ECHOES OF LIZZIE: THE WORLD’S LARGEST BORDEN MURDER MYSTERY EXHIBIT
Authentic items associated with Lizzie Borden are extremely rare. Both historically and intrinsically valuable, many Borden items are sequestered in private collections in Europe, Asia, and North America, and typically pass from one generation to the next. Now, a selection of material from these collections can be seen at the Fall River Historical Society (FRHS) in Echoes of Lizzie: The World’s Largest Borden Murder Mystery Exhibit.
The FRHS is recognized worldwide as the central repository for artifacts pertaining to the life and trial of Lizzie Borden and maintains the largest collection of such material. The collection has increased dramatically over the past several years, and a number of important pieces have been acquired by the museum, giving rise to a permanent Borden exhibit that evolved into Echoes of Lizzie.
“People come here from all over to learn about Lizzie Borden,” said Michael Martins, the FRHS curator. “Families come with children, and the kids are just as interested as the adults. They know who Lizzie Borden is, and many of them have specific questions that they want to ask us.”
Items featured in the exhibit include the head of the hatchet alleged to be the murder weapon; crime scene photos of Abby and Andrew Borden’s bodies and the photos of their crushed skulls introduced as evidence at Lizzie Borden’s trial; a blood-stained pillow sham from the room where Abby Borden was murdered; and the braided hairpiece that fell from Abby’s head as she was being killed. The only original trial exhibits in existence and the personal notebooks of defense attorney Andrew Jackson Jennings are also on display.
Visitors can also get a glimpse into Lizzie Borden’s personal life. The exhibit contains an extremely rare circa-1916 photograph of a middle-aged Borden holding her cherished Boston terrier on the piazza of Maplecroft, her French Street home following her release from jail. It is the only known photo of Borden taken at the residence.
Recently discovered examples of Lizzie Borden's correspondence and personal possessions are also on view. Known to be fond of children and animals, Borden signed her name as “Auntie Borden” on Christmas cards and letters she sent to young friends and enjoyed giving gifts. One such gift, the museum’s most recent Borden acquisition, is a Delft-like teapot that Lizzie gave to her hired companion Gertrude May Russell. Donated by Russell’s granddaughter, the piece is a poignant illustration of a life where friends were appreciated, if not always easy to come by.
Every item in the exhibit has impeccable provenance. Pieces of dubious origin abound, according to Martins, and in order to preserve the integrity of its collection, the museum is cautious when acquiring Borden artifacts.
But what truly sets the exhibit apart is the information about the life and trial of Lizzie Borden that is shared with visitors. Martins and assistant curator Dennis A. Binette, recognized as leading authorities on the Borden murder mystery case, guide most visitors through the exhibit, and in their absence staff members are trained to step into their shoes.
“It is extremely important to us to set the record straight about Lizzie Borden,” said Binette. “Many things are said and written about her that are either partially or totally false. When you come to the Fall River Historical Society, you can count on getting the facts. Our focus is not guilt or innocence. We let the facts speak for themselves.”
Hourly tours of the exhibit are available from 9 to 3 Tuesday through Friday, excluding the noon hour, and from 1 to 4 on Saturdays and Sundays. The price is $8 for adults and $6 for children. Call 508-679-1071 ext. 1 or 2 for information.