Armchair Field Trip: The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast

"Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one."

With a great little ditty like that, how could I not stop by the Lizzie Borden house when I visited Boston/Providence last weekend? Thanks to your fabulous suggestions, it made the list of things to do on our little extended weekend vacation.

I felt kind of bad about dragging my friends to a maybe-haunted house where a possible psychopath might have killed her parents, especially since we only had a couple of days in the area (and the Boston-Providence area is obviously not lacking in things to do). But it turns out that I wasn't the only one itching to see it "“ our lovely hosts Sam and Kylie had been meaning to get there ever since they moved to the area. By the way, if I mentioned her in the story, Kylie wanted to me to note that she is a great dancer. Just so you know.

Anyway, now I had justification, so we took off on Sunday morning (is that sacrilegious?) and made it to Fall River around noon. For those of you unfamiliar with the infamy of Fall River and Lizzie Borden, here's the abbreviated story:

the parents

On a 100+ degree August afternoon, Andrew Borden and his wife Abby were brutally hacked to death with an axe in their own home. And when I say brutal, I mean brutal: they each received about a dozen blows each; Andrew's wounds were so severe that his skull caved in on one side and his nose was severed.

Lizzie, Andrew's youngest daughter (Abby was her step-mom), was accused but ultimately acquitted. It's still debated as to whether Lizzie committed these heinous crimes or was simply the victim of unfortunate coincidences, but I'll tell you what I learned on the tour and let you decide for yourself.

Maybe the maid did it

The maid, Bridget Sullivan, was not treated so well by the Borbridgetdens. First of all, they insisted on calling her Maggie because that was the previous maid's name and they couldn't be bothered to remember hers. Second, her lodgings were pretty poor, considering how rich the Bordens were (by today's standards they would be millionaires). Despite his wealth, Andrew Borden was notoriously cheap and even had the hot water shut off when he bought the house he was killed in. Third, the morning of the murders, Bridget was supposed to be washing the windows outside (on the hottest day of the year, mind you) but asked Abby if she could do them later as she was feeling ill. Abby told her absolutely not and sent her out to do her chores anyway. Bridget disappeared after the murders and it was rumored that the Borden sisters helped her move back to Ireland. She later turned up in Montana where she remained until her death. One story says that right before she died in 1948, Bridget summoned a friend to her deathbed and said she wanted to confess something. The friend was too late, though, and Bridget died before she was able to "“ what? Confess that she was the murderess? Implicate Lizzie? Guess we'll never know.

Criminal investigation processes have really changed

The autopsies of Andrew and Abby Borden were conducted on the Borden's dining room table. Ugh. And everyone slept in their respective rooms the very same night of the murders; even guest Uncle John Morse, whose bed Abby Borden was making when she was killed. So he slept right next to the huge bloodstain on the floor where Abby's body laid until it was discovered. Talk about disrupting evidence!

Another fact I found strange is that police interrupted the burial of the Bordens to inform everyone that the Doctor wanted another autopsy. Thus, the heads of Abby and Andrew (above, respectively) were removed from the bodies. Andrew's was never returned, so to this day he's hanging out in Oak Grove cemetery like poor Yorick. The actual skulls (not just pictures) were rather dramatically unveiled at the trial, which caused Lizzie to promptly faint.

Also, when Lizzie was charged, she was charged with not one, not two, but three counts of murder: one for her dad, one for her step-mom, and one for the couple together.

Psychic or shrewd?

Either Lizzie had psychic abilities or she was trying to direct attention away from herself in advance, because the day before the murders she told her friend Alice Russell that she had a feeling something bad was going to happen. She said she just couldn't shake it and she was concerned about her father's well being. Hmm. The day after the Bordens' funeral, Alice was also the one who discovered Lizzie burning one of her dresses in the kitchen stove. When Alice asked what was going on, Lizzie told her that the old dress had paint all over it so she was just disposing of it.

Following up the trial of the century

"Lizzie Borden: you've been acquitted of brutally murdering your father and your stepmother and have successfully been ostracized from the entire town! What will you do next?" Since Disneyworld wasn't around in 1892, Lizzie followed up the murders a bit differently. She and her sister took the money they received from their father's will and bought a mansion in the elite part of town. She started calling herself "Lizbeth" after that, perhaps to distance herself from the murders or perhaps to make herself sound more sophisticated since she was now living in such a fashionable district. Lizzie named the mansion "Maplecroft" and even had the name carved into the steps of the house.


