Julian Ralph – The Sun Reporter & Lizzie

19 Oct

Photo from eBay auction

Julian Ralph was a reporter with The Sun newspaper in 1893 and covered the Lizzie Borden trial.  He wrote on the proceedings with a bent favorable to Lizzie and was invited to the small reception Mrs. Charles Holmes gave at her Pine Street home the evening of the acquittal.  About two weeks after Lizzie and Emma purchased their home on French Street, he wrote this follow-up article.  He does not say he took tea with her or was invited to their new home.   He most likely had been sent by his editor to do a follow-up because “Lizzie Borden” was still a hot topic, but if he had made contact with her for an interview, he didn’t get it.  Wish that he had!  Instead, the article reads like a reporter getting his sources from other newspaper reports and talking to those who wished not to be identified.   He avoids expressing the general sentiment that the people of Fall River, particularly those of Lizzie’s own peers, had already pretty much figured Lizzie had done the deed and gotten away with it.

“New York Sun
24 September 1893


She And Her Sister Have Come Into Their Money.

Neither One Has Put on Mourning Garments- Escape from Public Scrutiny During a Visit to Newport- Nerves of Steel.

If Lizzie Borden ever tried to live so as to satisfy her critics, she has given it up as a hopeless task. They found no end of fault with her as long as she lived in the old house on Second street, Fall River, where the murders were committed, and now that she has moved into another dwelling in a better part of the city they say that she has come into the money of her murdered parents and is making it fly. Among the sensational stuff that has been published about her recently is the news that she refuses to wear mourning and goes tearing through the streets in a buggy beside her sister Emma in a very light dress while Emma dresses in deep mourning. The fact is that she has on two occasions hired a livery team and gone out for a ride, her own and only horse being busied by the work on the farm, beyond the city limits. She has, indeed, worn a light gown- one of the old ones that the detectives pulled over as they hung in the girls’ closet in the old house after the murder. But Emma has not accompanied her in deep or any other kind of mourning, for the simple reason that neither of these original and interesting women believes in wearing mourning. They did not go to the burial of the elder Bordens in that attire. They did not wear mourning in court when Lizzie was tried for the murders. Lizzie wore a crepe dress part of the time, but had a purple feather in her hat. The rest of the time she wore her black lace dress, with the same hat- but, according to the rulings of fashion, lace would not have been considered mourning, even had the hat been different. Miss Emma Borden has recently had a new dress made, the first notable purchase of the kind made by either of the women since the murder. Their neighbors watch them pretty closely, and know all that they do. This new gown is decidedly not mourning. The feminine readers of The Sun will know what sort of a dress it is when they are told that the name of its stuff sounds like “shallee de lane.” It is black with a green figure in it. The light gown that Lizzie is criticized for wearing is a light drab with blue threads in it. The neighbors- both the friendly and the unfriendly- say that the testimony at the murder trial created a false impression as to the way the Borden girls dressed. They never made any show, but always dressed very well indeed, in clothes of good material and plenty of them. They had their own means, in money and mill stocks, and they made good use of them, paying as high as $10 a yard for trimmings, each wearing silks, and each possessing an elegant sealskin jacket. Both always had their shoes made to order.

There is equal misconception, not as to how they lived, but as to the style of their home. The parlor was newly and stylishly furnished for the use of the young women, and the rest of the house was set with substantial but not new furniture. All through, the carpets were of the best. Any one may judge the style of the appointments from the fact that the girls have moved the material bodily into their new home in French street, on the hill. There will not be much to call the stepmother to mind in the new house, as Miss Emma gave all Mrs. Borden’s things to that lady’s sister, Mrs. Fish of Hartford. This is the elder sister. Mrs. Whitehead, the younger one, who lives in Fall River, is yet almost a girl, and would have found less use for them. But in the new house in the select residence part of the town the young women will live as they never were able to live in their old home, because their former home had practically none of the modern improvements. The old couple were satisfied without them, and the girls were far more anxious to leave that neighborhood of stores and tenements than to have the old house modernized. They moved into their new home, with its modern lighting and plumbing arrangements two weeks ago last Thursday, and immediately the workmen whom they employed took possession of the old house and began to make it fit for rental.

