long visit they want to see four things and four things only:
They travel cross-country and beyond just to stay at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum. Few bother ascertaining what else Fall River has to offer and once arrived, they might have except for their disappointment in the look and feel of Fall River today. More than a century passed its prime, the tawdry downtown and surrounding neighborhoods reflect a city ridden with crime and long without sustainable economic development.
Yet, Lizzie’s home town still has more to offer than just “Lizzie”. Visitors can drive through “the Highlands” and see one of the greatest concentrations of Victorian homes in the country, Battleship Cove, the Martime Museum, the Fall River Historical Society (if you’re lucky enough to be there when they’re open), music and art at The Narrows, the mills and factories – though most standing silent and unoccupied – as testaments to Fall River’s once grand and thriving past. Then there’s the incredible food, beautiful vistas, and some wonderful people – 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation blue collar working class people. But alas, too often for too long these have been bypassed by those drawn to the Borden sites.
Long after more iconic structures have been torn down, long after we have crystals embedded in our foreheads, long after communication requires neither digits nor the digital, humankind’s interest in Lizzie Borden will endure.
Whether on her back looking upwards or above looking down, surely she chuckles; the knowledge of “who dunnit” hers and hers alone.