Tag Archives: Louis McHenry Howe

Lizzie Borden Deserves To Be Seen in a New Light

“History made them famous.

Ken Burns makes them real.”

Almost every single day, essays, plays, songs, chatter on forums, cartoons, YouTube submissions, artwork, etc. continue to portray Lizzie Borden as she has been for over a century.  But now exists true facts that changes the entire Lizzie landscape.  It’s out there now.  It’s accessible and it screams to be heard on a massive scale,  It just needs to be read.  But so many people don’t really read.  They like short sound bites or FILM.  Lizzie deserves to be heard and seen in a new light, and a bloody good documentary would be just the thing to do it.

Last October, when I was in Kona, Hawaii and reading Parallel Lives – A Social History of Lizzie Borden and Her Fall River, I was contacted by Susanna Steisel, who works for Ken Burns at Florentine Films, Mr. Burns’ production company.  She explained Mr. Burns was workingon a triple biography documentary of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.”   She further explained she had been reading my blog posts on Louis McHenry Howe (secretary and special advisor to FDR) and wanted some additional information.  After some exchanges, I used the opportunity to explain the link  between Louis Howe and Lizzie Borden.  Naturally, I told her about the Fall River Historical Society’s magnificent bookI went so far as to say he should seriously consider a documentary on Lizzie Borden based on the information in Parallel Lives, specifically as to it’s Big Reveal of a “different Lizzie” that was heretofore never known.

Now, for those who don’t know, Ken Burns (check him out on Facebook) is an award-winning preeminent documentarian; prolific and without peer, his body of work can be seen from the list of his films as shown HERE.

It would be spectacular to have a Ken Burns multi-part documentary that would reveal the character and sensitivities of Lizzie Borden as revealed in Parallel Lives. All of Burns documentaries are of excellent quality and content, and are viewed by millions all over the world.  It would be groundbreaking for Ken Burns himself because he would be the very first to put on film new information about this iconic figure in America’s most compelling and mystifying unsolved murder case.   Using the information in Parallel Lives, such a documentary would deconstruct long held urban legends of the case.  It would sear into the minds of the viewing audience a Lizzie Borden far different from the one dimensional persona of which she has long been illustrated and portrayed – namely, a maniacal sociopath wielding a bloody axe just used for “forty whacks.”   Undoubtedly, Mr. Burns would be credited as “the man whose film irrevocably altered the beliefs and perceptions of Lizzie Borden the world over.  The man whose revelations put to film gave the world a three dimensional, heart and soul Lizzie Borden.”

Can you envision a multi-part sepia tone documentary that uses Fall River society as the Civil War backdrop with Lizzie Borden as the protagonist Scarlett?  I’m talkin’ epic here.  Well, I can envision it.  I can –  if Ken Burns produces it.

So if you are on Facebook, post a comment encouraging – encouraging, hell – BEGGING Ken Burns to produce a documentary on Lizzie Borden based on the content of Parallel Lives.   The FRHS tells me they sent him a copy of the book – let’s hope he reads it.  🙂  Meanwhile, post on Facebook or write his production company.


Posted by on January 28, 2012 in TV, Theatre & Film


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The Benefactors’ Edition of Parallel Lives-A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River

It’s a beautiful thing.  Check it out:

The holding sleeve has a leather/felt-like interior.

The sleeve has the staged photo of Lizzie in her senior years on the back porch of Maplecroft.

The woman that is pictured in the edition already opened (the one I read in Hawaii) is Anne Lindsey, sister of Mary Brigham.  What a Dame!

The marbleized end pages are taken from a book in Lizzie’s library

Note the edged gold “gilt” on the pages.

The “Presentation” page.  Click for larger image.

Yep.  She’s a beaut all right.  🙂


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Genesis of the “Emma Did It” Theory

(Recycled from October, 2009)

Those who choose to believe Lizzie BordenEmmaclearr-1 was innocent cite the various theories to be found in dozens of books on the case. From the villainous “Intruder” to the illegitimate son, Billy Borden, there is none more preposterous than the “Emma did it” theory.

That Lizzie’s older sister, knowltonvisiting in Fairhaven – a good 15 miles distant in horse and carriage days – committed the dastardly deed was never considered in the slightest by the Fall River police or District Attorney Hosea Knowlton. It was only many decades after the crimes and Lizzie’s acquittal that this theory took hold.  But how did it come about?  How did it start?  Was it Alfred Hitchcock’s teleplay, The Older Sister? Just when and from whom did this theory first appear in print or any other media?