In 1904, Lizzie became friends with actress Nance O'Neil. Emma didn't approve of Lizzie's lifestyle because she was having raucous parties with actors and actresses"¦ and there was speculation that Lizzie and Nance were having an affair. Around this time, Emma moved out of Maplecroft and she and Lizzie never spoke again. Lizzie died on June 1, 1927, from complications of a gall bladder surgery. Emma died nine days later when she fell down the stairs of her house.

The Aftermath

Sooo, following the tour of the house, we simply had to go to the gravesite. It was pretty easy to find as Fall River is rather small. Plus, they must get a lot of visitors because there are arrows painted on the road of the cemetery leading to the Borden plots.

There was an Ouija board set up in front of Lizbeth's grave, which was really just prime for a photo op. In hindsight, I think this was probably disrespectful, because after my friend Lisa and I took the picture, I slipped in some mud and tumbled down a muddy incline about 10 steps away from the Borden family marker. Sorry, Lizzie, I apologize. I guess I'm just lucky there wasn't an axe lurking in the mud.


I've rattled on enough here, but you can go here for more pictures and more details. So, what do you think? Was Lizzie the culprit or just a victim? Has anyone ever actually stayed at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast?

Previously on mental_floss...

"¢ Stacy's visits to The Corn Palace, The Grassy Knoll and The Texas State Fair
"¢ Jason's trips to Old Faithful (not that Old Faithful) and Utah
"¢ Ransom's honeymoon in Portugal

© via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
The People of Texel Island are Professional Beachcombers
© via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
© via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0

If you’ve ever tossed a message in a bottle into the ocean from anywhere in Northern Europe, it’s likely it ended up on Texel Island. Located off the North Coast of the Netherlands, Texel is at the intersection of several major currents, and close to several shipping routes. For the last 400 years, Texel residents have survived, in part, by scavenging items that have been lost at sea.

According to documentarian Sam Walkerdine in a piece for The Mirror, the practice has faded as other economic opportunities have opened up, but many residents still scour the beaches for lost items. One professional beachcomber, Cor Ellen, claims to have found over 500 bottles with letters inside—and has even answered some of them.

Ellen is one of the subjects of Flotsam and Jetsam (2012), Walkerdine’s 13-minute documentary on the Texel Island beachcombers (you can watch it above). In the film, a handful of Texel Islanders show off their best finds, and share their stories and strange observations. Ellen, for example, brags about scavenging crates of food, fur coats, powdered milk (“I didn’t have to go to the milkman for one year”), and even umbrella handles from passing cargo ships. Another beachcomber reminisces about finding something more personal: the collected photos and memorabilia of an English couple who had broken up and tossed their memories into the sea.

One of the weirder observations comes from Piet Van Leerson, whose family has been beachcombing for at least five generations: he claims that only left shoes wash up on Texel’s shores. The right shoes, meanwhile, end up in England and Scotland. (The shapes cause them to go in different directions.)

Beachcombing is such a big part of life on Texel, they’ve even opened several museums to show off their weirdest, funniest, and most interesting finds.

If you do decide to try and get a bottle with a letter in it to Texel, the residents have a few suggestions for you: drop the bottle somewhere off the coast of England, weigh it down with pebbles so it doesn’t get caught by the wind, and of course, remember to include a return address.

YouTube / British Movietone / AP
A Film Tour of London in 1981
YouTube / British Movietone / AP
YouTube / British Movietone / AP

Earlier this month, the Associated Press began releasing loads of archival video on YouTube. A large part of that collection comes from British Movietone, which has uploaded thousands of videos of all kinds, including many newsreels.

I have scrolled through countless pages of such videos—most without sound and/or extremely esoteric—and I finally discovered a 1981 gem, This is London. It's a sort of video time capsule for London as it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, comprising plenty of stock footage of all the sights, royals, and ceremonies you can imagine.

If you've been to London, this is a great glimpse of what it once looked like. If you've never been, why not check out London circa 1981?


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