Lizzie Borden's house to be B&B Crime scene: Opening is set for next August, but fans of the Fall River ax murders are already reserving rooms.

October 29, 1995|By Lois R. Shea | Lois R. Shea,BOSTON GLOBE

On the morning of Thursday, Aug. 4, 1892, breakfast at 92 Second St. in Fall River, Mass., was mutton.

The very same mutton that had made its debut Sunday and resurfaced daily, without refrigeration in between.

Some family members already appeared to have suffered food poisoning. But Abby Borden ordered the remains of the mutton served in broth for breakfast.

By 9:30 that morning, Abby Borden was dead, hacked to death with a hatchet.

By 11:15, her husband Andrew had met the same fate.

Lizzie Andrew Borden, his daughter, was tried and acquitted of the murders. But fascination -- some would say obsession -- with the case continues.

Borden buffs have long studied floor plans of the house, which was built around 1845. Searching for souvenirs, they have snapped photos, peered in windows, yearned to climb the front stairs that the killer climbed, to touch the doorjambs Lizzie touched. They have knocked, begged for tours, and been turned away.

No more. Next Aug. 4, the 104th anniversary of the murders, the owners of the house plan to open the doors to the Lizzie Borden House bed and breakfast.

"I'll just be pleased to be there," said Carole Carter, a retired postal worker from Studio City, Calif., who has reserved a room for the opening of the house. "Even if she was guilty, she was a spirited person. I admire her, in a way."

Martha McGinn spent part of her childhood in the house. When her grandmother died and left the house to her and business partner Ronald Evans, they decided to open it to the public.

Perhaps growing up in the house inoculated her against the willies. Ms. McGinn said she thought living here was "cool."

Strange tales

She smiles as she tells ghost stories: footsteps heard where no human had tread, the sounds of furniture being rearranged, dogs who whine and refuse to go up the front stairs, the imprint of a head left on the pillow of an otherwise unmussed bed, the cleaning lady who in the 1960s claimed there were bloodstains on the woodwork that would yield to no cleanser, the door connecting Lizzie's bedroom with Abby's and Andrew's that mysteriously opens and closes.

Ms. McGinn cheerfully lists the eerie coincidences linking her family with the Borden murders. She was born Aug. 4, 1954. Her brother Jack was born Aug. 4, 1958. Her grandparents were married Aug. 4, 1923, bought this house on Aug. 4, 1948.

"I prefer to think that this was just meant to be," she says with a small smile.

The neighborhood has changed since 1892. The McGinn family business, the Leary Press, abuts the house; a bus station is across the street, and a housing complex stands next door. But the interior of the house -- though in various stages of repair -- is largely unaltered.

Borden aficionados who have studied crime-scene photographs will recognize the Victorian woodwork and molding. The wall-to-wall carpeting is gone, but the curved front stairs, thick with a century's worth of paint, are intact.

Here are the narrow, dark back stairs -- up which Lizzie called to maid Bridget Sullivan, "Come down quick! Father's dead. Someone came in and killed him;" Bridget's attic room, where she was sleeping off the mutton; the basement, where the handleless hatchet was discovered.

Here is the sitting room, where Andrew Borden's body was photographed after the crime, a jacket stuffed under his head.

And here is the guest room, where the unfortunate Mrs. Borden was found, face down between bed and bureau, hairpiece hacked off, bloodstained cap nearby.

"This is our most requested room," says Ms. McGinn. So far, some 150 people have clamored to sleep here -- from as far away as Texas and Germany.

Pam Sheldon of Middlebury, Conn., a lifelong Borden buff, is planning to be married in the house on Aug. 4, 1996.

"I'll probably be too excited to sleep," said Ms. Sheldon. The couple will spend one night in the guest room -- in a replica of the bed Abby Borden was making when she was killed -- and a second night in the adjoining room that was Lizzie's bedroom.

Some Fall River residents find the whole thing peculiar.

"I can see wanting to be divorced in there," says Jules Ryckebusch, a Borden expert and Bristol Community College professor. "But married?"

"That's the last place I'd want to go to sleep," said Florence Brigham, 95, whose mother-in-law was a character witness for Lizzie Borden at the trial. Her late husband recalled eating cookies Lizzie Borden baked.

Tourist attraction

For years, said Ms. Brigham, a former curator of the Fall River Historical Society, the murders were not discussed in polite society.

But today a Chamber of Commerce brochure gives Lizzie top billing. Chamber director Robert Boisselle sees her doing for Fall River what witches did for Salem. Once people get here, he says, they will see all the area has to offer.

"If it takes Lizzie to get them here -- if she's the hook -- so be it," said Mr. Boisselle.

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