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Author Archives: phayemuss

About phayemuss

If you've stumbled across this blog, I hope you will enjoy in the musings, images, and perspectives as much as I enjoy sharing them. As a writer, scholar and collector of the infamous Lizzie Borden case of Fall River, MA (1892), I have spent over 40 years collecting rare books, journals, letters, photographs and memorabilia on this most compelling case. I like to say: "Some people play golf - I do Lizzie." My first read on the case was Victoria Lincoln's A Private Disgrace, and my first visit inside 92 Second Street(when it was numbered 230)was in 1978. For the next 15 years, I traveled to Fall River doing research and meeting with long time residents. In 1992, I was a presenter at the Lizzie Borden Centennial Conference in Fall River. Since 1998, I have stayed at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast two to three times a year, often serving as tour guide and night manager. I've lectured at University campuses, women's groups, genealogical societies, civic clubs and fraternal organizations, and libraries conducting multi-media presentations on Lizzie Borden and Fall River's history. I am the creator of the Lizzie Borden board game: "Journey to Maplecroft" and have produced several research and reference materials in both print and CD formats, some of which are available at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast. My personal images are copyrighted and not intended for other blogs or internet sites or print publications or any commercial use without permission, however, please feel free to copy them for your own personal collection. Also, feel free to email email me at phaye@npgcable.com. -Faye Musselman Payson, AZ

REVIEW – CHRISTINA RICCI AND THE LIZZIE BORDEN CHRONICLES

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On April 2, three days before the Lizzie Borden Chronicles aired, I posted this on my Facebook “Lizzie Borden Chat Page”:

“The Lizzie Borden Chronicles is the new Sharknado. It will have as much to do with the post Trial life of Lizzie Borden as Sharknado has to do with marine biology. Yet their common denominator is ratings. And high ratings create sequels. They are both comedic, tongue in cheek, fraught with blood and guts and appeal to those that favor this genre.

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“I concede the Chronicles may have a little entertainment edge because of its campy soundtrack and the sexual component of Christina Ricci’s portrayal of the much maligned Lizzie Borden. I plan to watch it, not only to credibly critique afterwards but hope to see Ricci fly through the air above Fall River, chain saw in hand, slicing off the bell towers of all those long abandoned mills– with Nine Inch Nails playing in the background of course. It could happen.”

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I didn’t get around to watching it until late Monday afternoon, and posting a Review has not been a priority in my life.  Even when Deborah Allard-Dion, resident writer of all things Lizzie for the Fall River Herald, contacted me for what I thought I could not bring myself to respond right away.  However, I now post my impressions.

Nielson ratings showed it to garner only 1.1 million viewers – pretty much at the bottom of the heep for the week’s ratings of shows ending on that Sunday night.

The first two episodes were sent out to TV critics to review and after last Sunday’s (April 5, 2015) airing of the first episode, the general consensus is that it should get the axe.  The Hollywood Reporter calls it “unexceptional trash”.

Introducing real name characters who died prior to the 1892 murders (William Almy) and yet are resurrected as some avaristic business partner who “wants it all”.  So far fetched I moaned out loud “Kill me quick, Bill.”

I didn’t expect Christina to play the role of Lizzie Borden with the nuances of a Meryl Streep but I also did not expect her to go so far off the rails.  It was like Anna Nichol Smith’s stupor meets Baby Jane Hudson’s vengeance. Her portrayal reminded of Dorothy Parker’s famous one-liner review of Tallulah Bankhead, “Her acting ran the gamut of A to B.” 

We can at least feel sorry for the real life Anna Nichol Smith and the fictional Baby Jane.  We can even find a way to rationalize T.V. “Dexter’s” acts has having some social redemption.  But with Ricci’s Lizzie?  Not so much.  She plays her as  totally self-serving for the sake of self preservation.  Not an attractive quality we  want to see in our Villains.

And the music?   More appropriate would have been Miley Cyrus’ “I came in like a Wrecking Ball”.   What?  No money budgeted for Billboard Top 100 royalties? Seems the budget was blown on costumes, that big orange house (supposedly “Mapelcroft”) and all the TV promos to generate excitement for the first episode.

Casting name/face actors, i.e., Jonathan Banks fresh off Breaking Bad and appearing regularly on Better Call Saul, is just a ploy to get people to watch.  He’s probably gonna be killed before Episode 3.

There was no rhythm or pace to sustain any suspense or intrigue – more like Scattershot and Soundblaster, symbolically making our eyes and ears bleed.

