What Lies Beneath.

By 1892, Andrew Borden had established himself as a man of wealth and means in the community of Fall River, Massachusetts. A furniture and casket maker, he had restored the wealth of his aristocratic family, a wealth that his own father had squandered when Andrew was young. His first wife, Sarah (Morse) Borden, had given him three daughters before her passing at age 31. After her death, Andrew remarried, taking Abby Durfee Gray as his spouse. The family was hardly a model of bliss: the live-in maid, Bridget Sullivan, had noticed that the two daughters rarely ate with their father and stepmother. Money seemed to be at the root of much of the tension in the household, as Andrew was rather frugal, giving his own children very little from his considerable wealth. However, nothing prepared the Fall River community, and indeed the larger world, for the events that would follow on a hot August day, when Andrew and Abby were murdered in their own home by repeated blows from a hatchet. The prime suspect? Andrew’s youngest daughter: Lizzie Borden.

An attacker had struck Abby Borden 19 times in the head with a hatchet some time between 9:00 am and 10:30 am on the morning of August 4, 1892. Abby was cleaning one of the guest rooms at the time, the family having hosted Lizzie’s uncle (her late mother’s brother) the previous night. Andrew returned to the house around 10:30 am after visiting a nearby relative, and was murdered while taking a mid-morning nap, receiving 11 blows from a hatchet while in the first-floor sitting room. A little after 11:00 am, Lizzie called for the maid: “Maggie! Come quick! Father’s dead! Someone came in and killed him!” (via Wikipedia).

The ensuing investigation focused heavily on Lizzie, who had been home at the time, although the detective’s sloppy investigation was less than thorough. However, Lizzie’s story had numerous contradictions and inaccuracies. She had three separate explanations for where she was in the home when her father returned home. She claimed to have removed her father’s boots when he took a nap, but he is clearly still wearing them in the crime scene photographs. In addition, a hatchet found in the basement had its handle broken and it was covered in ash, perhaps to obscure evidence. Lizzie was witnessed the day after the murders tearing up one of her dresses and burning it in the kitchen stove. No other prime suspects emerged, as her older sister Emma was in another town at the time, and her uncle had an alibi for his whereabouts. Lizzie Borden was tried beginning in June of 1863 in a trial that captivated the nation. The idea of a sordid murder in an elite family during the Victorian era was headline news, let alone that the prime suspect was a woman, at a time when women were generally considered incapable of murder. Yet, given the poor investigative methods (even for that time period), the largely circumstantial evidence, and the view that a woman would be incapable of such a crime, the all-male jury found Lizzie innocent. Lizzie lived the rest of her life in Fall River, although largely excluded from society, until dying in 1927 (via Wikipedia).

On Saturday morning, I set off for Fall River, to tour the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum. The house that was once home to a notorious murder is now a destination for tourists to learn about this horrific crime. The house was a private home for many years until 1996, when it opened as both a museum and a bed & breakfast. Guests who are adventurous enough can choose to stay the night in this home, where the museum staff will share further stories of the house, including those of the paranormal, as stories of hauntings in the home abound. While the Voyage of DH does not often delve into Dark Tourism, today’s adventure was definitely an exploration of the macabre.

