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Category Archives: Books – Good & Not So Good

Book Review: Cara Robertson’s The Trial of Lizzie Borden

UPDATED 3/27/19 – Note:  The inscribed copy arrived March 20th – postmarked March 12th.  I wrote the following review March 13th.

 

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Cara Robertson has written a fine book that wonderfully weaves the context of the Trial proceedings into a “you are there” narrative flush with new insights and deft storytelling, exposing the female-suppressed culture of the Gilded Age.  Drawing heavily from the Trial transcript and newspapers of the day, she tells this oft-told tale in a new way that forces the reader to reflect on the cultural influences of the era and the why and how of its sensationalism, final outcome, and enduring appeal.

Well read Lizzie Borden scholars will hear in the narrative echos of previously published books on the case which have been “go to” resources for decades, but probably my favorite sentence in the whole book is this:  “Combining the enduring emotional force of myth and more prosaic intellectual challenge of a detective story, it is a ‘locked door’ mystery written by Sophocles.”  (Kudos, Cara)

The book credits almost all the photographs therein to the Fall River Historical Society where, sadly, the wrong image of a purported Uncle John Vinnicum Morse is actually that of his (and sister Sarah’s) brother, William Bradford Morse.  I know this to be a fact because William’s photograph is included in one of several family albums to be found at the Swansea Historical Society, housed at the Swansea Public Library – a place where I have visited for research several times.  William’s name is handwritten in pencil above his image.

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23017445_119566315824                                  notmorse

The image on the left is the actual John V. Morse and has appeared in countless books and documentaries.  William,  who was in Excelsior, Minnesota during the murders (as he had been most of his life) did, however, resemble his brother, John.  (It should be noted that when I brought this error to the attention of the FRHS,  I was informed they had documentation from a relative of the Morse family asserting the photograph of William was John.  This fails to explain the decades of the other photograph being cited as John with credit to the FRHS).

A more blatant error appears on page 278 where the author writes of post Trial notoriety and states “Papers printed improbable reports of engagements, including a betrothal to one of her former jurors.”  There is no source citation in the end notes to this statement, however, it has been widely reported of the December 10, 1896 Fall River Herald News report citing a “Swansea school teacher” as the subject of this rumor.  That person was, in fact, Orrin Gardner.

Crowds gather outside the Superior Court house in New Bedford during the 1893 Trial

Ms. Robertson’s deft handling of Knowlton’s lengthy summation strips his elegant oratory to the persuasive essentials:  the prosecution’s case was based on Lizzie’s exclusive opportunity and that the victims did not die at the same time -and that these were the controlling facts of the case.

As to why Lizzie remained in Fall River the entire second half of her life, the author speculates with an allegorical reference to Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter:  “It may seem marvelous, that, with the world before her….this woman should still call that place her home, where and where only, she must needs be the type of shame.  But there is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it had the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt ghost-like, the spot where some great and marked recent event has given color to their lifetime, and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it.”  (And here one can pause to ponder Donald Woods’ appropriate marketing of Maplecroft).

While I was impressed with Cara Robertson’s fresh narrative point of view, my overall expectations of the book fell short considering the author’s background.  There were far too many errors.  There was no new information, and indeed it seemed peppered with the redundancy of other known works.  I had been anticipating more given her years of research on the case and her impeccable credentials.   That said, I still highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this case and specifically to those interested in the Gilded Age and its cultural impact on women.

 

 

 

“Cara Robertson’s ‘The Trial of Lizzie Borden’ Hits Like an Ax “

Here’s an early Review on Cara’s new book.  As stated in a previous post, I’ve already ordered on Amazon for its official March release.  However, I stumbled across it listed on eBay  as an advanced readers edition and now await its delivery this coming Wednesday.

As indicated by the background to its publication – and certainly to any Borden case fanatic – this should be one delicious read.

 

Book Review: “Did Lizzie Borden Axe for It?” by David Rehak

09Nov

(Recycled post)

The third and revised printing of David Rehak’s 270 page softcover book, Did Lizzie Borden Axe for It?, contains a never before seen note written in Lizzie’s hand shortly after the sinking of the Titanic. This book is now available (along with Mr. Rehak’s other books) thru Lulu Press as seen by clicking HERE.

