Monday, August 4, 2014

A Visit to Lizzie Borden's House

Photo: Lizzie Borden's house--the murder house, not Maplecroft, where she later moved--at 92 Second Street, Fall River, MA as it looked in 1892.  From Lizzie Borden's Wikipedia page.

Photo: Lizzie Borden's actual books, in the Lizzie Borden house.  The 9th one from the left--the thick blue one, is titled When Ghost Meets Ghost.  This photo, and all the following photos, were taken by me in the Lizzie Borden house.  Please note: Out of respect for the proprietors of the Lizzie Borden House, I do not show any of the meatier (reads: gruesome, but better to draw in blog readers) pics that are available there (and on my phone's camera).  The address is 92 Second Street (GPS address is 230 Second Street) in Fall River, MA.  It's open from 11-3, seven days a week.  You can reserve a day and time as well.  Go to the official website:  They have a cool thing going on over there, and I don't want to rain on their parade, so you'll have to take the tour (just $15 per person for 50 minutes) to see the pics I speak of here, and in the blog below.  Many of the pics you'll see in this entry are ones I took at the Borden House, but are also popular pics of this case, and are commonly found online.

Recently (on Lizzie's birthday, July 19th, as it turned out; 1 in 365 chance there) I went to Lizzie Borden's house, just half an hour away from my own house, just to have a look-see.  I'm planning to write a novel (one of many planned; if I had world enough, and time) about the murder and trial, told from the POV of the maid, who moved away from the house on that fateful day, and died in Montana.

The house is now a bed and breakfast, and it gives tours through the day.  The tour guide (who seemed honestly surprised that our tour took about an hour) through the house was the daughter of the guy who now owns the place.  She did a great job, and clearly likes what she's doing.  How many high school seniors can say that they work at a (possibly) real haunted house (though for the record I didn't get any creepy vibes), and that they talk to people about a famous murder that, at the time, was called "The Crime of the Century" over 100 years before O.J.?  Well, she can.  (And she said a ghost pulled her earlobe there when she was a kid, and that other guests report strange things, including Abby Borden's ghost saying nice, motherly things).  She was very knowledgeable about her subject matter (though she may have fudged a little about the maid's infamous last words--that weren't; I'll explain later, at the end of this blog entry), very friendly and energetic, and very interested in Fall River in general.  She has a career as an actress or guide, but she said she was going to college to be a biologist.

I highly recommend the tour.  You can just show up like I did, and (because they were running late) go right on the tour without any waiting.  It's only $15 a person, and you can take all the pics and all the notes you want.  No film, though, I think.  But you can ask.  The address is 92 Second Street (GPS address is 230 Second Street) in Fall River, MA.  It's open from 11-3, seven days a week.  You can reserve a day and time as well.  Go to the official website:  They have a nifty catchphrase on the page: "Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum: Where Everyone Is Treated Like Family."  Well, I hope not!

Anyway, it's a well-maintained place with some of the real house stuff, though most of the things in there now were time-accurate pieces bought at auctions, etc.  (But the couch Mr. Borden was murdered on, the one you see in all the online pics, is the exact one that is still in the house.  If you look at the pics [too gruesome to put here], you'll see why--Who could get all that stuff out in 1892?)  I think the step-mother's bed is the same, but I could be wrong.  Unfortunately, the real things fell into neglect, as Lizzie was jailed for a long time after the murder, and the sister and maid moved away, and everything just kind of went to hell.  After the acquittal, they took whatever they wanted with them (Lizzie went to Maplecroft, up the street, which actually looks creepier than the Lizzie Borden house does today) and the rest went into storage.  What happened to all that 1892 stuff after that is anybody's guess.

The Lizzie Borden House was bought by people, and then again, and again...the current owner has really spiffed the place up for his business (the place and tour aren't as business-y as the website is), and the house itself is really well-cared for.  The tour guide was very honest about the things in the house--but as a writer, I really just needed to see the house, to stage what happened in there in my mind.  For example, how else would I have known that there aren't any hallways in the place at all?  One door opens into a room, and then another does the same, and so on.  No hallways with rooms off of them; no privacy at all, one would think.  And, as the informative and energetic guide pointed out, if you compare some of Lizzie's testimony with the layout of the house, you can see that she was lying.  For example, she said that she was in the dining room, ironing, and didn't hear the step-mother or her father being murdered.  But if you stand in the room she said she'd been in, you could see this would not be possible.  It's amazing how close everything is in the house.

