Today is Lizzie Borden’s 157th Birthday. Show a little respect.
Today is Lizzie Borden’s 157th Birthday. Show a little respect.
RECYCLED FROM JULY 27, 2014 and FROM ORIGINAL IN 2008
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 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.
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.
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!
Prepare yourself for another grossly fictitious telling of the Lizzie Borden story – this one showing her as having a lesbian affair with the maid, Bridget Sullivan. Read about it HERE.
Aside from the two female stars, everyone else now attached to the project are pretty much unknowns. Sadly, the work of the Director tells us a lot about the genre and qualilty of this yet to be produced film.
When, oh, when will we ever have a true depiction of this most compelling case?
Sigh. And so it goes.
Meanwhile, enjoy this “Then and Now” image depicting the Sitting Room at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum in Fall River.
photo credit Joey Razda
I decided to take Lizzie Borden with me to Hawaii this year. Aside from bringing the most inappropriate clothing and a few surprising missteps in behavior, she was a most agreeable travel companion.
I usually stay on the more touristy side of the Big Island, Kona, but this year opted for Hilo – the only place in the entire State that is still representative of old time Hawaii.
From the balcony of our hotel room we had a view of the cruise ships harbored in the distance.
Lizzie so enjoyed watching them sailing in and out and told me of her voyage on the Grand Tour in 1890.
I was surprised at her exploratory nature at my friend’s 5 acre estate just north of Hilo.
“Lizzie get down from there, you’ll hurt yourself.”
One day we drove straight across the middle of the island on the new between the two volcanoes.
Lizzie was in awe of its beautiful terrain.
We lunched in Kailua Kona.
We visited the old stone church across from the Queen’s Palace…….
….where Lizzie suddenly became distressed that no one was in the pews. I had to remind her it was Thursday.
At one point she even climbed aboard the display of the ship on which the missionaries sailed from Boston in the 1870’s.
Lizzie loved the many beaches and when she asked “Will we see more up the roadway?” , I answered “Since we’re on an island, I’d be saying Yes.”
At the famous Rainbow Falls.
“Lizzie, you’re too far out…..come in closer to shore.”
Always conscious of her deportment, I was surprised on one occasion having to say: “Lizzie, get up off the table, you’re embarrassing yourself.”
But in all fairness, this is what occurred a little earlier.
Aside from that misstep, the trip was amazing for both Lizzie and myself. I may even take her next year.
Aloha and Mahalo.
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″.
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)
Note: Parker Hooper (born 1877) was the son of William S. and Isabella Hooper who resided on French Street, three houses east from Lizzie.
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.
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
……and she spent that night with Marion Osborne at the other grand house: the Carr-Osborne House
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.