Saturday, August 04, 2012

“Lizzie Borden Took an Axe ...”

It was 120 years ago today, on August 4, 1892, that Lizzie Borden, a 32-year-old resident of Fall River, Massachusetts, allegedly took up a hatchet and with it murdered her banker father and her stepmother in their home at 92 Second Street. The ensuing police investigation and court trial attracted media attention from around the country, and most people seemed sure that Lizzie had done the ugly deed. However, she was acquitted on June 20, 1893, after her jury had deliberated for a mere hour and a half.

Lizzie Borden subsequently moved (with her older sister, Emma, from whom she eventually became estranged) to another house in Fall River, this one on more fashionable French Street. Following gallbladder surgery, Lizzie died on June 1, 1927. She was 66 years old.

Today, the house where Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, met their bloody ends operates as a bed and breakfast as well as a museum. The story of their long-ago homicides has been the inspiration for many novels (among them 1984’s Lizzie, by Evan Hunter [aka Ed McBain], and 1989’s Miss Lizzie, by Walter Satterthwait) as well as television dramatizations (including the haunting 1975 film The Legend of Lizzie Borden, which starred former Bewitched actress Elizabeth Montgomery--who was reportedly related to Lizzie--and can be viewed in its 90-minute entirety here). But those events of August 1892 may be best remembered as a result of a familiar skipping-rope rhyme of now-forgotten origin:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.
The likelihood of the Borden murders ever being moved from the “active” into the “solved” files ranks right up there with the chances of someone finally unmasking notorious Jack the Ripper. But that’s OK. Some mysteries are best left as just that: mysteries.

READ MORE:The Borden Murders, 120 Years Unsolved,” by Robert Wilhelm (Murder by Gaslight): “Ax Lizzie for the Tour,” by Katherine Ramsland (Psychology Today).


Jerry House said...

Also check out Edgar Lustgarten's VERDICT IN DISPUTE (available at Internet Archive), which has a section on Lizzie Borden.

Mike Doran said...

Surprised you didn't mention the famous musical version from Leonard Sillman's New Faces revue (can't recall which year *darndarndarndarndarn*).

Oh you can't chop your papa up in Massachusetts
And then get dressed and go out for a walk
Oh you can't chop your papa up in Massachusetts
Massachusetts is a far cry from New York!

I think I'll be checking YouTube ...