I doubt it will make much of an impact on driving tourism to Fall River or the B&B certainly not like the notoriety of ghost-hunting and paranormal investigations shows have done in the past. Had they used Fall River backgrounds/locations or even 92 Second Street exteriors as POV’s it would have enticed viewers and resonated because it would be showing the actual location. People like to visit places, occupy the same space in a different time, where actual history or something infamous took place.  They like to ooooh and awww and be simultaneously thrilled and reflective about being there.  But I imagine there may be people going up and down Second Street in Fall River looking for a blue and white house. or driving up and down French Street looking for an orange mansion.

Richard Behrens, author of the smartly written series Lizzie Borden Girl Detective, commented about thegIRL dETECTIVE program with this added post script:  “P.S. You are trying to tell me that the police searched the Borden house and didn’t find the dead baby in the basement? And when they searched the barn looking for Billy Borden, they didn’t climb up the ladder to the second floor? There were gaps in the plot logic you could park your car in.”

The Serious Issue of Why I’m So Against This Series

The primary reason I dislike this series is not so much for its lack or even a feeble attempt at any historical accuracy whatsoever, but the irreputable harm the Lifetime Channel has already done to the factual Lizzie Borden.  Now another new generation who Tweet more than they read believe the characterization of Lizzie Borden – to a considerable extent anyway – as is portrayed.

All those goofy legends and misinformation have been further imbedded in the uneducated viewing public’s mind. As Michael Martins said, the FRHS will be further challenged in correcting the misconceptions and false perceptions of the case – as will the staff at the B&B. As to the LB Chronicles as entertainment value – I enjoyed Sharknado more. As to any artistic quality of the series, I think American Horror Story and Bates Motel do a better job.

Lizzie has long been portrayed as a one dimensional psycho sociopath wielding a bloody axe.  She has been cemented in the minds of the general public via that inaccurate quatrain; she has been depicted in hundreds of online images so far removed from the actual Lizzie when there is an abundance of easily accessible sources from which to learn the truth about this woman.  Lifetime Movie Channel and the Lizzie Borden Chronicles can only add fodder to further regurgitations of gross misiniformation.

I want people to know the real Lizzie Borden and the best book on that subject is the Fall River Historical Society’s Parallel Lives – A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River.

I want the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum to stay in business, not just because its the best bang for the buck of any B&B, but because people can occupy the same space where Lizzie lived and reflect upon how her life at the time she lived there.  The furniture and fixtures are immaculately maintained and so closely resemble how the rooms were in Lizzie’s time that it invites your imagination to transport yourself to that era.

I would love for people to explore the Fall River Historical Society about the world Lizzie lived in and her town’s history.  They have the world’s largest collection of Lizzie Borden related material, including objects of evidence presented at her Trial. The  staff will now have to exert an even greater effort in correcting all the “wrongs” shown in the Lizzie Borden Chronicles to all those that call and visit with their questions based on what they’ve seen in the series.

On Sunday evening last, same day the Chronicles aired, person(s) unknown defaced the Andrew J. Borden monument.  While understandable outrage has been expressed, no one has remarked on the subliminal symmetry represented here.  By that I mean here you have a grotesque “artistic” expression plastered over the “Borden family”.  The same could be said for the series, in my opinion.

graffiti

Below is the monument a few days after the story broke in the Fall River Herald News. ” Blast Off Surface Restoration, a Fall River company that specializes in coating removal, including headstone cleaning.  Company owner Jeremy Larkin cleaned up the Borden monument at no cost to Oak Grove Cemetery” reported Deborah Allard Dion..

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If this were a forgiving review I would like to think of the cleaning of the monument as further symbolism — sort of  like wiping the slate clean of a dismal Episode 1, giving us hope for Episode 2..    Not likely.  Not very likely at all.


 

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Much Out of Whack With The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

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Get a jar and label it “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles – Things That Could Not Have POSSIBLY Happened After Her Trial.” The first nugget to put in that jar is illustrated above from my Historic Timeline book.  The fact William Almy portrayed by John Heard in tonight’s airing of The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (I live on the Pacific Coast so it hasn’t been broadcast yet) died in 1885, Lizzie could NOT HAVE POSSIBLY had any relations, business or otherwise, with him in her post-Trial life.  That’s just for starters.  When historical fiction touted as “what could have happened” transcends all possibilities of actually happening it not only trips the light fantastic it fantastically falls on its face.

