Post Card from Fall River
- Greetings from Lizzie Land!
I'll skip the part where I overslept, couldn't get a cab, how I was getting
out of the cab with 5 minutes til train departure time, how the PA was
announcing 'All aboard' when I was nowhere near the train yet, how when I did
get to the train it was starting to pull out and the doors were closed and
then out of the blue, they let me get on.
So, I had decided to take the train from New York to Providence, RI, and got
to Providence around 1:15. It is actually a pretty train ride -- once out of
the NY metropolitan area, the train really goes along the coast and between
the sailboats and the autumn leaves, it really was pleasant.
By the time I got off the train, went to the bathroom, checked my phone
messages (playing hooky today) and was in the rental car, it was 2:00 and the
last tour of the Fall River Historical Society is at 3:00 -- and it's not
open on the weekend. The rental car woman had told me it was about 30 minutes
to Fall River so I knew I had to get there fairly directly. It's an easy
drive -- and I did stop at the Fall River Tourist Info Center on the way,
thinking spending a few minutes getting directions would be a good
investment, rather than trying to find it by "dead reckoning."
As you approach Fall River, you are on a six-lane highway and you're crossing
a bridge and the city fills in the horizon in front of you -- and my first
impression was that it really *is* a city on a hill. I think I had imagined
"the hill" as state of mind -- but it's real.
I had a good map, and got to the Historical Society around 2:35. I have to
say it was thrilling just to see the sign out front! It's a big old house
where they have part of it decorated as it was in 1870 and part of the rooms
are exhibits. The people who work there are very friendly, and one fellow
asked me if I were "local or a traveler." And I said traveler and he said,
"for Lizzie?" and I joked, "How'd you know?" I was the only visitor at the
time -- and I am not quite sure if you can look at the exhibits by yourself
or not. They told me to wait on this sofa until 3:00 when the tour would
start. Of course, I was allowed to look around in the gift shop!
I have to say the gift shop had very nice things, very well-priced I thought
for "touristy" things. I had read about "The Knowlton Papers" on their
website, but wasn't convinced I wanted to spend $50 on it. At 3:00 on the
dot, this fellow came over and we started the tour (just him and me). He
asked me what my interest was -- and I told him that I had always wanted to
come to Fall River and then joked "So you're part of my fantasy come true!"
and he lauged and said, "Now, that's frightening!"
He told me about the house, about the sitting room, the dining room which are
all period rooms... the dining room was neat in that it was round (if you can
imagine a round room in a square shape space) and so each rounded corner
contained a cabinet.
OK, next we walk into this room where I could see display cases, but didn't
think much of it until he said, "this is the Borden collection". Oh man!
Let's see if I can remember everything I saw: family photographs, including a
rare one of Emma as an adult (where she is really not attractive), an image
of Lizzie I'd never seen -- he said she was 19 and they just got the photo a
few years back -- how they have to prove a photo's authenticity through two
sources before they'll include it. There were pages from Borden relative
family Bibles showing births and deaths. Those were sort of the warm ups...
Next there were the two famous death pictures, but there was another one of
Abby taken as if you were standing where the bed was about 4 feet back from
the body. Her arms are underneath her, and the guide told me that they'd
moved the bed to photograph Abby... and I commented on her arms being under
her and he said that the good doctor had moved Abby's body... took her pulse
and then put her hands under her (like at chest level.)
One creepy thing was Abby's hairpiece which was knocked off her head and was
found under the bed. It looked like a chopped off (oh, bad choice of words!)
pony tail. Then there were microscope slides of stomach contents, a vial of
Abby's blood (that looked like a test tube with a tiny piece of red fuzz in
it). There's also a photo of weird Uncle John. I made some joke about pear
eating -- and my guide said, "There's never been a day in Fall River when so
many pears were consumed in one day!"
Now, we're getting to the good stuff. The next display case has the hatchet
head -- which was smaller than I thought it would be -- I think I imagine
"axe" and this is "hatchet". At this point, I'm warming up to my guide and I
whisper to him "By the way, are the Knowlton Papers worth buying?" and he
said, "Well, I edited them!" so we laughed and he told me about doing it and
I said I would definitely buy them if he would autograph it and he did -- and
his co-editor was there so they both signed it.
Also, with the axe are pictures of the skulls, the hairs from the hatchet
that turned out to be cow hairs, various police evidence tags, the billy club
of the arresting officer... well, and lots of other neat stuff.
The final display case had Lizzie's dinner pail that was used when she was in
jail... and a cloak, shawl type garment that she wore after the trial. I
didn't want to wear out my welcome questioning my guide, but he kept talking
about "if, if, if " and who did it... and I said, "Oh, so you have an open
mind?" and he -- along with the other editor I spoke with later -- both say
that we will neve know who did it.