I made a delightful discovery a couple years ago from my expanded readings of the Lizzie Borden-Franklin Roosevelt connection.  That connection has always intrigued me because had Lizzie lived six more years she might had taken tea with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, an invitation arranged by her cousin, Grace.  Imagine that.  Lizzie Borden in the White House.

I think it’s time to reveal the genesis of the “Emma did it” theory.  The source is none other than Lizzie’s own cousin’s husband, Chief political strategist and advisor, personal secretary to President Franklin D. Roosevelt – Louis McHenry Howe.

Louis McHenry Howe and President Franklin Roosevelt

Louis was, of course, married to Grace Hartley Howe. Grace was born November 9, 1874 in Fall River making her 14 Grace-cropyears younger than Lizzie. Grace’s maternal grandfather, Cook Borden, and Lizzie’s paternal grandfather, Abraham Borden, were brothers. Grace married Louis on May 6, 1899 at age 24. Louis had been a newspaper man and he surely had read about the murders, the legal proceedings and Lizzie’s ultimate acquittal.  After his marriage to Grace, there must have been discussions with his wife about her notorious relative.

On December 11, 1931, writer Fulton Oursler went to meet Franklin Roosevelt, thenNY Fulton Oursler Governor of New York,  at his home at 49 East 56th Street.  The meeting was a result of Oursler’s writing two recent articles for the influential Liberty Magazine, (of which he was about to become editor) one of which was entitled “Another Roosevelt in the White House?” It was a time when Governor Roosevelt was about to engage in the year long campaign for the presidency under the tireless guidance of his closest friend and chief political strategist, Louis Howe.

Upon Oursler’s  arrival he was greeted by Louis who was living in the Roosevelt home while his wife lived in Fall River.  The two men waited for FDR’s return from the dentist.  The conversation that took place – remarkable in and of itself –  can be read in the book shown below – an autobiography competed by his son, Fulton Oursler, Jr. :

Behold This Dreamer! Fulton Oursler, Little, Brown & Company, 1964, 1st Ed.

Click on images for larger view.



Now, to any serious reader of the life of Louis Howe, one would know how he often played gags on people, toying with their head so to speak.  I can imagine Louis saying all this with a straight face but with an undetected twinkle in his eye that the very straight-laced and conservative Oursler would not recognize.

Here was a man (Louis) whose wife was named as a primary legatee in Lizzie’s Will just 4 years previous (but due to the six years of probating had not yet received her cash windfall).  Perhaps Louis had Lizzie on his mind because of the fact the first Probate accounting had just been held less than two months previous on October 31, 1931 in a Fall River court.   Or perhaps he was just full of glee knowing his man, Governor Roosevelt, was on the threshold of becoming “President Roosevelt”  in a year’s time, mainly due to his own efforts.

Whatever his reasons for saying what he said, Louis was a man who surely knew at least the basic facts of the case.   But he told this story and it stuck.  Not only did he tell it to Oursler but he repeated it to thatpearson prolific writer and librarian, Edmund Pearson at a subsequent luncheon arranged by Oursler.   Now Pearson, being an expert on the case, didn’t believe a word of it.  How he must have cringed over that bit about Emma being crazy and suffered from epileptic fits, and had been out of town in “Marion” but snuck back.  Either Louis had scant knowledge of the particulars or Oursler got that wrong, but oh, how Louis much have enjoyed that luncheon!  And Louis most certainly knew beforehand that Pearson had written that long essay on the Borden case in Studies in Murder, published in 1924.   Oh yeah, Louis knew what he was doing, all right.  I would love to have been at that luncheon – invisible and silent but taking in every word of the Messrs. Oursler, Pearson and Howe.

There’s a lot more misinformation in those quoted remarks of Louis attributed by Fulton Oursler – almost comical in its ridiculous assertions – as any scholar of the case will readily recognize. Could Louis, always the visionary and strategist,  have deliberately wanted to eradicate any thought that the cousin of the wife of the chief advisor to the future President of the United States was a murderer, and by so doing,  misdirect guilt to the sister?

Oh, Louis, you dishevled, asthmatic, chain-smoking, strategizing scamp, you.  Look what you’ve done.  Your contrived tale told nearly 80 years ago continues to surface and provide an outlandish alternative theory.

