The Truth About Lizzie Borden's House

Lizzie Borden. Not Elizabeth. Profession? Well, wouldn't you like to know? You do know the rhyme, though, and admit it; it's been running through your head ever since you spotted this article.

"Lizzie Borden took an axe / And gave her mother forty whacks / When the job was nicely done / She gave her father forty-one."

There are variations on the theme –- The Chad Mitchell Trio had a decent hit with "Lizzie Borden" in the early '60s, which gave us the line, "They all agreed Miss Lizzie B. was a problem kind of kid." Good insight. Thanks.

The story is one of the better mostly-unsolved murders in American history. Biography tells us that Lizzie was born in 1860 to Andrew and Sarah Borden of Fall River, Massachusetts, the state that gave us the Salem Witch Trials. (To be fair, we also owe a debt of gratitude to the state as the birthplace of Dunkin' Donuts. But we digress.) Lizzie had an older sister, Emma. Both daughters resided with their father and stepmother into adulthood -– today's equivalent of living in your parents' basement and playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto.

Mother Sarah died not long after Lizzie's birth. Nobody reports Andrew observing, "You know, Lizzie, you killed your mother," but it's way too easy to imagine. In any event, Papa Borden remarried three years later to a woman neither girl warmed to in any sense of a Hallmark Movie "How-Can-I-Win-Over-My-Husband's-Two-Children?" way. They referred to their stepmother, Abby, as "Mrs. Borden" and had concerns that the woman's family had its eyes on Andrew's fortune. As the sisters matured they helped manage Andrew's rental properties and were devout members –- especially Lizzie –- of the Congregational Church.

Room and Borden

Whatever the family dynamics, the bare fact remains that on the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden joined the Choir Eternal courtesy of multiple meetings with an axe-like object. Maybe not an axe; maybe a hatchet, maybe like the one the police found with a broken handle as they examined the crime scene.

Emma was out of town at the time. Lizzie was immediately suspected but not taken into custody. She was indicted in December, went to trial in June, and was acquitted. She was in the house, she burned the dress she was wearing that day, she despised her stepmother and wasn't crazy about her father, and clearly had no motive.

The sisters inherited much of their father's fortune, bought a new house, and lived together, presumably happily, until Emma abruptly moved out in 1905. The two never spoke again. Lizzie succumbed to pneumonia June 1, 1927, and Emma died a few days later.

Nobody really knows what happened that fateful morning in August. (Yeah. Right.) We do know that Lizzie didn't look much like Christina Ricci, but that's not necessarily helpful.

We also know where that original house is, and the good news is that if you've an itch that can only be scratched by playing Clue in a historical setting, you can book a visit. Described as a "humble, Greek-revival"-style house on the eastern shore of Mount Hope Bay, Fall River, Massachusetts, the building now serves as a museum and bed-and-breakfast. Maybe you can get your steak blood rare. Or a chopped salad. Or ...