So, if you're in the area, go see the Lizzie Borden House.  I also went to see Maplecroft, where she moved later.  (Just a few minutes away, the house is nothing to be named.  Only Newport mansions were named back then, and this place is a far cry from that, and even more so today.  As I said, it looks like it would be more haunted than the murder house does.  It's possible that she was putting on airs.)  I also went to see the cemetery where all of the Bordens are buried; that's just up the street in a huge cemetery on the peninsula.  The cemetery's main road has small white arrows pointing to the exact spot the Bordens are interred so that nobody gets lost and / or defaces any other gravestones--like people have at poor Mercy Brown's grave.

Blogs will follow about the murder house, Maplecroft, Fall River, and the cemetery.  Until then, a few pics:

This is a picture of the Borden house and surrounding homes as they would've been in 1892.  Today, only the Borden house is left.  It's a busy street now--as it was then--but there are newer homes, businesses, apartment houses, a cathedral.  I know it's 122 years later, but it's still shocking how much things change.

This is the room where Andrew Borden was killed.  The actual couch he was killed on is to the left in this pic.  Here it is, closer up:

And here's the bed beside which Abby Borden was killed.  The famous picture of her kneeling beside the bed was taken after her body had been moved for the picture.  Initially, she'd been trying to get under the bed, her arms were outstretched, and her skirt had ridden up.  The first doctor on the scene moved her body to a more "lady-like" position.

There are some very gruesome pics indeed I could have shown here, but out of respect for the proprietors of the Borden House, not to mention of the dead, I won't do so here.  You'll have to go to the Borden House (again, which I highly recommend) to see them; or, if you're interested in this stuff, you've probably already seen the more hideous and infamous pics online.  The one above is a popular pic.  But at the House you can see a pic of what Abby's head--and the huge thick puddle of blood--looked like.  The House has a picture of a camera taking a picture from the other side of the bed, facing the mirror / dresser you can see in this photo, to the upper left.  Reflected in the mirror is an 1892 camera taking the picture--and it is very bloody and gory.  If you're into this kind of thing, you've probably seen the online pic of Andrew Borden's devastated face and skull, as he'd lay on that aforementioned couch, his head on his folded coat, which he used as a pillow.  Very creepy, because it's taken from a short distance, and there are shadows, yet you can still see the damage.  There's another one at the Lizzie Borden House that I hadn't seen: the autopsy shot of him lying on an 1892 gurney at the Borden home, just hours after he died.  (A second autopsy was done later, after his funeral, at the Oak Grove Cemetery where he, his wives and his daughters are now buried.)  This is one of the most gruesome I've ever seen, which is saying something.  Creepiest thing is that, although the face is almost completely obliterated, you can see hair and ears that look perfectly normal.

To give you a sanitized feel for it all, here are their fake--but historically accurate--skulls.  His on the left, hers on the right.  (Their real skulls were infamously separated from their bodies and used as visual aids at the trial--and then put back with their bodies, in the wrong places!)  Notice the damage done on his skull on the side, as that would be the side facing up while he was asleep on the couch, facing out.  Her damage was done on the back and right side, as she'd been facing away at the time of the first blows, and Lizzie was right-handed.  Supposedly Abby then turned to the side, either in stunned surprise, or because she was folding something on the bed, and that's why much of the damage is there as well.

Well, that's it for now.  More of this morbid stuff to come, including paragraphs and pics of Lizzie's murder house and her later abode, at Maplecroft, as well as of the people involved and of their final resting place.

Oh, yeah, the maid.  So it's in the 1940s now, and Bridget Sullivan, the maid, lives in Montana.  As the story goes, she gets really sick with pneumonia and thinks she's dying.  She sends word to a friend to come see her before she dies because she has something very important to say.  (Why she couldn't just call this person is a mystery, since by the 40s phones were commonplace.)  Anyway, this friend travels to Montana, but by the time the friend gets there, Bridget has recovered and doesn't say anything about the murder.  Then she dies four or five years later, never having said anything about what she was going to say when she was sick.