It would scarcely be thought that any one would be found who would wish to live in that house of horrors, but the women have already had applicants for it and can easily keep it rented. They will only rent to persons suitable to the neighborhood, that is to say, satisfactory to their old neighbors with whom they lived twenty years. Those neighbors have had an unenviable time since the murders. There is never a day that sightseers do not linger around the old house staring at it as if, by watching, they may be able to solve the mystery it once enveloped. Usually they stare at the right house, easily picking it out because of the barn behind it, but once in a while a man or a woman will stand for half a day studying the wrong house and the people who go in and out of it. The neighbors who own their homes do not criticize the Borden women for moving away. They would do so if they could. When they moved there the street was like a pretty residence street in Brooklyn, with blooming dooryards and tree-lined curbs. Now it is just such another street as Varick street in this city- a medley of business and tenement buildings. It turns out that the elder Bordens wanted to move away, and would have done so ere this had they lived. They waited for Mr. Borden to find just what he wanted in a better part of town. He had looked at the old Mason house on Main street and at one other. The other residents, of the older set, are remaining there in the belief that when business gets firmly entrenched in the street the property will fetch high prices.

It was rumored that the Borden sisters were going to turn their old home into a storehouse and office building, but it is more profitable to rent it as it is. Its recent history is of interest. Emma did not live alone there at any time. Her uncle Morse stayed some months and the hired woman and the farmer man afterward lived with her there. While her sister was in duress in Taunton Emma visited her during two days in every week. She never was as solitary there as Lizzie often was, for that young woman at one time made it a practice to stay alone in the big house while Mr. and Mrs. Borden and Emma spent the hottest weeks at the farm. This she did until Emma decided that it was not right and that she should remain with her. After that only the old folks went away. When Lizzie was discharged by the court and came back there to live she seemed to bear no grudges against those who had been obliged to testify during the trial. With the exception of Miss Russell, her old companion, all the friends were taken up again. Miss Russell is the girl who told about the burning of the Bedford cord dress. She is much to be pitied, for she was rudely dealt with in the Massachusetts press at the time, although she only told the truth, and yet she suffered an agony of mind because she had not done so at first and because she feared she might harm her old friend. She was so nervous on the witness stand that, as she said afterward, she could not have told her own age if she had been asked.

One other incident in the old house was the visit of Bridget Sullivan, who was the family servant at the time of the murders. She called on the day that Lizzie reached home. It was a short call, and has never been repeated.

Very much that is utter nonsense has been published about the fortunes that the sisters have come into. The “fortune” of the stepmother consisted of about $1,700 in cash and half of a tenement of the value of, possibly, $2,000. This property the Borden girls gave to the sisters of their stepmother, Mrs. Fish and Mrs. Whitehead. It will be remembered that this tenement was referred to in the testimony at the murder trial. Mr. Borden had given the property to Mrs. Borden, and as it was apparently to the advantage of Mrs. Borden’s relatives, the sisters were vexed with their father and his wife, but particularly with her. It was after this that Lizzie ceased to address Mrs. Borden as “mother.” Emma had never called her anything but Abby. It is not true that the sisters of Mrs. Borden threatened to sue for more than has been given to them, or for any part of the estate. The method of the murderer of the old couple rid them of all title as heirs, because it was proven that Mrs. Borden was murdered first. Her property, therefore, went to his heirs, and, when he was murdered next, his property went to his daughters. Mrs. Borden’s sisters had this explained to them, and had no intention to bring suit for a share in the estate. The gift to them of their dead sister’s little belongings was an unforced kindness on the part of the Borden girls. They have taken their father’s estate, which is commonly spoken of as the value of $400,000. It is probably less than that, but is of a nature to increase greatly as time goes on. On August 5, Emma Borden filed a petition with the Clerk of the Probate Court in Taunton and qualified, with a bond of $50,000 to act as administratrix of her father’s estate. The bond filed with the court by Lawyer Wood, as administrator of Mrs. Borden’s estate, was one of $500 only. Miss Emma Borden is now in control of the estate for her own benefit and that of her sister Lizzie. She has not yet filed a schedule of the properties which compose her trust, but must do so within a few weeks, and must thereafter report her operations as administratrix once a year. The cruel and gratuitous insinuation that there may have been a will, and that there was talk of forcing the sister into court again in order to air this supposition, has no basis. If Mr. Borden had made a will, he would have kept it where he kept all his papers, in the vaults of the financial institutions with which he was connected. It was said that he was about to make his first will at the time he was murdered, but that was not brought out on the trial.

