Monday, June 4, 2012

Lizzie Borden Took An Axe...But not on that settee

On a hot August day, after being fed hot and cold mutton for three meals a day, three days in a row, a terrible thing happened at the Borden family home in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Someone killed Abbie Borden, and her husband Andrew.  And they just didn't kill them.  Whoever killed the miserly Andrew Borden and his corpulent wife did a real number on them.   Andrew Borden's daughter, Lizzie - not Elizabeth, just Lizzie - was the chief suspect for the crimes.

Victoria Lincoln, author of A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden By Daylight, has written what is generally considered one of the best accounts of the events leading up to the murders - and it was the WASP event of the era.  Lincoln, a Fall River native, knew many people and families involved in the whole affair, save Andrew and Abbie Borden.  And it is Lincoln who surmised that it was the steady diet of fetid mutton and rotting pears from the back yard of the Borden house (fertilized with the contents of the families slop pails) that lead to the murders.

The Borden's dysfunction had gotten to the point where Lizzie was suspected of stealing from her father's bedroom.  To shame her, and a send a message, Andrew and Abbie Borden took to locking their bedroom doors, but left the key on the mantle, as no run of the mill burglar would search the house for a key.  This story the tour guide told us.

But what the guide failed to tell us was at the same time, in an act tantamount to firing a shot across the bow of HRMS Borden, his daughters, whose bedrooms were accessed together through the same main door, locked that door and placed the key on the mantle as well, as if to tell their father and stepmother that "we suspect you could have been the burglar as well and perhaps you are the ones who are suspect."  Oh, what a cathartic release that must have been.

Things were brewing in the Borden house, and people were bound to snap.

Abbie met her end in an upstairs bedroom.  Several hours later, Andrew Borden arrived home, took the key to his rooms on the second floor of the home on Second Street, came down stairs and laid down on the sitting room settee for a quick nap.

Then someone hacked his skull to bits with a hatchet much in the same manner as his second wife Abbie met her end. 

So my "On this spot" shows the location of Andrew Borden's murder, it does not show the actual settee.  So George W. Tush was almost correct, but not quite.

How so?

While they may have resented their father's miserly ways, the Borden daughters were still their father's daughters.  So after Lizzie was found not guilty of the crimes, she bought a new house for sister Emma and herself, and moved ALL of the furniture from the house on Second Street to their new home, "Maplecroft", including the infamous settee where daddy lost his head.

The sisters had the settee reupholstered and continued to use it until 1) Emma moved out after having it up to her chin with Lizzie and her antics, and 2) Lizzie died in the early 1920s.  At some point, the settee was placed in a storage warehouse, and was lost a couple of years later with most of Lizzie Andrew Borden's other possessions.

So while the spot is where Andrew met a violent end, the settee is just a reproduction.

If you are interested in another take on the Borden murder, well written, in a shorter format than Lincoln's book, then I recommend the chapter from Florence King's book, WASP Where Is Thy Sting entitled, "The Ties That Bind."


  1. and here i thought you were going to tell me
    that you went to the house while in the bay state.

  2. Well I did. And I sat in that spot. Those are my niece and nephew on the settee. They had never heard of Lizzie Borden - not even via the rythme - so of course we took them to Fall River last Friday and did the tour.

    I must say, they have done a lovely job with the house. And I for one would sleep in the room that Abby Borden was hacked to death in. Why? Because - I'm that kind of person!

  3. Wow. Thanks for the recommendations. I've always been fascinated by this ghoulish story since the first time I passed through Fall River as a kid (after having heard the poem so many times). I'm going to check these out.

  4. If this had happened recently, she might have eaten them.

    1. Can you imagine the fun that Clap Trap Nancy Grace would have had with this?

  5. It's just good you're going to get out of Shaker Heights, Cookie. I mean really...