I expect this series to be campy, cheesy, titillating, musically creative, fraught with gross misinformation, and absolutely nothing to do with Lizzie Borden at ANY point of her life.

It’s traditional for production companies and networks to give out copies of early episodes to TV critics so they can get a jump on writing their reviews.  This has been done in the case of the LBC and critics are repeatedly using phrases such as “female serial killer”, “crazed murderess”, “axe murderess” and the like.  The common thread of many of the reviews is the transparency that the writers themselves know very little of the case.  Worse yet, they write with a false knowledge of previous misinformation that they regurgitate as fact.  I have found only one review with any merit and that is Caitlin Gallager’s piece posted today.  It SHOULD BE READ and can be read HERE.

For those viewers who have Googled Lizzie Borden or The Lizzie Borden Chronicles and landed on this blog, I’m going to post excerpts from my Timeline blog book to help put things in focus.   It was created to provide significant events in Lizzie’s life, but also the history of Fall River and significant events regionally, nationally and world wide.  It is within this focus we get a good view of what was happening in the town and in the world in which she lived. As you watch The Sharknado Chronicles, excuse me – the Lizzie Borden Chronicles – keep in mind what could NOT possibly have happened.

I still maintain the series should have been called The Lizzie Schwartz Chronicles, but who ever heard that inaccurate quatrain “Lizzie Scwartz took an axe….”  Hence, Lifetime’s pimping out of Lizzie Borden. DSCN4561DSCN4546 DSCN4551 DSCN4553DSCN4554 DSCN4559

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The above is nearly 200 pages and loaded with essays and blog posts mostly based on historical fact and a generous serving of my special brand of humor.  Available at the Fall River Historical Society Gift Shop. I’ll have more nuggets after I have a chance to view the first episode myself – but after Mad Men.   But hey, I’m confident you’re gonna need a bigger jar.  ;)

 

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Lizzie Borden Chronicles vs. Mad Men Final Episodes

Both MAD MEN-THE FINAL EPISODES and THE LIZZIE BORDEN CHRONICLES debut Sunday night, April 5th at 10: pm (Eastern and Pacific).   Who will win the Ratings Race? Which will you be watching Sunday night and which will you DVR?

NBC and the Lifetime Movie Channel hope you’ll be watching their premieres.  Frankly, neither are my taste.  I’m still mourning the end of Downton Abbey and still taking my meds on finding out next season will be its last.  But I digress.  For what I think, see below these promo banners. LBC MM FE I think Elizabeth Moss would have made a better (acting-wise) and more authentic Lizzie Borden.  And I think Christina Hendricks would have been a much sexier Lizzie than Christina Ricci’s sexo-comedic portrayal of her. MM Peggy MM

Clearly, Christina Ricci’s career got an adrenalin surge when Lifetime selected this compelling case, pimping out the enigmatic Lizzie Borden and transforming her into a gross caricature – a post pubescent sociopath.

I don’t care that The Lizzie Borden Chronicles is not based on historical fact   I don’t care that it proposes to only portray what “might have happened” after her Trial.  The damage is done.  And I’ll be writing about all that later.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2015 in lifetime movie channel

 

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Swansea Cousin Confirms Lizzie Borden Was “Odd”

In my FIVE DECADES of researching the Borden case, Fall River, the Gardners of Swansea, etc. etc. etc. I have never, ever come across validation of this rumor. Now it is confirmed….Lizzie Borden really was an odd duck.

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I suspect Christina Ricci’s portrayal of Lizzie Borden will be prolific in such manners of behavior as illustrated in the above article – not to mention somewhat validated by the video clip of the Lizzie Borden Chronicles shown below.

 

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Lizzie Borden’s Confession

Found this old newspaper article about Lizzie Borden’s confession.

newspaper

(Today’s date.   Need I say it? )

Or ………

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Posted by on April 1, 2015 in Just for Laughs

 

Time Portal: Agatha & Ditz – The Soorey Spinsters

(Recycled from 2008)

 “Any similarities in the following to real people are purely coincidental.”

Flash Forward – Summer, 2027. Orlando, Florida. Setting: An old 1-story wood frame, weather-beaten house, window screens torn and hanging askew, paint peeling, shrubbery overgrown (think Edie Beale).

