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Category Archives: Fall River Historical Society

Primary source for newspapers, letters, journals, city directories, artifacts, etc. on Fall River and Lizzie Borden case.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cara Robertson Donates Historical Document to Fall River Historical Society

 

 

As a follow-up to my previous post, here is the final disposition of those two documents.  THANK YOU, Cara, for ensuring they were secured for the Fall River Historical Society.

You can read about it HERE.

 

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“What Is That Thing?” A Lizzie Borden Querry

Who knows what this is?

It is still inside the closet in “Bridget Sullivan’s bedroom” at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum.

Tim Weisberg‘s  Spooky Southcoast podcast episode entitled: “The Real Lizzie Borden” was broadcast shortly after the publishing of  Parallel Lives.  The featured guests on that episode were Michael Martins and Dennis Binette (curator and assistant curator of the Fall River Historical Society).  They help identify just what this is.

Advance to 46.10 to the relevant call in.

Here’s the link.

 

 

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Inside Lizzie Borden’s Renovated Maplecroft

UPDATE:  “MAPLECROFT” FOR SALE AGAIN.

http://www.heraldnews.com/news/20170906/lizzie-bordens-maplecroft-on-market-again

 

Created by author Rebecca Pittman – The History & Haunting of Lizzie Borden.  Enjoy.

BTW, while I think Kristee Bates has done a very good job in renovating “Maplecroft”, I still do not think this is how Lizzie had it furnished and decorated in her day.  Lizzie selected only the very best of furnishings, fixtures and equipment because she could well afford it.  Her home, which she nurtured and lovingly maintained as if it were her child, had the very best appointments.  She bought only “the very best”.   Kristee worked on a budget and it does not escape the discerning eye.  Nonetheless, it is still beautiful and representative of Victorian homes of the 1890’s.  However, one only has to go to the Fall River Historical Society  or the Easton Tea Room (1870 Alexander Dorrance Easton residence also owned by the FRHS) to see the high quality wallpaper and exceptional quality furniture donated over the years.  The difference is remarkable and unmistakable.  There one will find furniture and fixtures inside these two establishments closer to what “Miss Lizbeth” would have had in her own home.

While the precise decade (1893 to 1927)  Maplecroft’s renovated interior  is reflecting is unclear, the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum is furnished exactly as it would have been on August 4, 1892.  Aspiring and inspired detectives can play out what they know or suspect of the crimes with a full and thoroughly captivating  “stage”.   Kudos to the original “set decorators” and Kudos to General Manager Lee-ann Wilber  (since 2004)  and owner, Donald Woods,  who have not altered  its base authenticity.

And a special Kudo to Rebecca Pittman for providing us with the first ever video showing the interiors of both the Second Street and French Street homes in which Lizzie lived the entire first half and entire second half of her life, respectively.   Well done!

 

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NEW FALL RIVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY WEBSITE IS A STUNNER!

The Fall River Historical Society has just premiered their long awaited re-constructed website and it’s a stunner!  Of course the menu tab has “Lizzie Borden” but contained therein will be found thrilling to Borden case researchers.

The curating and organization are exemplary.  Outstanding all around.

 Here’s a photo sampling from the various “Collections”.  I’m not going to explain what they are or who they are because if you are reading this you need to go to the site and emerge yourself.   Here’s the LINK.

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“HISTORICAL NOTE

Mrs. George S. Brigham was an intimate friend, confidante, and staunch supporter of both Emma and Lizzie Borden and, as such, figured prominently in events following the Borden murders. She remained a lifelong friend of Emma Borden, but severed ties with Lizzie subsequent to the Borden sisters’ estrangement in 1905. Privy to a great deal of personal information pertaining to the Borden sisters, she decisively refused to discuss, either publicly or privately, her friendship with the two women, or her involvement in the case.”  -from the FRHS website – Lizzie Borden Collections – The Brigham Collection

 

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New Letter Revealed Written by Lizzie Borden

Another letter written by Lizzie Borden was pictured and posted in the Frances Willard House and Museum website  today.  The letter is written to “Frances Willard and Lady Henry” according to the website.

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The letter appears to be written July 23, 1893 (Lizzie was acquitted on June 20, 1893).

“Frances Willard was a radical social progressive who stood out against gender inequality and fought to give a voice to society’s disenfranchised.  She exposed the inherent hypocrisies of the status quo and forever changed accepted societal norms.