This is a different kind of Lizzie book. Traditionally, the Lizzie books have a sequential, narrative progression, spilling forth the saga of the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden against the backdrop of Fall River, Massachusetts and peppered with some new (and often outrageous) theory of who dunnit. Not this book. No long, flowing narratives here. No in-depth research filling chapter after chapter. Instead Dave takes us on a thoroughly enjoyable Mr. Toad’s wild ride weaving in and out, up and down, over and around and back again, giving us punches of “in your face” data to quickly absorb, question, and quickly move on.

In the Introduction he says he deals with the facts “as we know them”. Well, not entirely. For example, an early error is in the constricted Timeline that has John Morse visiting his niece and nephew, “the Emerys” on Weybosset street. Nonetheless, with almost bullet-point speed he whisks us through “Lizzie didn’t do it”, then rebounds with “Lizzie did it” having laid out the basics and offers conclusions – not opinionated but taken from reportings of the day.

Then we are off and flying again into the skies of “whys”. Why was Lizzie thought to be a lesbian – featuring Nance O’Neil; why does Lizzie linger; why was Lizzie a romantic being, and so on. Along the read-ride we bump into Lizzie’s alledged boyfriend (David Anthony), the alleged illegitimate son of Andrew (William S. Borden), her disloyal friend (Alice Russell), her loyal supporter (Mary Livermore). If television’s TMZ and “Access Hollywood” were turned into a book on Lizzie, this would be it. Fast flashes that move from one salacious tidbit to another, the reader learns something new, re-processes something already known, and finds points to question and challenge – depending upon the level of expertise of the reader.

While Mr. Rehak asserts he makes no claim as to her guilt or innocence, it is clear he has a real affection for the inscrutable Miss Borden and sways from an unbiased hand more than once. For this we can forgive him. Most authors attempting to maintain neutrality often write with a slight transparency allowing the reader to draw the correct conclusion.

There are two things that have never been published in any book on the Borden case before and they appear in this book only. One is revealed to the public in printed form for the first time.

First, this portrait of Andrew J. Borden as a young man – perhaps taken at the time he married Sarah Morse Borden. Neither this image or similar image has appeared in a book up to this time. Second, and more importantly, something “new” in Lizzie’s own hand: a note she wrote not long after the sinking of the Titantic wanting the initial “B” placed on toiletry items for her matching case. It gives us insight into Lizzie’s own vanity, her keen eye for quality, and maybe even tells us how much that “B” as in B O R D E N meant to her.

I have permission from author Dave Rehak to include that note in this blog so here it is as introduced in his book.

 

 

Below are images from my own digital copy of the original note.

I would recommend to any Bordenia collector to purchase Dave’s book for these images alone. However, as the reader traverses through the uneven flow of these pages, he/she will come upon many new images not published previously except in his own editions. In addition, one can’t help but chuckle at some of the fantasy in the form of poems, psychic contacts with meeting Lizzie, and particularly “Lizzie’s New Hat”, all the more solidifying the fact this is like no other Lizzie book and stands as an “Anomaly of Audacity” to put a twisted contemporary pun on it.

David Rehak has done us all a favor, regardless of the factual accuracy and lack of scholarly research and citations. He has given us a marvelous compendium representative of the orbit that spins around our Miss Lizzie, and he’s done it with originality, good humor, and a fast track ride wholly entertaining and worthy of our attention.

I wrote about this new edition coming out in a previous blog entry where I explained the facts of why a second edition was “rushed to print.” This third edition has corrected the abysmal editing errors that were an unfortunate result. You can read why this happened HERE. If you have the first edition – hold on to that baby – it’s value just soared! And having a collection of all 3 is what the true Borden collector aspires.

It was my pleasure to provide Dave with several of the images in the book, some not published before. In the 7 years I have known him, I’ve found him to be a kind man – a sensitive man, and one I’m proud to call a friend. I recommend you purchase this unique collectible and treat yourself to that wild ride! 🙂

 

CARA W. ROBERTSON – THE TRIAL OF LIZZIE BORDEN

Twenty years in the making, this promises to be the next best thing to the Fall River Historical Society’s Parallel Lives – A Social History of Lizzie Andrew Borden and Her Fall River.