So there you have it, the source and genesis of the “Emma did it” theory first appearing in print.


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Lizzie Borden’s Will and Who Got the Cars


Lizzie Borden died on June 1, 1927.  Her highly publicized Will was probated for six years.  We learn much from those probate proceedings.  For example, Undertaker Winward charged $696.70 for her funeral arrangements.  We learn that Lizzie’s two cars, which were not listed among her bequests, were subsequently given away to her chauffeur, Ernest A. Terry,  and business manager, Charles C. Cook as assigned assets disposed of in the 4th and Final Probate Accounting.



Conformed Copy of the original of Lizzie Borden’s Last Will and Testament.

(Right click images for better viewing)


There were 4 Probate Hearings as follows:


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 


3rd (Substituted) 


Jan.1, 1932 – 

Nov. 28, 1932

February 17, 1933 


4th Final 


Nov. 28, 1932 – 

March 3, 1933

March 24, 1933 


Conformed Copy of the original probate documents as filed with the probate court in Fall River.

As executor of Lizzie’s Will, Charles C. Cook had listed his services at $10,000.  That was reduced to $5,000.  There was also the initially unreported sale of the Henry house (for $10,000 on April 14, 1928) adjacent to Lizzie’s that was contested by the primary “human” heirs, Grace Hartley Howe and Helen Leighton.   As if the money and the “so called Baker lot” were not enough, Mr. Cook ended up with the car below.   He had served Andrew Borden in his business interests and then Lizzie and her sister for the past 35 years.   He had earned Lizzie’s respect and gratitude for his loyalty and discretions.  Perhaps, like Lizzie, Charles had his own sense of entitlement.

The vehicles pictured below are for illustrative purposes and not the actual cars.



1923 Lincoln Sedan went to Charles C. Cook.

Charles C. Cook was born March 28, 1854, and died on  September 28, 1934, only 18 months after the final probating of Lizzie’s Will.



1924 Buick Sedan went to Ernest A. Terry

Ernest A. Terry was born January 26, 1886,  and died October 11, 1955.

Both these cars would have been garaged in the special structure Lizzie had built for her first automobile in 1913.  It still stands on French Street but is used for storage.  Robert Dube, owner of “Maplecroft” tells me that when originally constructed there was only the center doors.  The doors on both ends were added years later.  Dube showed me the original drawings.


Rear of Maplecroft showing the area behind the Swift residence to the right.  This shows the pathway on which Lizzie wanted to have a driveway built to her garage with it facing towards Belmont Street.  Due to restrictions set forth in the sale at the time, she was not able to build where she wanted.



Besides Ernest and Charles and the cars – both Grace and Helen gained from the “residuals” of the estate.  In addition to the furniture, carpets, books, jewelry, silver, glassware, etc., they were given cash payouts earned from interest on properties and stock dividends earned since Lizzie’s death to the final accounting – a period of 6 years. Grace was in Fall River on March 3, 1933 to sign (along with Helen Leighton)  the Fourth and Final Accounting of the Probate of Lizzie’s Will, wherein they both received $6,000.  That was a chunk of change to receive in the middle of the Depression.

The very next day Grace Hartley Howe, cousin to Lizzie Borden and wife of the private secretary and chief political strategist to Franklin Delano Roosevelt,  was in Washington, D.C. for the inauguaration of the President of the United States of America.  She and Hartley took the train.

Why she and Helen chose not to keep these cars is a puzzlement to me.


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ANSWERS TO: Who, What, Where Am I? The Lizzie Borden Connection Quiz

THE WINNER IS KEITH JUDSON OF RENO, NV. He answered 21 of 25 questions correctly.  He wins a copy of the Knowlton-Pearson correspondence.  Prior to publishing his first essay on the case, Edmund Pearson was given entre’ to the private correspondence of D.A. Hosea Knowlton by his son, Frank Knowlton.  Frank also arranged for Pearson to meet many of those still living in Fall River who knew Lizzie or were in some way involved in the case.  This is a seldom made available and most interesting collectible.


Can you identify these images?  Can you tell what they are, where they are or who they are and their relevancy to Lizzie Borden?   If so, email me.  If you get a minimum of 12 of the 25 correct, I’ll send you a prize – a Bordenia collectible – valued at $25.00.


