Lizzie Borden took an axe
and gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
she gave her father forty-one.
So goes the rhyme associated with one of the US’s most gruesome crimes of the 19th century. In reality, her mother received only 18 or 19 blows while her father a mere 11, but neither of those numbers is as dramatic as forty and forty-one.
A search for the history of the family yields little in way of information. Lizzie’s father Andrew Borden was an affluent businessman in Fall River, Massachusetts, but was very tight with his money to the point of refusing to install plumbing in his house. Andrew had two daughters, Emma and Lizzie by his first wife, then remarried in 1865 when the girls were 12 and 4 respectively.
It seems Lizzie never dated, though she was well liked in the community and very active in civic pursuits. She taught Sunday school at Central Congregational, was an officer of the Christian Endeavor Society and member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
Neither Lizzie nor her sister Emma got along with their father and step-mother, clashing most often over financial matters. They were both outraged when, five years before the murders, Andrew withdrew their inheritance for Abby, their step-mother. To appease them, he bought each a house of equal value to that of the one he purchased for Abby. By this time, both had quit taking meals with Andrew and Abby and most often referred to Abby as Mrs. Borden.
The information then jumps to the day before the murders, 3 August 1892 when Lizzie attempted to purchase illegal puric acid from a local pharmacy. At the trial, the pharmacist’s testimony was not admitted as evidence. That day she also had lunch with her father and step-mother for the first time in five years.
The day of the murders began like most others: the family maid, Bridget, woke at 6 to make breakfast. The rest of the house, except for Lizzie, was awake by 7. Emma was away from the home spending time with friends in a nearby town. By 9 am, Andrew Borden and a house guest were gone from the house and 9:30 was the last time Abby Borden was last reportedly seen alive. She would later be found in the guest lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood.
Andrew returned home around 9:45 not feeling well and was informed by Lizzie that “Mrs. Borden” had gone to visit a friend who was supposedly ill. He went to the front parlor to read the newspaper. By 11, Bridget went to her room, also feeling unwell, but was roused 15 minutes later by Lizzie who informed her that someone had killed her father. Bridget rushed down the stairs to find Lizzie standing near the back door. Lizzie stopped Bridget from entering the parlor, instructing her instead to go across the street and fetch the doctor.
Dr Bowden was the first to examine the bodies. He found that Andrew had been attacked with a sharp object – probably an ax – and that there was so much damage even Dr Bowden, a close friend, couldn’t positively identify the man before him. Abby Borden was found upstairs in her bedroom, her body also mangled by an ax.
Though she was never convicted of any crime, many to this day feel that Lizzie Borden did indeed take an ax and commit to very gruesome murders. Even most of her neighbours came to believe she’d committed the murders and she was shunned by everyone.
Others, though, believe she didn’t do it and have poked holes in the story – occasionally convincing ones – to prove she didn’t nor could have.
Whether you believe Lizzie Borden murdered her father and step-mother or that someone else did, what is undeniable are the experiences people have staying at the scene of the crime. In the years following Lizzie’s death, the home where the family once lived was turned into the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum.
Guests and staff members alike have had their share of strange experiences in the house. Some have reported the sounds of a woman weeping and others claim to have seen a woman in Victorian era clothing dusting the furniture and straightening the covers on the beds. Occasionally, this even happens when the guests are still in the bed! Others have heard the sounds of footsteps going up and down the stairs and crossing back and forth on the floor above, even when they know the house is empty. Doors open and close as well and often, muffled conversation can be heard coming from inside of otherwise vacant rooms.
One man, who had little interest in ghosts, claimed that he accompanied his wife to the inn one night and took their luggage upstairs. The room had been perfectly made up when he entered, the bed smooth and everything put in its place. Over the course of a few minutes of unpacking, he happened to look over to the bed again and saw that it was now rumpled, even though he was in the room alone and had not been near it. With a start, he also noticed that the folds of the comforter had been moved so that they corresponded to the curves of a human body. On the pillow, there was an indentation in the shape of a human head!
His wife found him a few minutes later sitting in the downstairs sitting room. His face was very pale and he seemed quite nervous. When she asked him what was wrong, he took her back upstairs to show her the strange appearance of the bed. However when he opened the door, the pillow had been plumped and the comforter looked just as it did when he first entered the room — the room where Abby Borden had been murdered!
If you find yourself in or near Fall River, Massachusettes, book a night at the Lizzie Borden House and you can buy a tshirt proclaiming your survival. ;o)