Well, it’s almost here. Maybe as close as the middle of next month. We all know “of” Lizzie Borden as the central figure in America’s most baffling unsolved classic crime. We know “of” her as a spinster school teacher who was charged (but acquitted) of the grisly hatchet murders of her father and stepmother on August 4, 1892 in Fall River, Ma. We know “of” her in our mind, influenced by the thousands of images of her wielding a bloody axe (wrong), dripping in blood, who wanted daddy’s money and feared her stepmother would get it. We know “of” her as a reclusive, shunned matron of “Maplecroft”, the house she lived in the entire second half of her life.
When the 1992 Lizzie Borden Centennial was held in Fall River, hundreds came from all over to offer up and share in various theories. Most prevalent was the incest theory. Polls taken then showed the majority of Conference attendees still favored the “Lizzie did it” point of view. But that has all been based on what we thought we knew “of” Lizzie. After four days of presentations and various events and new books, we all went away no nearer to the truth – let alone a viable solution to the enigma – nor enhancing our knowledge of who, really, was Lizzie Borden.
Lizzie was born the year the Pony Express was started, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton addressed the state’s legislature on the subject of women’s suffrage, and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities was published. There were only 33 states in the Union, and public conveyance was mostly by steamship and horse-drawn wagon. She died the year two-way television was first demonstrated, “The Jazz Singer” premiered, and when the whole world was celebrating Lindberg’s solo flight across the Atlantic to Paris. This was an era of great progress in America’s history as well as the rise and fall of industrial New England.
Now, spanning that same period – 1860 to 1927, comes the Fall River Historical Society’s “Parallel Lives-A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River.” It is a book that has been many years in the making, (I think I was pre-menopausal when they began), and it is a monumental and meticulous effort on the parts of Michael Martins and Dennis Binette, curators of the Society. At 1000+ pages and 500+ photographs, this book promises to give us a new mindset of Lizzie and possibly change our opinions as to whether she “did it” or “didn’t do it”.
Sources hidden for generations until now
Aside from the voluminous amount of information housed in the archives of the Fall River Historical Society on Fall River’s history, that structure houses the world’s largest collection of documents and artifacts about the Borden case. While most of what they have has either been revealed or made accessible to the public, the Society still had a significant amount of materials about Lizzie and her town’s history not published before, and this all appears in the book. However, little did Michael or Dennis know of what was to come.
Upon hearing of Martins/Binette Parallel Lives work-in-progress, dozens of people all over the country – and even outside of the U.S. – came forward voluntarily to present long held family secrets and treasures. Information and insight flowed forth from attics and old boxes, albums, etc. that were held within the families and passed down to sons and daughters, nieces and nephews. All was kept from public view or scrutiny until now. No sooner would Michael and Dennis be unexpectedly showered with one source of information who knew Lizzie, but then another and another would surface. The journals, photos, cards, letters kept pouring in. Like amoeba, it seemed to self reproduce until they had so much information about Lizzie Borden and her times it required a tome of more than 1000 pages.
We “hear” Lizzie speak through letters never revealed previously. We “hear” others speak about their relationships with Lizzie, long standing relationships – people who knew her well. We learn of specific things she did and places she went. We learn about what she thought and how she responded within her world of Fall River’s “closed” society. We gain a richer understanding of what it meant to be a Borden and the wide spread influences and power that name evoked. We learn of specific acts of kindnesses previously only alluded to. We learn much of this from the relatives and descendents of those that knew Lizzie Borden personally. Not just “of” her.
This massive work isn’t about the crime per se, nor does it propose new theories. It presents us with her world, her town, her peers, customs, morals, traditions, scandals, successes, and so much more that contributed to who and what she was as a child, girl, young woman, middle aged woman and elderly woman. Through those letters, journals, photographs, remembrances, we finally we get to know Lizzie Borden.
Parallel Lives will thrill and astound all Borden case enthusiasts and experts. To the latter it will be a primary treasured collectible, a golden resource in the cornicopia of what we know so far about Lizzie and, particularly, Fall River’s history of those six decades. For the world-wide minions who know of the case – from as little as that inaccurate quatrain to a basic knowledge of the family and her post-Trial life – this book may not be so coveted or sought after. At least not initially. But because the book promises to shatter myths and resolve some mysteries about this case and the enduring, inscrutable Miss Lizzie it will garner massive attention through the media. We will hear about it on television news, electronic news sites, in the printed newspapers, journals and magazines, and the millions who hunker down with various social networking on the internet. It will become a topic of conversation. First regionally, then nationally then world-wide. I’ve no doubt Michael and Dennis will be invited or interviewed remotely for a variety of talk shows and t.v. news special features as the public awareness of this watershed publication grows. In short, as news of its content spreads via multi media exposure, having a copy of the book will become de rigueur. Its sales will soar. Lizzie Borden always gets attention and this book – this book registers on the same excitement level as DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, “Who Shot J.R.?”, and Lindberg’s landing in Paris.
The Fall River Historical Society has a Facebook page that has been providing updates about the book’s production and publication. I encourage you to read the comments of Michael Martins and Dennis Binette to learn precisely, specifically the amazing research effort and amount of sweat equity they both put into this book and why it is such a remarkable, beautifully crafted and valuable piece of work.
The exact publication date has not yet been announced. The price of the book has not yet been set. But we will have answers to this very soon,. You can pre-order at the FRHS site HERE.