Known as the “Sanford House”, this Victorian beauty is on Lincoln Avenue in the Highlands.  It was the home of Arnold B. San ford, Treasurer and President of the Globe Yarn Mills and San ford Spinning Company.  (Sanford had his headstone at Oak Grove Cemetery constructed to look like his mill building).


This is the ceiling of the Fall River Public Library on Main Street.


Matthew Chaloner Durfee Borden (aka “MCD Borden”), a bloodline relation to Lizzie.


The old Fall River City Hall bells taken down when City Hall was demolished for the I95.  They are now in the rear of the “new” city hall.


William Wilson Gardner, brother of Orrin Gardner.  He married Josephine Cobb of New Bedford and they were the parents of  Hamilton Gardner.  Born in 1875 he died shortly after his wife in 1911, and his son was raised by brother Orrin.


Interior of the former “Abbey Grille” once housed inside the now vacant former Central Congregational Church on Rock Street (Lizzie’s church).


The original cellar door (and probably hardware) at 92 Second Street.


“Louis Howe next to Eleanor Roosevelt : he’s the husband of Grace Hartley Howe (inheriting half of Lizzie’s share of Maplecroft . Grace’s grandfather was Cook Borden and a brother of Lizzie’s Grandfather. Louis McHenry Howe was chief advisor and political strategist to President Roosevelt. In 1926 the Howes lived within walking distance of Maplecroft.”  (Precise and correct answer from Dan).


The garage at “Maplecroft”.


Print of “The Village Elms” which hung on the wall over the sofa in the sitting room of 92 Second Street.  The image was tracked and identified by Leonard Rebello from in-situ photographs of the slain Andrew.


Autopsy photo of Abby Borden.


Cemetery office/vault building at the Old North Burial Ground off North Main Street.


153 Belmont Street around the corner from Maplecroft.  Edith May Buffinton Gardner and husband the Rev. Frank Gardner (he was brother to Orrin Gardner) once lived there.  The below image of “Maplecroft” shows a portion of that house – the torquise one in back.


Wedding photo of Frank Henry Gardner (brother of Orrin and William Gardner) and Edith May Buffinton.  Born in 1869, he was ordained in 1893.  Frank and Edith’s daughter, Doris, would grow up with – and eventually marry – Hamilton Gardner.


The old Central Police Station on Bank Street which also housed the Second District Court.  Both the Coroner’s Inquest and the Preliminary Hearing were held here.


This portrait of District Attorney Hosea M. Knowlton is on the wall of the second floor courtroom of the New Bedford Superior Court where Lizzie’s Trial was held.  Knowlton became Mass. Attorney General following Pillsbury.


Ron Evans and Martha McGinn who inherited the structures, land and business of Leary Press from her grandfather.  It was Ron Evans idea to convert the house into a B&B.  He was like a surrogate son to John McGinn and died in the late 90’s.


Interior of part of the Gift Shop area in the “barn” at 92 Second Street.


The lunch/dinner pail used to transport Lizzie’s special restaurant meals while she was incarcerated in the Taunton Jail awaiting Trial.  Once displayed in the kitchen (gift shop area) of the Fall River Historical Society, it is no longer on regular display with other Lizzie artifacts.


Abraham Borden, father of Andrew Borden and brother of Cook Borden.


John Vinnicum Morse, brother of Sarah Anthony Morse Borden and uncle to Lizzie and Emma.  This image taken from a t.v. documentary during broadcast.


Unidentified woman long purported by the Fall River Historical Society to be Sarah Anthony Morse Borden chiefly due to the fact that when it was donated to the FRHS, the donor identified it as her.  Clearly it is not.  The FRHS has yet to identify her.  The image has been printed in some books on the case.


Attorney John W. Cummings, prominent attorney and former Mayor of Fall River.  He was introduced to Edmund Pearson by Frank Knowlton, son of Hosea Knowlton.  See article below.


This photograph taken the day after Lizzie died when her grave was paved over, per her wishes, at the family grave site at Oak Grove Cemetery.


Florence Cook Brigham, beloved past Curator Emeritus of the Fall River Historical Society who died January 22, 2000, at the age of 100.


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Louis McHenry Howe – Devotion vs Love

(Reposted from 2009)

A study of the personal correspondence between Louis McHenry Howe and Grace Hartley Howe (second cousin to Lizzie Borden) cannot help but make one wonder if this man misplaced his unwavering devotion to President Franklin Roosevelt over the love for his own wife and family.  The letters reveal a man conflicted but unwilling to remove himself from the virtual shadow of  FDR where he relished being so close and so influential to the power on the throne.

