Sunday, August 1, 2010

Did She or...?

August 4, 1892 (inspired by the legend of Lizzie Borden) – Antique Borden’s wooden crate; antique hatchet; genuine 1893 Police News cover on Borden acquittal; rusted wire; rusted nails; rusted tacks; straw; thorn branch; genuine pigeon feathers; vintage bolt lock; antique fishing leads; antique house key; antique watch face; genuine dried weevil; desiccated pear core; antique poison bottle; antique scrap of black lace; vintage Virgo brooch; black lace mourning fan; dried pansies and violets; altered art pieces—newspaper articles concerning history of Borden case, Johnny cakes recipe, Lizzie Borden rhyme, newspaper advertisement for Andrew J. Borden’s Undertaking business, Sargent’s store advertisement, prussic acid and poison label

Spring, 1927.

The fine Victorian manse sat atop the hill, its parlor windows opened to the balmy afternoon, gauzy white curtains billowing in the gentle breeze. Beyond lay the greensward of a manicured front lawn, the carpet of grass bisected by three stone steps leading to the sidewalk. The topmost step was artfully incised with the house’s name—Maplecroft. And within, beneath the whitewashed gingerbread trim and the towering gables; below the tall brick chimneys and the verdigris weathervane; behind the mullioned glass and the sedately-painted clapboard and the tall oak door, lived one of America’s most notorious.

She—an aged New England spinster, a plump, gray-haired former Sunday school teacher suffering from arthritis and kidney problems. Her failing, bespectacled eyes gazed out past the draperies to study a lone child—a girl, five or six at the most, in a simple white dress and shoes, skipping rope, her bouncing gilded curls catching the sun, a bright smile on her rosy-cheeked face as she sang:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
Gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one


The aged New England spinster withdrew.

The song was about her.

Thirty-five years earlier she had stood accused of a shocking crime—the grisly murders of her father and stepmother.

The date: a stiflingly hot Thursday morning, August 4, 1892.

The place: 92 Second Street, Fall River, Massachusetts, an unfashionable address, a rabbit warren of a house with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no hallways—where rooms just opened upon rooms. A house of locked doors, divided by hate; the front occupied by two sisters, the back by the victims. The public rooms—the kitchen, the parlor, the dining room—no-man’s lands where only forced smiles and cold cordiality were allowed.

The casualties: Andrew Jackson Borden, 70, a prosperous but miserly man, a former mortician, worth over half-a-million hard-earned dollars, and his corpulent, unpleasant second wife Abby Durfee Gray, 64. No tears would be shed for either of them.

The suspects: Andrew’s daughters, Lizzie Andrew Borden, 32, and her devoted sister, Emma Lenora, 41; an Irish immigrant maid, Bridget Sullivan, 26; and a visiting uncle, John Vinnicum Morse.

The weapon: claimed to be a hatchet.

The motive: some said it was greed—money surely the root of all evil—and that Andrew was preparing a new will in favor of his wife and not his offspring; some said it was a dispute over fair distribution of property; some said it was the culmination of years of abuse, the ink blots of detestation spreading; some said it was the foul, days-old mutton broth, stale Johnny Cakes and bad coffee served for breakfast.

All that was certain, though, was that they were dead.

Abby, the first to go, met her end while changing the sheets in the second-floor guestroom. Eighteen strikes brought her down, leaving her a bloody, sweaty, soggy mess on the carpet between bed and bureau.

Andrew was found in the sitting room, laid out on the couch, his skull gaping upon a pillow, his clothes, the floral wallpaper behind, the rug in front, the framed picture above, the leather upholstery below, ensanguined.

Both were crimes of hatred—someone wanted them not only dead, but obliterated from the face of the earth.

Someone—but who?

Older sister Emma was with friends in Fairhaven. Bridget was chatting with a neighbor’s maid over the fence and Uncle John was in town.

And Lizzie…?

Lizzie Borden was arrested, tried and acquitted (after all, whoever would believe that any well-bred, Christian girl, a member of the Temperance Union, so beloved for her kindness to animals could ever, would ever hack someone to death in broad daylight?), but no other explanation was ever offered officially, no one else was ever brought to the dock.

And Lizzie…?

Lizzie Borden found herself ostracized. With her share of her father’s estate, she moved not out of Fall River, but above it—to an affluent area known as the “Hill,” staring down upon all those who snubbed her. Emma went with her, sisters together, until 1913 when Emma abruptly up and left and never saw nor spoke to her infamous sibling again. Lizzie lived on alone in her mansion, dying from pneumonia on June 1, 1927. Emma followed her to the grave just nine days later. They were buried in the family plot, the Bordens once more forced by fate to spend eternity in close quarters.

And Lizzie…?

Lizzie Borden was damned by folklore—condemned forever by a nursery rhyme.

"Scot D. Ryersson's Arcanifact celebrating the mystery of Lizzie Borden captures for me those lingering feelings and heightened senses I have always connected with Lizzie and that fateful August day: the smell of aged wood and burnt paper; the delicacy of dried flowers and dark lace; the claustrophobic presence of locks, hooks and wires; the rust and rot of lives half-lived...

Mr. Ryersson's attention to detail and macabre flair for the absurd make this work of art both inspired and inspiring. I am a fan."


- Brendan Byrnes, Author, Lizzie Borden's Tempest