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Category Archives: Fall River History

“We Love You, Lizzie – Oh, Yes We Do!”

(Originally posted in 2006)

(Think “We Love You, Conrad” from the movie Bye Bye Birdie.)

There was a great deal of sympathy and support for Lizzie Borden from the time of the murders to the time of her Trial – particularly during the time she was incarcerated at the ivy-covered Taunton Jail until June 3, 1893, when she was transfered to the New Bedford Jail.

While at the Taunton Jail, she gained sympathy from the “sob sister” style reporting of her jailhouse interview with Mrs. McGuire which appeared in print on September 20, 1892. In that interview Lizzie tells her of the flood of letters she has received from kind supporters. (Where ARE they? And who has any she may have written back to?)

Then on October 10th, the “Trickey-McHenry” journalistic fiasco by the Boston Globe so promptly retracted with apologies to Lizzie (and John Morse) garnered her more of the “that poor girl” image.

The papers reported the Government had a weak case but the critical revelation of the dress burning incident told by Alice Russell when the Grand Jury reconvened on December 1, 1893, was not published.

By April 1st, 1893, Lizzie was already a popular icon regardless of one’s belief in her guilt or innocence. Her popularity was evidenced by her name receiving the most write-ins for the below contest. The contest was for 5 tickets to the Chicago World’s Fair in 5 specific categories: (1) School Teacher, (2) Policeman, Letter Carrier or Fireman, (3) Mechanic or Gentleman Clerk, (4) Mill Hand, and (5) Lady Clerk – all to be residents of New Bedford. One simply had to cut out the coupon and write the name of the person they felt the most popular and designate which occupation.

Lizzie, a Fall River resident, won hands down for most popular “School Teacher”. Lizzie courteously rejected hers suggesting it be given to another, as it was. (It is believed, however, Lizzie subsequently attended the Columbian Exhibition towards its end run after her acquittal.)

How Lizzie must have relished in the glow of all this popularity. She had never been popular in school and so much wanted to be accepted among her peers. She played her “awful confinement” to the hilt.

Then, exactly one month later, on May 1st, 1893, there was the trumpeting of an “outraged” Mary Livermore at the police for their abuse and sheer adacity to even suspect this virginal Sunday school teacher who was the younger daughter of her long deceased friend, Sarah Morse Borden. And in this same article (below) we learn that even Emma received many letters of sympathy and support.

Lizzie’s Trial would begin on June 5th. She was still perceived as a victim. Her Inquest Testimony was disallowed. Her attempt to buy prussic acid was disallowed. She was acquitted. She was loved. “We love you, Lizzie Borden.”

Well, maybe not so much later.

By the way, just WHERE ARE all those letters Emma and Lizzie received, let alone those constituting their responses if they did correspond back? Emma, I would think, would have disposed of them. They certainly haven’t surfaced in the personal possessions she left Orrin Gardner. Lizzie, on the other hand, may have kept hers. If she did keep them, I have an idea where they might be. She was odd like that. For example, she had no fondness for Abby but she held on to that silver cup Abby gave her all her life.

I think Lizzie would have held on to the mementos that validated her popularity or when she felt loved.

So….

altogether now: “We Love You, Lizzie – Oh, Yes We Do!”

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New Books on Lizzie Borden Coming This Summer

Coming this summer – new books on Lizzie!  We recently had Christine Verstraete’s Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, and Rebecca Pittman’s The History and Haunting of Lizzie Borden.     The former is fiction horror and the latter is non-fiction.  Christine’s book has been well received and highly praised in reviews by those of its genre, and Rebecca’s book reflects a rare discipline to combine in-depth research with a totally captivating narrative.

But now we will be treated with a few more before the end of the year and I point out the two below worthy of attention.

Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done is a gothic thriller described below.

                                                                                                      Sarah Schmidt

From the May 12, 2017 Critical Eye book reviews in The Guardian:

“Sarah Schmidt’s debut novel See What I Have Done takes a new look at the case of Lizzie Borden, who in 1892 was charged with the brutal murders of her father and stepmother. “A disquieting read,” wrote Antonia Senior in the Times. “There is an ambiguity here that reflects the endless, unanswerable speculation about what really happened that day. This open-endedness will irritate some readers; I loved it.” Jake Kerridge in the Sunday Express found it “dignified and sensual, as though Henry James had decided to tell the tale.  There are multiple well-characterised narrators and a dreamlike quality to the prose that enhances rather than detracts from the horror at the heart of the story.” For the Observer’s Hannah Beckerman, “Schmidt’s portrayal of Lizzie is haunting and complex, a deeply psychological portrait that forces the reader to question their preconceptions about what women are capable of – for better and worse. Both disturbing and gripping, it is an outstanding debut novel about love, death and the lifelong repercussions of unresolved grief.”

Another book to watch for is from an excellent writer who is to be commended for her equally excellent research abilities, Erika Mailman’s The Murderer’s Maid.  Here’s the cover art for that book.

                                                                   Erika Mailman

Erika has written several books:

Check out her website HERE. 

 

 

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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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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.

Page8 Page9

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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.

