When Borden scholars say “Porter book” we are referring to the highly coveted original Edwin H. Porter’s “The Fall River Tragedy” published right after Lizzie Borden’s Trial in 1893. Advance subscriptions were sold and the book was purchased and read by many Fall River notables at that time.
The rarity of the book has been written about many times, including myself on this blog which can be read HERE.
In all the years I’ve been interested in this case (about 40 now) and in all my pursuits of acquisitions of the Porter book (I own 4 at this writing and have handled over two dozen), I’ve never encountered such a story as this one. I have no reason to question the veracity of the writer, in fact, I believe her. Stranger things have happened. Out of the blue I received the below email and, with her permission, I share this with you.
From: shelly [mailto:.com]
Sent: Thursday, April 15, 2010 5:38 PM
Subject: Porter Book
Dear Ms. Musselman,
My name is Shelly and I live in Petersburg , Illinois . Almost 18 years ago, while tooling around in my high school library, I came across a book about Lizzie Borden. Intrigued, I remember reading the whole book in one sitting….lol….Needless to say, the book was interesting enough to hold a teenager’s attention. Although I don’t remember the title, Lizzie’s story has stayed with me all of these years. As a single mother of a teenager now, I recently decided to return to college to finish my degree. I was given a research project in a persuasive form to write in my composition class and of course Lizzie came to mind. I have been doing quite a lot of research on Lizzie, amateur of course, (very unlike yours).
Anyway, back to my point, Petersburg is a very small town of around 2000 and it is where Abe Lincoln’s New Salem is located. The town library is extremely small, but they are a part of a library system that borrow books from each other. I was reading Brown’s book and it mentioned Edwin Porter’s book and the story behind it. I went to our small library and asked them to see if they could borrow an Edwin Porter book that was published in 1893. The University of Illinois not only had one, but loaned it to me, through the mail!! What was even more interesting was that there was an owner’s name card in the front of the book that was as old as the book itself. The name read Bert Wentworth in type, but then in hand print, it read Dover , N.H. After doing some more research….(google).lol…I found that during 1893 he was actually the commissioner of Dover at the time and went on to co-author one of the first books about fingerprinting and forensics. I, of course, called the University to try to explain what the book was so maybe they would not mail it out again to just anyone, but the librarian named Melanie told me that she was sure that there were dozens of Bert Wentworths and that it probably wasn’t the same one….lol….she ended the call right after she asked me not to tell anyone. I did tell her I would be interested in knowing how the University received possession of the book but I havent heard back from her.
I just thought you might find that interesting. I love your website and I was very envious when I read your “About Me” page. I love history and research, especially “treasure hunts”, so the fact that you get to do that is incredible. It is my dream one day to be in your shoes, (so to speak..lol)!!
I would live to read The Knowlton Papers and Mr. Rebella’s book, “Past and Present” although I would not necessarily have to have a hard copy. (I would love it, but single mom.) I am especially wanting to see the “confessional letter”, I’m pretty sure I read that it was sent to Mr. Knowlton.?. Also, I was hoping you would know what became of the sofa that Andrew was murdered on, that they had reupholstered. Did they continue to use it?..(ick)…..where did it end up? Also if Ms. Leighton received Lizzie’s jewelry, where is it all now? Private collections? Museum? I would very much appreciate any information you would be willing to share and please let me know if I might be able to purchase a digital copy of either one of those books. Thanks so much for your wonderful website, too!!
From: Faye Musselman <email@example.com>
To: shelly >
Sent: Fri, April 16, 2010 7:03:26 PM
Subject: RE: Porter Book
Hi Shelley. That was quite an interesting story about the original Porter, if indeed it was rather than the facsimile which Bob Flynn did. Exactly the same.
You’d probably like my Research & Reference CD ROM (check out the “Collectibles” page on my blog). I sell them for $25.00 and they are content RICH! Even include’s Porter’s book, as well as others, in Word format.
I haven’t heard of any “confessional” letter….Lizzie never confessed to any of it. But she may have made statements to her attorney Robinson that would offer new insights. Alas, that’s not available.
I have Rebello’s book (600 plus pages) and The Knowlton Papers, both OOP…would sell to you if you like = $200 each. Must have for serious Lizzie collectors. That’s about half of what you’d find it for elsewhere. Of course we are all looking forward to the Fall River Historical Society’s “Parallel Lives” that promises to have new information.
Good luck on your paper and thank you again for writing.
May I have your permission to post this email on my blogsite to share the Porter story?
From: shelly [mailto:.com]
Sent: Friday, April 16, 2010 6:41 PM
To: Faye Musselman
Subject: Re: Porter Book
It was an original Porter, it was extemely fragile and I was actually afraid to turn the pages for fear they would fall out. I showed it to my professor at school who suggested I drive it back to the University instead of sending it back through the library to ensure it’s safety. I would not mind if you posted my email if you removed my last name and email address. “Bert” was actually born George Herbert Wentworth (1857-1938) and went by Bert, that’s why I found it funny when the librarian suggested that there were probably countless Bert Wentworths living in Dover during 1893………lol. The confessional letter was not written by Lizzie, but by an anonymous writer and sent throught the mail. I believe I saw it on one of the A&E videos. Did you happen to know what became of the reupholstered sofa? I am going to have to definately order your CD ROM! Thanks, Shelly
So there you have it. Wild, eh? Do you suppose that was a “volunteer” librarian? LOL. Just how did the library get that particular copy? Imagine doing a Minnie Green (inside reference) at a state library and asking “Do you have any books on the Lizzie Borden case?” and the librarian hands you an original Porter. Gulp. I know there are many copies of this book at several universities but I am astounded to think they would mail any such “rare” book out on an inter-library loan.
And let’s give a group round of applause to “Shelly” for not calling the library and saying she lost the book. Hopefully, they keep it off the public floor and secured in a back room for reference only.
If you don’t have this book, you can read it online HERE.