My guide, Dennis Binette, said that they do get some very vocal, insistent
visitors who get almost violent in their beliefs of guilt vs innocence. They
also get their share of crazies which is too bad. I told him that I had taken
a cab that morning and the cab driver asked me where I was going and I said
"Providence" and he said "to visit friends?" and I just said yes. I told
Dennis I didn't want to tell the driver I was going to go see the site of an
Then Dennis handed me off to the second guide who took me to the second
floor. There's no Lizzie stuff there, but there is a room about the boats
that ran from Fall River to New York, a room of mourning stuff (apparel,
jewelry, pictures of dead people), a room of women's dresses from the Titanic
period, a room of paintings from "the Fall River School". And we saw two
bedrooms on that floor and the servant's quarters.
I forgot to mention that Dennis and I were talking about A Private Disgrace
and I mentioned the Abby bashing (how fat she was, how she waddled, how she
was housebound) and he said that Victoria Lincoln got a lot of stuff wrong --
even though he thinks she has unique insight into the murders. I asked him
about Lizzie and Emma both wanting African-American men to bury them -- that
always seemed so odd to me -- and he said he thinks that's a myth that
Victoria is responsible for spreading. He did say that Bridget claimed to
have liked Abby best -- how Abby was her only ally in that house -- and said
that in the book I bought that he edited there's a contemporary interview
where Bridget says this.
I think I've covered the exhibits. I bought the book, the two editors signed
it and I was off. The Historical Society is near Maplecroft (I had my handy
Fall River tourist map with me) and although I could find the street, I
couldn't find Maplecroft. I didn't know the house number and as far as I
could see, it's not marked, but I'll find it tomorrow. I did, of course, get
a good idea of the neighborhood -- and to those familiar with these types of
neighborhoods -- it's big Victorian houses, some of which have been renovated
and some not yet. The area that Maplecroft is in is called "Historic
Then I decided to at least do a drive by of 92 Second Street, and again, had
a hard time finding it -- lots of one way streets in Fall River! Anyway, this
one I was determined to find. It took me three passes by it -- there was no
sign, no markings and so if you didn't know the address, you'd never know it
was "the house". It's really in a commercial area... right across the street
is a big bus stop (not a bus depot, but like where all the buses sort of
So tomorrow I hope to see the insides of both houses.
Two last comments: I don't think I'd ever looked at a map of the area so it
was interesting to see where Taunton is in relations to Fall River, where
Swansea is, etc. I am also struck by how few things here are named for
Lizzie... right by her house there was a Lizze Professional Building -- and
also the Borden apartments. But that's relaly all I saw.
Now, this is really the last comment... Dennis asked me if I were staying at
92 Second Street and I said No, that I didn't really want to and I'm still
not sure why. He said that there are people who want to sleep in Abby's room
on the floor where her body was... and I said, "well, I'm weird, but I'm
normal weird." And he said "Normal weird is good."
Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.
- Dear Pat,
Thank you for your detailed description of your visit. Although I too have
taken the same tour as you, you brought back all my memories. You didn't
leave a thing out. I especially like the fact that you mentioned going to
the bathroom! Now I know you're including everything. The only other
comment I have is that I did stay at the 92 Street house (in Abby and
Andrew's room) so now I need to know if I am "abnormal weird" or what!
Continue to have a ball!
- In a message dated 10/9/1999 10:03:56 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
<< Now I know you're including everything. The only other
comment I have is that I did stay at the 92 Street house (in Abby and
Andrew's room) so now I need to know if I am "abnormal weird" or what! >>
I'm just about to leave -- and I realized I did leave something out! The
Historical Society has a pillow sham that has Abby's blood on it. That was
one of those objects that makes it "real"... looking at microscope slides --
or even the hatchet head was more detached than this pillow sham.
Now, I should have stated my "normal weird" story a little more
diplomatically, I'm afraid. I was trying to distinguish normal weird people
(like us) from people who want to sleep on the floor where Abby's body was.
Dennis also said that they've had people move to Fall River to be closer to
Lizzie! tHAT'S abnormal weird.
Having said that, I realize that non-Lizzie people see this interest as
weird. I have to say I was a little surprised by the reaction of some people
I told -- no interest in hearing more, sort of raised eyebrow about the whole
thing. So maybe we're normal weird here, abnormal weird to our friends... so,
so be it.
- Dear Pat,
Don't worry for one second about the abnormal/weird comment. I'm in my 40's
which is that lovely stage of life when you can be called just about
anything, and you really don't worry about it.
I am so glad that you are enjoying your trip. By the way, I actually called
Maplecroft to check into reservations for this coming Monday, but my plans
changed. Plus, we would have been the only people there, and that did make
it a little too spooky for me!