Willard forged a prototype for community organization and social reform that transformed our cultural landscape. The basis of our modern social welfare policies can be found in the initiatives fomented by Willard. Her life’s work is an example of what can be done when one is devoted to a cause.  Her ability to work hard and to mobilize others to work hard is a model of personal determination and amazing leadership skills.  To this day, Frances Willard continues to be “re-discovered” as the prototype of the modern, forward-thinking woman.”

This could be a letter expressing her gratitude for her  support.  It would seem Frances Willard may have championed Lizzie’s cause much as Mary A. Livermore, American journalist and womens’ rights advocate had done.  If simply a thank you letter, I find it interesting it is rather lengthy.

Four days earlier, Lizzie had turned 33 on July 19th, the same day the Fall River Weekly News reported Lizzie won a trip to the Chicago World’s Fair via a coupon write-in from the public.  (Lizzie kindly rejected the award.)   On the same date as the letter, July 23, 1893, and as reported in the Chicago Daily Tribune, Lizzie Borden was escorted to church by Dr. Bowen and Mrs. Holmes.

In any event, let us hope the Museum will sell – and the Fall River Historical Society will buy – this letter as they are the most logical and appropriate repository to archive this document with her other known letters.

 (Update 1/10/2016 – The following statement was included in the email I received

“As the letter is part of the very large “Papers of Frances E. Willard” collection, we have no intention of deaccessioning any part of the collection.”
Thank you,
Glen Madeja
Executive Director

 

 

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The Kind of Party Lizzie Borden Would Have Wanted to Attend as a Teenager

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NOTE:    I HAD THE ORIGINAL LETTER IMAGED BELOW IN MY ‘LIZZIE BORDEN ” COLLECTION FOR YEARS.  I TOOK IT ON ONE OF MY TRIPS TO FALL RIVER AND HAD THE FALL RIVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY PHOTOCOPY EACH PAGE FOR THEIR COLLECTION.   EXCERPTS OF THIS LETTER NOW APPEAR IN THE FALL RIVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY’S BOOK, PARALLEL LIVES – A SOCIAL HISTORY OF LIZZIE A. BORDEN AND HER FALL RIVER.   

LATER, I SOLD THE ORIGINAL LETTER ON EBAY (AND I’M STILL SMILING).

(THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THIS BLOG PAGE OVER A DECADE AGO BUT WARRANTS A NEW ISSUE).

When Lizzie Borden was in her teens and early 20′s she did attend parties with her contemporaries. She may have attended a party not unlike the one described in the handwritten letter below by Florence Borden, daughter of Spencer Borden. Flushed with the excitement of the evening’s events, the 15 year old Florence wrote “November 30, 1896″ at the top of the letter, but the postmark shows when it was mailed the next day, “December 1, 1895″.

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Shortly after acquiring this letter for my collection, I took it with me on my next visit to Fall River and left a photocopy for Fall River Historical Society Curator Michael Martins to help me identify those named within the letter. He wrote a 9-page response and I include the first two pages here to save me time (and space) in providing background and identification particulars of a few mentioned:  (Click on all images for larger view)

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Page1 Page2

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Note:  Parker Hooper (born 1877) was the son of  William S. and Isabella Hooper who resided on French Street, three houses east from Lizzie.

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Bertha Borden (born 1882) was the 15 year old daughter of Jerome Cook Borden & Emma Borden.  Jerome was Lizzie’s cousin who supported her during her Trial.

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Young Florence is clearly thrilled with the costumes and those attending.  Her letter reflects an almost giddiness in her descriptions.  She lived in one of the two grandest homes in Fall River:  Interlachen

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……and she spent that night with Marion Osborne at the other grand house:   the Carr-Osborne House

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One generation behind Lizzie, these young ladies and gentlemen were the sons and daughters of Fall River’s elite society on “The Hill”.  And while they were only around 8-12 years old when the Borden murder case exploded upon the Fall River scene, they would know of Lizzie all their lives.   (Most would live long enough to have read Edmund Pearson, Edward Radin and even a fellow B.M.C. Durfee High School graduate, Victoria Lincoln.)

It would be less than two years after this party that Lizzie would be trumpeted again on the front pages:   the Tilden-Thurber shoplifting incident.   An oh, how these fine, cultured young people must have gossiped about that at other parties.

Note:  Florence doesn’t tell us if any of the ladies came dressed as Lizzie Borden with a hatchet sewed onto their skirt.  That would have been shockingly inappropriate.  Never would have happened.  But today?  Hell yes.