 

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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The Impact of “The Greater and Lesser Bordens” on Andrew and Lizzie

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AbrahamBordenAbraham Borden – first born son of Richard Borden and Patty Bowen Borden
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“In 1860, Colonel Richard Borden was deemed the richest man in town, worth $375,000, (the equivalent of $8,122,011 in 2006). His wife was head of Central Congregational Church sewing circle.” -Spinner Magazine
Just pause and think about that fact for a moment (which most people won’t get).  It’s the year Lizzie is born, 1860.    Andrew is still living on Ferry Street in one half of that double house his father owns.  His own sister and her husband live there too,  And he has this relative…this uncle of his own father.  The man who persuaded his paternal grandmother to give up her water rights and that mill…the man who influenced the court – the man who got her to settle for much less.  Consider that Andrew, at age 38, living next to his father, HAD to know the story and was keenly aware.  So keenly aware he had already vowed he would not be a poor relation as his father was.  So keenly aware he was already well on his path of accumulating money. 
Andrew was only 2 years old when his grandfather, Richard, died, but he must have smarted in his early years growing up, reading, seeing, hearing about all his wealthier relatives and how some of them got that way.  Bitter?  I think so.  .  Determined.  You bet.
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Young Andrew Borden fell in love with Sarah Anthony Morse of Swansea and they married on Christmas Day, 1845.  Before he began to make money in his later partnership with William Almy, Andrew worked as a carpenter.  At the age of 23, he helped Southard Miller build the Charles Trafton House located at 92 Second Street.  Twenty seven years later, in 1872, Andrew would buy that house for $10,000 and move in with his two daughters and second wife, Abby.
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Main-Almy-BordenBorden and Almy furniture business on Main Street near Anawan.

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And Emma surely knew and if Andrew didn’t pass the knowledge on to her then Emma did.  But they knew.  They knew what it meant to be a Borden and that they should have been a RICH Borden.  And then to know they WERE rich but didn’t LIVE rich.  Lizzie bitter?  You bet.  Yeah, that Colonel Richard Borden…he was something all right, and yet he is written in the annals of Fall River history as  a glorified kingpin of its mercantile growth and prominence. 
Oh yes, how Andrew must have smarted.  And THAT attribute WAS passed on to his youngest daughter.

 

McWHIRR’S DEPT. STORE – WHERE LIZZIE WENT A-THIEVING

Mea Culpa Notice:  I was in error. McWhirr’s Dept Store, as shown here was not inside the Cherry & Webb Building.   It was a separate structure subsequently torn down and another building in its place.  The Cherry & Webb building, however still stands as indicated below.

In Lizzie’s day this was McWhirr’s Department Store, an upscale department store where anybody who was anybody shopped. Shown in this photograph, the name “McWhirr” can be made out on the top of the white building in the background.

The Cherry and Webb Building (so stated on the front of the building) is located at 139 South Main and is now the UMASS-Dartmouth Professional and Continuing Education Center a learning center for professionals, night students and other students. On the ground floor is the Café Arpeggio. Bristol Community College has recently leased space for special courses for special needs. Baker Books, once there on the ground floor in April 2007, gone by August 2007. Darnit.

Previously “one of the city’s most underutilized downtown structures”, Mayor Lambert is credited with its current public use.When I spoke to security, building maintenance technicians, administrators and students, one of the things I learned is that this facility is being used to assist with GED education for a number of the nearly 900 employees who lost their jobs by the closing of Quaker Fabric. I also learned that the only interior “original” to this building is the grand staircase shown below.

There was a time when the building was known to all Fall Riverites as “McWhirr’s”. Imagine Lizzie in her blue India silk bengaline inside this store moving about amongst the crowd. Imagine Lizzie taking a five fingered discount of oh, say, a pansy broach and sliding it up inside her so conveniently fitted gloved hand. Then, with a casual grace and the deportment of “a Borden” strolling towards this staircase and ascending to the second floor.

Without batting an eye nor turning her head to see if she’s being followed, she would maintain a steady but lady-like gait as she faked interest in nearby displays of hats, porcelain figurines, and petite carved bottles of French perfume. With a skill only acquired from experience, she would be diligently aware of any store employee watching her from a near distance.

Her heart beating to the exhiliarating thrill of this familiar challenge and satisfied no one was following, she would turn back to the stairway and begin her descent, one lady-like step at a time. Below her she would survey the vast array of glass table top and standing shelved display cases, filled with products from near and abroad. Men, women and children busy shopping, strolling and admiring all the goods. Busy store clerks packaging purchases and preparing sales slips. Busy, busy, busy. She would survey it all, calmly determined in her objective.

One gloved hand on the railing, the other modestly angled upright, her fashionable cloth purse looped over it. Posture perfect, a lady of some stature, she would have looked straight ahead, a seemingly blank stare masking a steeled will. She would descend, slowly, each step measured with her resolve and comforted in the fact her broach not the least bit detected as it nestled securely inside her modestly priced but exquisitely stitched leather glove.

Pausing at the bottom step, brazenly she would hold up that gloved hand with its secret deposit and there she would act as if only adjusting the fitting. Only a moment, but pause enough to quickly ascertain once more with a quick scan if any authoritative and watchful eyes were upon her. They are not. Only a fresh-face counter girl who looks directly at her and says: “Good morning, Miss Borden”. She would respond with a tilt of the head, a forced, kindly smile, and she would begin her walk towards the front door. A slight turn to the left and she would be on her path, curving here, curving there passing the cases, dodging a small child, brushing skirts against other ladies. Closer, each step closer. The front door now in sight.

Only 32 paces,…. now 20, and the heartbeat accelerates,….. now 12, and the breathing more pronounced…..now 9, and a slightly fevered brow…..now 7 and a quivering chin….the uniformed doorman sees her approach… now 2 steps, two steps only as the doorman pulls upon the door and tips his hat…the step across the threshold…, now daylight. No arm upon hers. No hand upon her shoulder. Big exhale. The quivering chin ceases to quiver, the pulse rate subsides, the fevered brow cools in the bright sun. A liberating wave of relief engulfs her. She feels…. a profound sense of…..special achievement by way of genetic entitlement.

Actually, considering the fashions of the day, forget the broach. She could have concealed a Virginia ham under those skirts. And many of the “ladies who went a-thieving”, in fact, did just that. But not at McWhirr’s.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2014 in Fall River History, Fall River, MA