Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mutton served with a simmering dish of repressed rage

One hundred and twenty-one years ago today, what turned out to be the most famous luncheon of the "Gay Nineties" was served up in Fall River, Massachusetts.  The meal, in the 90 degree high heat consisted of five day old mutton, and rotted pears from the backyard tree that Andrew Borden had collected from the ground.  The same ground where the family emptied their chamber pots that morning from the night before.  Andrew Borden was a notoriously cheap, and no waste was allowed in his home, even if it killed someone, and even if he was the one it killed.

No one spoke at the meal, save for asking for another serving of shit infused pears or fetid mutton on the verge of spoilage, because of a land deal that was happening between Andrew Borden and another family member.  The family's maid ate with the Borden's, and then rushed outside to vomit.  The doctor had been called to the house because of the stomach distress that everyone was suffering from.

While Borden's daughter Lizzie would ask her father to pass something, her anger was directed at Andrew's second wife, who's family would benefit from the land deal.  And to express her anger, Lizzie, would ask her father's wife by addressing her as "Mrs. Borden".  To quote author Florence King in her book, WASP, Where is Thy Sting, "oh, what a cathartic release that must have been."

And while the doctor claimed that the food was rancid from being left out in the heat, Andrew Borden would hear of such nonsense.  And he continued to insist that his family eat the rotting mutton, which even under the best of circumstances is an intolerable meal.

After the lunch - the whole family had been ill from eating the noxious food - life went on as usual at the Borden House, for what would be the last time.

For dinner, another round of spoiled mutton was served and then the family went to their rooms to sleep.  And tempers simmered in the eighty degree night air.

But the following day, August 5, 1892 would be a day full of surprises for the Borden entire family, and Fall River, for that matter.  


  1. Sheesh
    I wonder if I would have been able to even *pick up* an axe in 90 degree heat.

    So I have nothing but admiration for her Puritan Work Ethic.

  2. Well, at least she didn't lose her head...

  3. It's a story that, always, the more you learn about it the weirder and more intriguing it gets - a glimpse into one family's extraordinary pathologies and at the same time so much about the time and place in which those mad, unhappy people lived.

    The house itself, even, is so bizarre - all those closed doors and rooms that open onto each other rather than hallways. In some ways, the only surprise is that they hadn't all killed each other (or been murdered by the poor put-upon help) long before.

  4. haven't made it to the museum yet.

  5. I think a group field trip to the museum is called for.