Two sisters, one age 65, with dark short hair flattened on one side from a night’s sleeping on a stained uncovered pillow, an elongated face strongly resembling Stan Laurel that shows the stress and disappointment of unfulfilled dreams as represented by her tattered crinkle fabric slacks and frayed t-sheet emblazoned with “arthurlizziemarilyn.com”; the other age 70, long gray hair to her ankles distracting from the several pencils protruding from her headr; wearing pinch nez glasses, a long floral gauze-like frock, barefooted she moves at a slow and aged pace, her back hunched as she carries a large 3-ring notebook cradled in her arm. The sun is nearly set and the room is dark and musky, the only light is from the computer screen.

They drink tea from delicate, ornate bone china cups and converse wistfully about never marrying or having children. Alone, save for each other, the conversation turns –

Agatha: She died 100 years ago today.
Ditz: Who died?
Agatha: Why, Lizzie, you old fool.
Ditz: How do you know that? What’s your source? And don’t call me Lizzie.
Agatha: I didn’t mean YOU Lizzie. I meant “our” Lizzie. Oh, nevermind.
Ditz: Well, I only ask for the source so that I can check it, but I may already have that information. Lessee, where did I put those other binders. (She steps over several cats and piles of xerox copies of newspapers going back 150 years, and picks up a stack of papers, dropping the binder from her arms and hitting her toe, causing her to jump awkwardly up and down, her foot landing in a pile of catshit.)
Agatha: I would laugh at you if you weren’t so pathetic.
Ditz: Ha! You haven’t laughed in years.
Agatha: Neither have you.
Ditz: Yes, but I said it first.
Agatha: No, *I* said it first.
Ditz: Said what?
Agatha: Said that you haven’t laughed in years.
Ditz: I thought you meant who said it first.
Agatha: Who said what first?
Ditz: (pulls a pencil out of her hair): I’m going to document that. What time is it?
Agatha: 8:07 pm.
Ditz: (she writes down 8:07 pm): Are you certain? How do you know that. What’s your source?
Agatha: The watch I’m wearing.
Ditz: You don’t have a watch.
Agatha. Well, if I had a watch it would read 8:07 pm.
Ditz: You’re making that up.
Agatha: No I’m not.
Ditz: Are too.
Agatha: Am not.
Ditz: Are! Are! Are!
Agatha: Why do you have 9 pencils poking out of your hair?
Ditz: I’m a researcher, remember? I’m a fact-checker. I need to have pencils with me at all times.
Agatha: What are you researching now?
Ditz: How many times Knowlton used the word “The” in his summation at the Trial.
Agatha: Hey, that’s a good one. I bet nobody’s ever thought of that.
Ditz: Uh huh. And another thing nobody’s thought about: When Lizzie went back up stairs to baste a sleeve….
Agatha: Sew on a button.
Ditz: Baste a sleeve.
Agatha: Baste a hem.
Ditz: Sew on a button.
Agatha: Baste a sleeve without a button.
Ditz: Hem a button.
Agatha: Whatever. What’s the other thing nobody’s thought about?
Ditz: Nobody’s thought about what?
Agatha: What you were going to say?
Ditz: What I was going to say about what?
Agatha: Watch it. You just stepped in cat shit again.
Ditz: Oh, I remember. When Lizzie went back upstairs which foot did she put on the first step. Her right foot or her left foot?
Agatha: I see. Because if she was right handed, her left hand would go on the railing and she would lead with her right foot.
Ditz: I’m checking the Witness Statements. It might be in there.
Agatha: You know who would know?
Ditz: Who?
Agatha: Phoebe Bowen. Or maybe Luranna. One of the two.
Ditz: I think I need to measure the size of Lizzie’s feet first.
Agatha: How can you do that?
Ditz: By taking her body composition times the length of her elbow to tip of her middle finger, dividing by 7 and calculating her height without shoes against the depth of the stairs and factoring the humidity of the air and the number of birds in the pear tree.
Agatha: Sounds plausible. Don’t bother me now, I’ve got to finish working on my presentation.
Ditz: Another one???
Agatha: Yes.
Ditz: But you just gave me one this afternoon.
Agatha: But this one’s different. This one’s in Dutch.
Ditz: Okay. I’ll make us some soup.
Agatha: You’ve got a cat turd stuck to your dress.
Ditz: How do you know? What’s your source?

The End.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Just for Laughs, Time Portals

 

“Lizzie Borden Took an Axe” – play by Garrett Heater

https://phayemuss.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/lbplay.jpg?w=500

This is such a wonderfully written play, I wish I could see it again….with the same cast from 2011.  ( The below image was swiped from Garrett’s Facebook page).

