Lizzie Borden Murderabilia
Fall River, Massachusetts
Lizzie Borden is a superstar in the True Crime pantheon, the mother of all ax maniacs. She was accused (and acquitted) of the August 4, 1892, hatchet murders her dad and step-mom in their own home. Rumor has it that she took the rap to cover-up for her illegitimate brother.
Maybe Lizzie did it and maybe she didn't, but what really matters is that the relics of that bloody event are on display in a lovely mansion in town, and that you can see them.
The Fall River Historical Society exhibits the murder memorabilia in glass-fronted cases that were being vigorously Windexed when we arrived. They were covered with smears from eager noses and twitching fingers, the greasy spoor of fans who want to get as intimate as possible with these macabre souvenirs.
Lizzie's prison dinner pails are here, as is the wooden stool from her jail cell and the billy club carried by the policeman who arrested her. Photos of the bashed-in skulls of Andrew and Abby Borden are exhibited, as well as hunks of their hair, a pillow sham and bedspread splattered with Mrs. Borden's blood, and the famous hatchet head that was found in the cellar.
"It's highly unlikely that it was the murder weapon," says Michael Martins, curator of the collection and an encyclopedia of unpopular facts. "They found no blood on it and only one strand of hair" -- which is also on display -- "but it's not human hair."
Absent from the exhibit are Mrs. Borden's bloodstained camisole and several of the more gruesome close-up crime scene photos that we'd seen on a previous visit. Michael said that this was simply a rotation of artifacts, not any attempt to mute the display for people who visit pretty houses. "In the past you'd occasionally have someone who'd faint for some foolish reason," he said, "but this is pretty lame by today's standards."
Some of Lizzie's most devoted fans excuse her fling with Mr. Hatchet as female empowerment, a bold act prompted by parental tyranny and/or the need to free a repressed spirit.
Michael isn't so sure. "Those girls [Lizzie and her sister] were perfectly comfortable," he says. "And Lizzie Borden did nothing for the rest of her life. Her letters are not particularly interesting. She spent most of her life shopping and hanging out with the few friends that she had. She did no philanthropic work. She certainly wasn't concerned with the welfare of anyone. She wasn't an interesting person in the least."
Lizzie did try to work her way into local upper-crust society, but was not welcomed, "certainly not in this house," Michael says, which belonged to Elizabeth Brayton, a member of a Fall River textile dynasty.
What, we asked, would Mrs. Brayton think of all of this murderabilia on exhibit in her elegant sitting room? Michael has no doubt. "She'd be appalled, I'm sure."
If Lizzie really did intend to whack the established order along with her parents, then she's had the last laugh.