This is, by the way, where my planned novel starts.  Flashbacks, then it bookends with her getting better--and then dying, never having said whatever it was she thought it had been really important to say.

Or...did she say something after all? 


  1. Awesomely creepy place! It's one thing to stab someone enough to kill them, but entirely different to bludgeon them enough times to completely obliterate their face. I love a good haunted house as much as the next person, but I don't know if I'd want to spend the night in a place where such grisly murders took place. I love to experience horror from a safe distance; not up close and personal. I'm a wuss like that.

    Great pictures!

    1. You're less of a wuss than I am! I don't like to experience horror at all--up close or far away! :-)

      Yeah, that was overkill. She had some pent-up anger and hostility!

  2. Nice writeup, Steve. Important correction however: The sofa in the sitting room is not the sofa pictured in the 1892 crime scene photos of Mr. Borden. Most of the furniture was stored in a warehouse down by the river after the sisters moved out. Years later, a fire in the structure burned most all of it.

    1. Thanks for the correction, Faye! And thanks for reading!

  3. The story about Bridget Sullivan, (the Borden maid), brought to mind another story I heard - there seems to be a lot of them floating around, even a hundred and twenty- two years later - but, I thought of it, so I'll perpetuate another rumour and mislead a few more misguided children into the proverbial well... as opposed to the actual one Lizzie Borden's aunt and neighbor put her children down... er - they weren't blood relatives... anyway ::cheeky grin::

    The story ::cough rumour:: goes that Lizzie had to have an operation to remove (something? - you can't reliably quote me, lol) her appendix, I believe. She was in great pain, possibly under influence of strong meds (can't recall) and, believing she would not live, made a confession to her nurse. According to the story, the nurse only told of this confession after many years.

    Of course, there is also the story of the signed confession note from when Lizzie was allegedly caught shoplifting and the confession was coerced (extorted) from her with threat of imprisonment. The signed confession actually states, in no uncertain terms, that it was given under duress.

    And then there was... but I think you might want to dig your own bones, for a kick.

    BTW: The "actual couch" is totally fake - well, it's fake in that no one was murdered on it, so far as anyone knows. The couch in the Borden house/B&B is a very close style and era antique to the one Andrew Borden was killed on. If you look closely, the carvings on the arms and the feet are slightly different as compared to some of those "meatier" photos you referenced. The owners will readily admit to this.
    Cute that the highschool girl got a kick out of telling you it was - people must ask that question all the freakin' time =)

    But, can you BELIEVE that Lizzie Borden had the actual couch her dad was axed to death on, reupholstered and brought back to the house, to the same place??! Andrew Borden was in furniture sales, for Heaven's sake! Get a new couch! Wouldn't any normal person, or is this just me?? This was just a few days after her not-guilty verdict was handed down.

    The couch was later stored in one of Andrew Borden's buildings, assuming this would probably have been around the time Lizzie and Emma moved into Maplecroft. Not sure what happened to it after that.

    1. Wow! Thanks for responding, Masha, and for sharing so much info. and rumor. Do you work at the home, or are you a serious "fan?"

      I can actually believe that she would re-upholster the couch and bring it back in. I believe this because a) the Borden family was notoriously frugal (or cheap). Her father would've definitely done that--and he owned the furniture stores! But this man infamously made everyone in the house eat bad mutton stew over hot summer days, thereby making everyone vomit--including himself. But, also b) Lizzie Borden did a lot of FU things after the trial, including sending some letters and "mementoes" to the prosecutor! Also, many people, including John Douglas, whose word I trust immensely, think that there may have been some abuse going on in that family, if you know what I mean. Douglas cites Lizzie's behavior, her compulsive stealing, her social withdrawal, her behavior while overkilling them, her excessive closeness and love-hate relationship with her father...and many more things. Bringing in the re-upholstered couch would be just another FU to him.

      Thanks again for commenting and for sharing so much!

  4. Forgot to mention I enjoyed your post - liked the "When Ghost Meets Ghost" and the close-up of Lizzie's bookshelf - never seen anyone do that, but glad you didn't try on the display dress in the room - like some of the other bloggers, lol

    1. I did that, Marsha, but didn't take a picture of it. jk

    2. I promise not to tell the Fall River Historical Society. For SHAME! Even Lizzie would be scandalized... then again.. ;)