Emma Lenora Borden was Lizzie Andrew Borden’s sister. She was born March 1, 1851, and died on June 10, 1927, only 9 days after Lizzie’s demise. Lizzie & Emma parted ways in 1905 when Emma moved out from “Maplecroft” and, so far as we know, never spoke or saw each other again.
On April 18, 1913, the Boston Herald published an extensive interview with Emma by reporter Edwin McGuire. It was, up to that time, uprecedented that Emma spoke out publicaly. (It has been speculated her motivation was the April 6, 1913 Boston Sunday Herald’s special edition article entitled: “Lizzie Borden 20 Years After the Tragedy” by Gertrude Stevenson). In any event, Emma’s interview yielded us the above image. I can’t help but wonder if she posed for this during the interview or if it was sketched from memory after the interview was over.
When thinking about collectibles in the Borden case, the focus is usually Lizzie. But one day a couple months ago, an email came to me from a collector attempting to validate an item purportedly belonging to both at different times.
From: Robert S——
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 6:50 AM
To: Faye Musselman
Subject: Emma Borden Letter
Greetings from Baltimore. I have a purported Emma Borden letter. I am wondering if I sent you a scan of it, if you could just see if it looks like it is real. Nothing official, just an off the record opinion. Thank you for your time. Regards,
—– Original Message —–
From: Faye Musselman To: Robert S—–
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 2:41 PM
Subject: RE: Emma Borden Letter
Hi Robert. Thanks for writing. Yes, feel free to scan and email it to me and I’ll render my opinion. I am contacted quite frequently by people who have letters, books, photos, other emphera purported to belong to individuals associated with the case. Some of those contacts are relations/descendants of principals in this most compelling piece of American folklore. So far there have been only 3 of actually being real. One was a brief letter Lizzie wrote about having her initials on a vanity case – and this appeared in David Rehak’s book; another was a photo of Lizzie, Emma, Andrew and Abby taken when Lizzie was about 16 years old and unfortunately the owner wished (and still wishes) to be anonymous, making me promise never to show the photo, which I haven’t; and the last was a letter written TO Lizzie from Helen Leighton in 1925, two years before Lizzie’s death, remarkable in and of itself. This latter find is again in a private collection belonging to a very senior individual who promises to make it public “some day”. So yes, I’d be happy to accommodate you. And please do tell me a little something about yourself.
From: Robert S—
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 1:16 PM
To: Faye Musselman
Subject: Re: Emma Borden Letter
Hello Faye, thanks for the quick reply. I am an antiques dealer in Baltimore. I also collect historical objects. I ran across some interesting items in 2001 which were purchased by me from the grandson of a Mr. Harold Shigley. I am attaching some photos of what I have. Mr. Shigley (now deceased),was a prolific collector of historical items from about 1925-1990. All he did was travel the world and collect things. He met with relatives of famous people and bought from them personal items including locks of hair from their famous relations. Hopefully, the photos will appear at the end of this email. And, thanks for looking! Regards, Robert
Below is an actual letter written in Emma’s hand taken from Frank Spiering’s book , Lizzie, Random House, 1984.
After comparing this and other known handwriting of Emma, I responded with the following email:
From: Faye Musselman [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Monday, May 18, 2009 7:11 PM
To: ‘Robert S—-
Subject: RE: Emma Borden Letter
Ok. Well, I’ve spent a couple days looking carefully into this. And here are my conclusions.
Emma Borden did live in Haymarket, NH during the last years of her life.
- She bought the home she lived in and had it put in Connor’s name, who was her companion/caretaker.
- Emma did not want anyone knowing her true identity and it was discovered only by happenstance the year she died, 1927.
- I find it very unlikely she would grant a meeting with a collector and give him family momentos.
- Emma parted from Lizzie in 1905, packed up and moved out and they never spoke to each other for the rest of their lives, so far as we know.
- Emma DID grant an interview in to a Mr. McGuire with the Boston Sunday Post on April 13, 1913 – it was the one and only time on record she spoke of her and her sister.
- Emma always signed her name “Emma L. Borden”….she did not use her initials as Lizzie did.
- Emma’s handwriting appears in Frank Spiering’s book “Lizzie” (Random House, 1984) and it is not at all similar to the letter you have.
- Emma sent a postcard to Mary Brigham from Scotland in 1906….it is at the Fall River Historical Society. Over a decade ago while doing research in the basement of the FRHS, I held that postcard up against the letter (which the FRHS also has) in Spiering’s book. I can confirm the handwriting on both is the same but entirely different from the letter purported written to “Shigley”.
- The letter is dated November 21, 1926,.approx 18 months before Emma died. Again, she was a total recluse, 76 years old. Again, unlikely she would have met with this person, assuming this person even knew how to get in touch with her….even Lizzie didn’t know where her own sister lived.
- The letter contains elements that would have been known by any researcher into the case post 1984, and is worded with some transparency (in my humble opinion) that by the way it is crafted, would serve to give it validation…for example her out and out statement “the personal items I sold you”….hence providing an “indisputable” provenance, written in “Emma’s own hand”. But I don’t buy it.
Most of Emma’s personal family possessions were in storage and she gave it all in her Will, to her cousin, Orrin Gardner, including family photo, family bible, etc.
The strongest point to me is the handwriting. I’m afraid I would need much more information and you would also, to validate the authenticity of this letter.
I suspect Mr. “Higley’s” grandson was, himself, the perpetrator of this hoax.
Also, would you object to my posting them on my blog, which has a very wide readership of Lizzie scholars, to get their opinions? We may learn more one way or the other.
And then the plot began to thicken….
wasn’t just one item, it is a whole collection!
Curious, isn’t it? Well, I don’t believe it, none of it. And I’ll tell you why. I periodically receive emails, packages, phone calls, letters from people claiming similar circumstances and in possession of something that belonged to Lizzie or others of the Borden family. They don’t say outright they are selling rather asking my opinion as this collector did. I call it “baiting.” They hope I’ll get excited and offer to buy it. There have always been predators out there that prey upon collectors of all types of items. It’s not exclusive to Lizzie.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting enough to post about here. Hope it serves to forewarn. 🙂