Grave Sightings: Lizzie Borden

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Stacy Conradt

For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Welcome to Fall River, Mass., and the A.J. Borden family's final resting place, where the viciously murdered are supposed to be resting in peace alongside the woman who may have viciously murdered them in 1892.

It depends on if you believe that old rhyme or not:

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 rhyme is a slight exaggeration, but reality isn’t really any less horrific. Abby Borden, Lizzie’s stepmother, received 19 “whacks” with a hatchet, and her father Andrew suffered 11, mostly to the face.

The ensuing trial was a national media circus, comparable to the O.J. Simpson trial. Though many considered Lizzie the most likely perpetrator—evidence included the fact that Lizzie had burned a dress in a fire after the murders and a recent attempt to purchase prussic acid—a jury deliberated for just an hour and a half before acquitting her. After the trial, Lizzie preferred to go by the name “Lizbeth” and moved to a ritzy part of Fall River, purchasing a 13-room house for herself and her older sister, Emma.

Lizbeth lived another 34 years before pneumonia (a complication following gall bladder surgery) removed her from this earth on June 1, 1927. Emma died just nine days later. The sisters were both buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Fall River, in the Borden plot with their father, mother, and stepmother - an eyebrow-raising choice if Lizzie really was guilty. 

If she wasn't guilty, though, who committed such an angry, violent crime? There's no shortage of theories: the household maid, a random madman in a straw hat, the town doctor, or even one of Lizzie's Sunday school students. If you want to try to divine the truth for yourself, feel free to pay the Bordens a visit.

(Note: The Ouija Board was there when I arrived. After posing for a cheesy picture with it, I promptly fell down an embankment. I don't think Lizzie was amused by the photo op.)

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October 2, 2013 - 5:00pm
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