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Saturday, April 13, 2024 - 01:50 AM


First Published in 1994


“Lizzie Borden took an axe

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done

She gave her father forty-one.”

As a kid I remember watching a made-for-TV movie about suspected axe-murderer Lizzie Borden that starred Elizabeth Montgomery. Uncounted murders have taken place throughout the span of American history but few have reached such mythic, folkloric status as the murders of Andrew Jackson Borden and his wife, Abby, supposedly at the hands of his daughter.

This famous (or infamous) crime took place on August 4, 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts. I decided to pay a visit to the Borden house one Sunday morning while on a trip that I have been telling you about, a trip I took to New England this past fall.

After leaving the hotel in Warwick, Rhode Island, where I spent Saturday night, I hopped on I-195 and headed east through a steady rain to Fall River. I knew that the house would not be open for tours that early but I at least wanted to snap a few pictures of it.

The building has been turned into a bed and breakfast. Can you believe that? Although I am not superstitious, still, I would feel uncomfortable spending the night where such a horrible crime took place.

At the time of the murders, Andrew Borden was a wealthy businessman, one of the richest residents of Fall River. He was married to his second wife, Abby. Apparently Lizzie and her older sister, Emma, did not get along well with their stepmother. In fact, Lizzie addressed her as Mrs. Borden, not Mother.

Leading up to the day of the murders there head been some tension as to Andrew's distribution of wealth to various family members other than his daughters. Another thing that may have caused some dissension was the fact that, despite his wealth, the frugal Borden refused to adopt such new-fangled developments such as electricity, which he could have easily afforded.

Also, in May of that year, Andrew had killed, with a hatchet, some pigeons that Lizzie had been keeping in the barn. And in July, an argument caused both sisters to leave on extended vacations.

A week after the murders Lizzie was arrested. The case made national headlines. The following June she was acquitted of the murders and continued to live in the area until her death on June 1, 1927.

No one else was ever charged with the murders, although a number of theories arose as to who was the actual killer. People have speculated that it was, indeed, Lizzie, or perhaps Emma, or the housemaid, Bridget Sullivan, or perhaps an illegitimate son of Andrew's. Although Lizzie lived comfortably afterward due to inheriting her portion of her father's estate, she was ostracized by the locals for the rest of her life.

After taking some pictures I got back into the car and continued east until I reached Route 3. I then headed north toward Boston in a steady rain, passing through the western tip of the Cape Cod peninsula, the famous stomping grounds of the Kennedy dynasty.

I had looked up a Baptist church on the internet that was located in Weymouth, a southern suburb of Boston. In the Carolinas, everywhere you turn there is a Baptist church. In New England, however, the religious demographics are quite different. Congregationalist and Catholic churches seem to be the rule while Baptist churches are the exception. Therefore, I knew that I had to look up a Baptist church ahead of time rather than taking my chances of trying to find one while driving down the road.

I reached the church a few minutes before 11:00 a.m. Pulling into the parking lot I noticed just a handful of cars. The building where the church met is a Grange hall.

I walked in near the end of Sunday School. During the break between Sunday School and the morning service the pastor and some other congregants greeted me and we fellowshipped for a few minutes. One thing about visiting small churches – all the regulars know that you are a visitor.

The pastor, a very heavyset man, originally from Michigan, sat on the edge of the platform during the entire time that I was there until it was time to leave. I certainly understood why. I am sure that he would not have been able to stand for that length of time.

After the service we lingered for a while and got better acquainted. I explained that I was doing some sight-seeing in the area. One fellow in particular, a man named Rodney, was very helpful in advising me as to how to navigate through downtown Boston.

Another congregant, a woman named Helen, had a distinctly British accent. After the service, when I walked to my car, I pulled out a map of Boston. She saw me reading the map and asked if I needed directions. I thought it a bit unusual that a Brit would offer to give directions in navigating an American city until she explained that she was not a visitor, but rather a ten-year resident of the area.

I soon got back on the expressway, headed north and soon connected with I-93 and continued north until I reached another southern suburb of Boston, the city of Quincy. The locals advised me that the pronunciation is 'Quinzy.' I don't argue with the locals. They can pronounce their hometown any way they want to. Who am I to tell them different?

Years ago, a friend who was originally from Massachusetts told me that the city of Leominster is actually pronounced 'Lemminster.' Another Massachusetts acquaintance pronounced Worcester as 'Wooster.' Again, who am I to argue? When in Rome ...


Next Installment – The Adams Family

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