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe

Production in Fall River, MA
August 2011

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A big THANK YOU to all of our supporters on Kickstarter who pledged over $3,500 to send our cast to Fall River, MA where we performed the show twice in Lizzie’s hometown! Here we are (sans Kate Huddleston, our wonderful Abby Borden) outside the actual home where the murders occurred, which is now a delightful bed and breakfast! We were also able to view vintage Borden artifacts at the Fall River Historical Society including the blood-stained bedspread from the guest room where Abby was murdered, her severed false hair piece, the hatchet head which is still considered the murder weapon, and many authentic photos of the home and it’s infamous inhabitants. Our cast had a truly wonderful time and you helped give Covey Theatre its first official tour! Thanks again!!! 


Tattered Fabric: Fall River’s Lizzie Borden
Review by Faye Musselman

The play delivers absolutely all it says in the program.  Most all voice-overs were lifted verbatim directly from inquest, preliminary or trial testimony.  The play manages to interject the incest theory in a way that will give you pause for re-consideration if you’ve never bought into it before.

What I particularly liked was that the characters, except for Uncle John Morse, were age appropriate.  Even Carmen Viviano-Grafts bore a striking resemblance to Emma Borden from the most known photo of her.  She played Emma with just the right mixture of loyal and nurturing sister coupled with what we know to be Emma’s own fierce dislike of her stepmother.

Garrett Heater, writer/director, did a very, VERY good job interjecting the more known theories such as a possible daliance twixt Lizzie and Dr. Bowen.  The later played by Jordan Glaski was excellent in conveying his concern for Lizzie,while suspending your belief in his actually BEING a doctor.  His portrayal was consistent in the professionalism of his character but was subtle enough in keeping you guessing about their true relationship – again a credit to writing as well as delivery.

Kate Huddleston played Abby Borden and her portrayal was reminiscent of Abby’s character in the 1975 Legend of Lizzie Borden made-for-tv movie.  Often shrill, always unappealing, a person not well read on the case would believe she was just as portrayed.  Poor Abby gets a bad rap because there’s nothing to validate she was anything but kind to those girls for as long as possible.  Kate does a terrific job in showing her loyalty to her husband while still conveying her strong interest in the legacy of his money.  We can understand her, we can even sympathize with the burdens she endured, but we do not like her.  Kudos to Kate!  Not an easy role.

The primary character, of course, is Lizzie and her part was played beautifully by Katharine Gibson.  Through dialog we understand why she hated Abby, through acting and writing we are never certain as to whether or not she did it.  Her particular acting chops, I think, came out when her father wants to take her “down to the basement”, an obvious location and metaphor for sexual abuse.  We know she is 32, we know her father dominates.  But Ms. Gibson does such a wonderful job we find it totally credible that it just very well may have happened that way – thus, explaining the rage of the act, if you choose to believe Lizzie guilty.  Katharine was the obvious standout performer of the cast but I tend to think their talents fed into her own.

The set was minimalistic but seemed to be so much more because of the staging.  (Thus, less is more.)  The use of lighting was exceptional during the two periods of time of the slaying.  Bright red lighting as the backdrop to intense music, leaving much to the imagination and leaving the audience to imagine an intruder, Lizzie or an unnamed other.  Totally plausible.  Totally believable.  Strong stuff and very well executed.

My favorite part of the entire play was a monologue delivered by “Andrew” in the second act.  Played by Bernard Kaplan he speaks of “what your mother would have wanted  for you” (meaning their real mother) in a suspended state with Lizzie and Emma frozen on stage.  The writing here was absolutely terrific.  It had me riveted throughout and stayed with me for days.  In fact, as I write this, I am still haunted by it.  Beautiful writing, Garrett, and so well spoken by Mr. Kaplan. “Andrew” also did a very believable job when putting his lascivious hands on Lizzie and first coercing her, then demanding of her that she go “down to the basement”. Not an easy thing to do and it could have come out corny or clumsy but Bernard did it very well.

Beth Schmidt played Maggie with a most believable accent and was quite convincing; Susan Blumer made a good Churchill; C. J. Parsons equally as good as John Morse and Jodie Baum gave us shades of Alice we may not have thought of before.  All in all, the entire cast was excellent.  The set was excellent.  The use of lighting and music was superb, but the writing – the writing which weaves so well the many threads of this tale was absolutely exceptional!!

I’ve seen several plays on the Borden case, including musicals, including a ballet, and so far, this is now my very favorite of all I’ve seen.  I would see it again.  And again.   And if YOU haven’t – you should.  Absolutely.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2015 in TV, Theatre & Film

 
 
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