Fall River
The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum, about an hour south of Boston. Despite an abundance of wealth, Andrew Borden did not buy a home in the more upscale section of the city, living instead in a section that was then, and still is, home to many factories.
A beautiful early spring drive along Route 24 in Massachusetts. The buds on the trees are only beginning to emerge after a long winter.
Driving through the very hilly roads of Fall River. Many of the homes are at least 100 years old.
Arrived, and parked behind the Lizzie Borden Museum.
Tickets are purchased at the gift shop, which sits on the site of the original barn. Lizzie claimed she was in the barn during the time of her father’s murder, but substantial doubt exists regarding this claim, based on the maid’s testimony.
On the counter of the gift shop are two scenes depicting the murders with Lego characters, made by a former staff member of the museum…
While the current address is 230 Second Street, at the time of the murder, the house’s original address was 92 Second Street. The town changed all of the addresses along Second Street in 1896, but the house retains the original address for historic reasons.
The front staircase. An outfit similar to what Lizzie would have worn is on display. When Lizzie’s father returned home the day of the murders, Lizzie was heard to be laughing at the top of the stairs on the second floor.
The parlor room, where guests would be entertained, similar to that in the Emlen Physick Estate that this blog visited this past summer.
The dining room, where Abby Borden’s autopsy was conducted. The woven board hanging on the wall is the type that was used by the coroner to hold the bodies during the autopsy. Contrary to popular belief, the autopsy was not conducted on the dining room table.
Replica of the hatchet with broken blade that was found in the basement.
The last known photograph taken of Andrew Borden.
The key to Andrew Borden’s room. Earlier in 1892, Abby Borden’s room had been burglarized, and many of her possessions were taken, including Abby and Andrew’s personalized trolley tickets. Local youth were found using the tickets, and when questioned how they came into possession of the tickets, they claimed that Lizzie Borden had given the tickets away. Lizzie was the prime suspect in the theft, and Andrew had locks installed on his and Abby’s rooms afterward. He left the key on the mantle over the fireplace, however, as a silent warning to his daughter that he knew she had stolen from him, and a dare for her to try it again. Sounds like a fun family.
Where Andrew Borden’s body had been found (and presumably, the site of the murder).
After Lizzie called for the maid’s attention when Lizzie “found” her father murdered, a neighbor, Mrs. Churchill, came over to help. As the maid and Mrs. Churchill ascended the stairs to check on Mrs. Borden, they were able to see Abby’s body laying prone on the floor in the guest room.
The guest room, where Abby’s body was found beside the bed. The crime scene photos (on the dresser to the left) were the first crime scene photos ever taken in North America, and the second set taken in world history (the first being photographs taken in London during the horrific reign of Jack the Ripper several years prior).
The actual costume worn by Elizabeth Montgomery, who played Lizzie Borden in a 1975 made-for-TV movie on ABC. The actress later found out that Lizzie was a distant relative.
The books in plastic were actually owned by Lizzie had have her initial on the flyleaf. Two of the more interesting titles? “With Edged Tools” and “When Ghost Meets Ghost.”
The door to the maid’s quarters. During winter, this door was closed to keep heat in the lower floors, and during summertime it was also closed, to keep the cooler air in the lower levels. The result was that the rooms were bitterly cold in winter, and oppressively hot in summer. The entire family was suffering from food poisoning during the day of the murder, and the maid had retired to her quarters to rest when Lizzie called out that her father had been murdered.
While the kitchen has been modernized, the B&B owners were careful to find a stove that was a close match to the original. A similar stove was used by Lizzie to burn her dress, a dress that may have had incriminating evidence.
One of the last photos before Lizzie’s death in 1927. Inheriting a large sum of her father’s wealth (her sister Emma received the bulk of the remainder), Lizzie lived a comfortable existence, despite being shunned by society. The sisters had a severe argument in 1905, and they never spoke again.
92 Second Street.

The murder of Andrew and Abby Borden was never solved, and despite occurring almost  125 years ago, the case continues to have a hold on the imagination of many people. The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum tour was fascinating The tour guide, Danielle, did an excellent job of telling the history of the house and the story of the murders, while also striking a balance between humor and gravity. The tour takes approximately 50 minutes, and occurs on the hour every day from 11:00 am until 3:00 pm. The tour costs $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and students with a valid ID, and $10 for children ages 7-12 (children under 7 are free). For the more… adventurous… among you who wish to stay overnight, reservations can be made online through the museum’s website, and all room reservations include breakfast. I would highly recommend this museum for anyone interested in American history, crime, or perhaps even an exploration of the paranormal.

Thanks for coming along on another Voyage of DH!

‘Til next time.

5 thoughts on “What Lies Beneath.

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