The new home of the Borden girls on French street is not on the best street in the town, but it is in a good neighborhood and near the most fashionable avenue. It was occupied by a man of means and good social position, who sold it because he wished to live where he could enjoy the fine prospect that is to be had from another point on the same hill. It has been said that the sisters paid $11,000 for the place, and that may be the fact, though the house scarcely warrants a belief that such was a true figure. French street is a modern thoroughfare, set with pretty villas, generally wooden, in open grounds with a showing of neat lawns, a few vases and flowers, and plenty of shade trees. The houses are small, and of the type of dwellings with which most of the smaller suburbs of this city are built up. The new Borden dwelling is a yellow and brown frame house, with a little pointed tower on one corner of the roof and a porch in front and partly on one side. The house might have cost $3,000 to $4,000 to build. It is not as fine as several neighboring cottages. It is said that the sisters employ only one servant, as they did in the old house down town.

Few of the overcurious ever get there to disturb the women with their staring, and, so far as that goes, the change is a delightful one for both of them. But it will be a long while before either of the sisters will be allowed to resume the privacy that others enjoy. Whenever they go shopping or to market they are stared at, watched, and followed. Lizzie got her first welcome respite from this constant, though unintentional, persecution when she went to Newport quite recently. There she stopped with old friends in a private house and remained unidentified by the townspeople. She walked on the famous cliff walk and about the old town, and even went to church, feeling such a sense of freedom as she had begun to believe must only be known to the birds. She had a less successful experience during a visit to the town of Warren. One of the Boston newspapers put her in a pother recently by establishing a most-popular-candidate contest, in which she led for a long time. Altogether she got something like 96,000 votes, and the editors- if that is what contest managers are called- notified her that she was about to win and would be entitled to a free ticket to the World’s Fair. Her very able counselor, Mr. A.J. Jennings, courteously requested the “editor” to give the prize to the next person on the list- but just then the friends of somebody else made a rush with their votes, and the prize went to their candidate. The jurors who acquitted Lizzie next had their pictures taken in an impressive group, and dispatched the New Bedford juror with a copy of it to Miss Lizzie Borden with their compliments, doubtless fancying that if she possessed a copy it would complete her happiness by enabling her to frame it and hang it in her sitting room as a constant reminder of an episode in her life which she might otherwise forget. Unfortunately she was out and could not personally thank the jury for its thoughtfulness. She has had a narrow escape from breaking her decision never to be interviewed. She made the decision as part of her plan to contribute nothing that would lengthen her notoriety or increase it. But soon after her return to Fall River a woman who had been kind to her in her trouble sent an interviewer to her with a written plea that he be given what he wanted, This was hard to refuse, but she kept firmly to her decision.

Lizzie bears up extremely well after her remarkable experience: indeed she appears to be as well as she ever was, and stouter and better looking. The case is different with the older sister. The family affliction, the horrors of the murders, and the long strain during Lizzie’s trial, were more than her nerves could endure, and she is nothing like the woman she was. Her health is far from robust, and she frequently has to give up, or, rather, to break down. Lizzie says that she made up her mind not to allow her troubles to get the better of her, and she has had will enough to remain proof against all that has happened. At the trial the lawyers on both sides declared her to be a most remarkable woman, and people are generally coming to the same conclusion.”


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One response to “Julian Ralph – The Sun Reporter & Lizzie

  1. Keith Judson

    October 26, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    Hi Faye,

    I received the Knowlton-Pearson Correspondence yesterday which was the prize for winning the Who What Where contest. I have just started to read it and so far it is fascinating. Thank you very much.

    Keith Judson
    Reno, NV

    P.S. The contest was fun – quite a challenge.


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