Cara Warschaw Robertson

This book

You can pre-order (as I did weeks ago) on Amazon.   Cara has been a great and long-time contributor to the FRHS’s Borden collection.  Her background is absolutely stellar. She was admitted to the California Bar in 1997 – but here’s a brief recap:

“Ms. Robertson earned her B.A. from Harvard College (summa cum laude), her Ph.D. from Oxford University and her J.D. from Stanford Law School (with distinction). After law school, she clerked for the Honorable James R. Browning, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and for the Honorable John Paul Stevens and the Honorable Byron White of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Ms. Robertson has been an associate legal officer for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a visiting scholar at Stanford Law School and a fellow at the National Humanities Center.”

I knew of Ms. Robertson because in my own research on the case  I had come across her  work published in the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities (Summer 1996, Vol. 8, No. 2) entitled:  “Representing Miss Lizzie: Cultural Convictions in the Trial of Lizzie Borden”.

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However,  I actually met her during one of my twice annual visits to Fall River through an introduction by Curator Michael Martins.  It was in 2001, in the basement of the FRHS  where she was engaged in deep research for this book.  A few days later we chatted outdoors on the FRHS property (inside the gazebo) about all things Lizzie.  She struck me as a lovely person and a most serious scholar.  She also struck me as off-the-charts smart.  Thus, I have been awaiting this book ever since.

Here’s the promo text from the Amazon site – enough to get all Borden case enthusiasts salivating:

“The Trial of Lizzie Borden tells the true story of one of the most sensational murder trials in American history. When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 1892, the arrest of the couple’s younger daughter Lizzie turned the case into international news and her trial into a spectacle unparalleled in American history. Reporters flocked to the scene. Well-known columnists took up conspicuous seats in the courtroom. The defendant was relentlessly scrutinized for signs of guilt or innocence. Everyone—rich and poor, suffragists and social conservatives, legal scholars and laypeople—had an opinion about Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an unjustly persecuted lady? Did she or didn’t she?

The popular fascination with the Borden murders and its central enigmatic character has endured for more than one hundred years. Immortalized in rhyme, told and retold in every conceivable genre, the murders have secured a place in the American pantheon of mythic horror, but one typically wrenched from its historical moment. In contrast, Cara Robertson explores the stories Lizzie Borden’s culture wanted and expected to hear and how those stories influenced the debate inside and outside of the courtroom. Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper accounts, unpublished local accounts, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden offers a window onto America in the Gilded Age, showcasing its most deeply held convictions and its most troubling social anxieties.”

Oh, goody, goody, goody.  New stuff.  New author.   BUT NOT A NEW RESEARCHER.  And there’s the difference my friends.  This woman knows her stuff inside and out.   I’m certain one will be hard pressed in the reading of her book to find misquotes or misinformation.

And don’t forget:  She’s smart – really, really smart.  And, oh, so nice.

Buy the book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lizzie Borden – One Book, Lots of Good Reads

 

New Book: In My Opinion, The Inquest Hearing of Lizzie Andrew Borden

….. Volume I  by Keith A. Buchanan

 

Just started reading this new publication written with a fresh , creative approach.  Mr. Buchanan actually puts us inside the room where the Coroner’s Inquest was held where we are silent observers to the excellent guide/narrator, “John”.   “John” begins with laying the foundation of the case and reveals Witness Interviews making us feel as if they are talking to us, and later, some giving inquest testimony, “John” makes them feel familiar to us.

So far I am thoroughly delighted with this approach – the most original I have come across in decades.  The book is flush with illustrations, some never seen before.  The author’s extensive and detailed research is without question.  Not only does he capture the full inquest testimonies of all those called (with the exception of Bridget Sullivan, of course) but he provides personal profile information on them.  However, I have noted a few errors – not many – and one photo illustration attributed to the wrong person.  But this is such a fun read that I will forego comment on those until a completed read when I can do a valid review of this 503 page gem.    Meantime, get this book!

In the Lizzie landscape of non-fiction, this book is akin to a new ride at Disneyland.

Parts can be read HERE.

P.S.   Author Keith A. Buchanan is life long resident of Fall River.

Also, off topic but related to disposition of “Maplecroft” – this is the one option that made the most sense.  Thank you, Donald Woods! :0 

 

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Lizzie Borden’s Dying Act of Kindness

 (Originally published in June 1st, 2010)

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Lizzie Borden died 84 years ago today.  She died at 8:30 pm on June 1, 1927  (a Wednesday) in her home in Fall River, MA.  She had been lingering all day, surrounded by her chauffeur and two servants:  Ernest Terry, Ellen Miller, and Florence Pemberton.  There were others who came to the house as well.