Photo by Corbis

Julie M.  Fenster’s excellent book, FDR’s Shadow, is the first to reveal these letters stored at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, New York.  I went there to read them myself and came away with a few differing insights from Julie’s, but my mission was focused more on those letters between Louis and his wife than those between Louis and Franklin.

In the letters, time and again Louis professed his love for Grace and his daughter Mary, and son Hartley, above and beyond anything else.

But very early on in the marriage there were problems -within its first year in fact.  Grace and her mother may have been shocked by the sudden  flat-lining of Louis’ financial promise from when he and Grace were first secretly married.

November 9, 1898 Grace Hartley & Louis Howe are secretly married by JOP; Grace returns to Boston same night & Louis to Saratoga.     (Rollins p75)
May 6, 1899 Grace Hartley marries Louis McHenry Howe in a formal ceremony at the Church of Ascension in Fall River.

Evidence of Louis’ doubt of Grace’s love and problems in the marriage are revealed in this letter dated 1900:   (Click on images for larger view)

Over a period of 20 years, Louis would occasionally bring up the names of “Ted” and “Willie” whom he suspected his wife involved with.  (And let me say right now that from reading all these letters the thought entered my mind if Hartley was, indeed, Louis’ biological son – more on that in another post). “Ted” was apparently a wealthy Fall River person whom Louis stated would have given Grace the kind of life she wanted.  Here he again mentions “Willie”:

Grace’s letters were far different from Louis.  They were not filled with terms of endearment or expressions of love.  As Julie stated in her book, they were written more like a sister to a brother.  But they do reveal a woman very much interested in local Fall River as well as national politics.  Grace wrote often of her civic and social service involvements and activities and of her family members, cousins Bessy and Bertha who visited often.

The letters between Grace and her mother (Mary J. Borden Hartley) reveal much about how Grace was raised, transparent of being a “Borden”.  Prior to her marriage, Grace lived her young life much the way Lizzie would have wanted for herself.   Grace’s passions extended to the love of animals, antiques and helping the poor – the same as those of  Lizzie.

In reading those letters over and over (the library allows you to take digital pictures of the letters and I captured them all) I was struck by another common bond between Grace and Lizzie:  Louis made the decision to live most of their married life with the Roosevelts rather than with his own family.  Could it be that Grace and Lizzie shared feelings of abandonment – Grace by her husband,  Lizzie by her sister?   Animals, anitiques, abandonment and concern for the poor – threads that bind.

An excellent biography on FDR which includes the importance of Louis to FDR’s political rise is FDR:  An American Experience Part 1 (1994) available thru Netflix.   Or, you can view it online at this link.

This documentary also has some terrific footage of LMcH, some where he actually looks handsome.

The more I read about Louis the more I myself am conflicted about his sincerity with regards to his profestations of love in those letters to Grace.  When you love someone you want to be with them – share your lives together.  Louis chose to live with Franklin and Eleanor.  Louis was totally devoted to FDR.  Did that devotion supercede his love for Grace?  Was he truly a man conflicted?  Was it a deeply torturing guilt that guided his hand to paper and write with false conviction?

I have found it written by Hartley Howe that he never felt close to his father, that he never felt he really knew him.


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Fall River Visit Snippets

Lucy S. Macomber headstone at Oak Grove Cemetery.  She was a school chum of Lizzie’s (the class ahead of her) and listed as the 17th bequest in Lizzie’s will, receiving $1,000.

Fall River Locust Street residence of Grace Hartley Howe and Louis McHenry Howe.  He wrote her many letters to this address while he resided with Franklin and Eleanor in New York.

Grace’s Fall River cottage home on Martha Street with lovely view of the Taunton River.  She lived here during her years as Postmistress of Fall River and until her death in 1955.

Grace’s uncle, Jerome C. Borden had several daughters.  Cousin Bessy was a favorite and Grace’s mother wrote her daughter frequently about Bessy, Bertha and Fanny.

During the 1880’s & 1890’s it was fashionable to have yourself photographed in front of your home or business by a traveling postcard photographer.  The below image shows 3 ladies in front of this home only one door down from Central Congregational Church.

This is a similar view of that area today where both houses still stand.

The one nearest the now defunct Abby Grille, as shown below, has had some recent modifications.

It is now the “Old Firehouse Smoke Shop”


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