The Reverend Cleveland from the nearby Church of Ascension – a few doors down from Central Congregational  Church on Rock Street – would execute the wishes Lizzie had written out on March 31, 1919.   Vida Turner would come in and be instructed to sing “My Ain’ Country”, tell no one she had been there and then leave immediately.

The reporting a few days later of Lizzie’s Will was regional front page news and appeared in many newspapers across the country recounting the horrific hatchet murders of August 4, 1892, and Lizzie’s subsequent arrest, trial and acquittal.

Her Will was probated for 6 years with four separate Probate Court Accountings submitted by the executor of her estate, Charles Clarke Cook (as shown below from Men in Progress-1896):

Scan_Pic0008 (2)                                     Photo credit (cropped):  Fall River Herald News

 

Probate of Lizzie’s Will.

Proceeding Inclusive Dates Held
1st Accounting June 24, 1927 – May 1, 1929 October 2, 1931(Fall River)
2nd Accounting May 2, 1929 – Jan. 1, 1932 February 17, 1933(Taunton)
3rd (Substituted)Accounting Jan.1, 1932 – Nov. 28, 1932 February 17, 1933(Taunton)
4th FinalAccounting Nov. 28, 1932 – March 3, 1933 March 24, 1933(Attleboro)

The primary reason for the long probate was Mr. Cook’s failure to include the house/property at 328 French Street known as the “Henry House” which was situated directly east of “Maplecroft”.

Mr. Cook claimed the house was his as a gift from Lizzie.   However, Grace Hartley Howe and Helen Leighton, the two major legatees in Lizzie’s Will, were having none of it.  They claimed fraud and the matter went to court – Probate Court – in several sessions.   The testimony in those proceedings are rich in insight into Lizzie’s character as gleamed from those who testified, including Winifred F. French, who was to receive $5,000 as a bequest from Lizzie.  What the witnesses on behalf of Grace & Helen had to say was insightful, but the most provacative was this:

So here we have Lizzie dying and she knows she is about to die but what is on her mind?  She is remembering her promise to Ernest Terry to pay for his house repairs and tells him to write a blank check, which she signs and which he takes to the bank.  She may or may not have remembered she left him and his wife money in her will, but she wanted this to be extra.   A blank check – reluctantly approved by Cook, but cashed at the bank.    And Cook, dear man, tried to convince Mr. Terry that that check of $2,500 was to be considered part of the $3,000 cash bequest from Lizzie.  What a guy.

Ultimately the court ruled in favor of Helen & Grace and the proceeds from the sale of the property was considered a part of Lizzie’s estate.  Although he was judged not guilty of fraud or had bad faith in carrying out the terms of the Will, Judge Mayhew R. Hitch of the Probate Court made Cook accountable for that $10,000 (which was the amount he had sold it for but not yet pocketed) plus interest.   Cook made this right in the Final Accounting.  I find it amusing that he also included the cost of services from the attorney who represented him, Arthur E. Seagrave.  The court approved it.  His submittal of the heating bill for the Maplecroft garage where he parked his car, however, was not approved.  (Good try but too bad, Charlie).

So as she lay dying on this day 83 years ago, Lizzie Andrew Borden made no deathbed confession (and had she, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog) but she was focused on a potential financial hardship to her faithful driver and friend, Ernest Terry.   Her last documented act was to issue a blank check.

Yes, there were many acts of kindness that Lizzie Borden did throughout her life, particularly the second half of her life when she had the money to use as she wanted.  We will most likely read more about them in Parallel Lives and perhaps finally see a photograph of Ernest Terry (I’ve never seen one and the book is to have well over 500 photographs – yep, you read that right).

I would like say, on this day:  “Rest in peace, Lizzie Borden.”

But we all know that ain’t gonna happen.

                                                                                             xxx

 

Note:  Here’s the full article to that posted above as well as the follow -up explaining Charles Cook being exonerated of any fraud in that pesky purchase and sale of the Henry House next door to Maplecroft.  (Catherine MacFarland, btw, mentioned in this article, was also a beneficiary in Lizzie’s Will.)

Added Note:  More information on Charles C. Cook can be found HERE   (Representative Men and Old Families) and from Men in Progress 1896 HERE.