Boarding with Borden: what it’s like to stay in the infamous Lizzie Borden House

Every room is floral on floral on floral—the lamps, couches, wallpaper, pictures, china all featuring different tightly wound patterns of peonies and daises and tulips. Photo by Jenny Rollins/BU News Service

By Jenny Rollins
BU News Service

Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41. And now you can stay in the house where it all happened for as low as $275 per night.

The site of the infamous, unsolved Borden double homicide is a bed and breakfast, complete with a gift shop with $20 bobble heads of a demonic-looking plastic Lizzie wielding a plastic bloody ax, blood spattering her dark, plastic frock.

Other souvenirs include vials of brick dust from the fireplace, $10; a mug depicting the crime scene photo of Abbey Borden’s dead body, $15; golf balls with Lizzie Borden’s face and the phrase “keep hacking away,” $6 each; and youth T-shirts saying “I heart my daddy/mommy to death,” $15. And yes, before you ask, they do have gift cards for all of your most morbid friends and family members.

Lizzie Borden has been the subject of worldwide public fascination ever since the murder of her father, Andrew Jackson Borden, and her step-mother, Abigail Durfee Gray Borden, on August 4, 1892. At the time, the 13-day trial was a spectacle of mystery and awe, to the point that school children would sing the nursery rhyme to taunt 32-year-old Lizzie in the streets.

Lizzie had alibis for everything, most of which did not pan out. But in the end, she was acquitted in under an hour by a jury entirely composed of men under the assumption that a high-class woman would not have been capable of such a crime, let alone lifting a hatchet that many times.

Modern cult followers aren’t satisfied with this unsolved crime and debate whether it was Uncle John, who had been staying in the guest bedroom; the maid, Bridget Sullivan, who disappeared shortly after the trial; or some other unknown person. The attraction of these deaths has drawn visitors to this house for decades. It became a museum/bed and breakfast combo in 1996, the first in the United States to do so.

When I recently visited it, the gift shop neighboring the green Borden house on 92 Second St. in Fall River, Massachusetts, smelled like cigarette smoke, and a black cat named Max wandered in and out, each of his legs shaved half way up. There were binders resting on a pew, stuffed with news clippings and official documents from the late 1990s on.

I flipped through the clippings, noting that it was a collection of all news, both critical and praising. It seems for the owner, Donald Woods, and his girlfriend Jill DaPonte, that all attention is good attention. A clipping from the Herald News stated the couple apparently visited the house for the first time on Valentine’s Day in 2003, where they “fell under Lizzie’s spell,” and bought the entire house for $699,920—much more than the $1 and “other valuable considerations” Lizzie and her sister Emma sold the house for after the murders, according to public record.

Next to the headline, “Leary Press Gets the Ax,” about the demolition of the neighboring press building, “Bye bye Lery Press,” was written, misspelled in crawling black letters.

“Possible opening in April,” said a woman into the phone. “Which room did you want to book?” Sue, the part-time Borden tour guide of five years, did not want to give a last name, though she did tell me that she was featured on the show Kindred Spirits in season 2, episode 1.

Sue said previous tour guides have had problems. One died. Two had strokes. One lost both her mother and father. I haven’t been able to confirm any of these claims, but it did bring me to wonder what brought this middle-aged woman with dark, sharply cut bangs and an even sharper New England accent to work in this creepy house for so long.

“This is my fun job,” Sue said. “I work full-time in the medical profession, but I love mystery and the supernatural. This job gives me both.”

She took me through the house. Every room is floral on floral on floral—the lamps, couches, wallpaper, pictures, china all featuring different tightly wound patterns of peonies and daisies and tulips. It almost made me want to close my eyes to retreat from the busyness of it all.

We walked through the rooms, and Sue pointed out things like the sheet music on the piano (“You Can’t Chop Your Papa Up In Massachusetts”), the places where the autopsies were done and the replicas of the smashed-in skulls.

Although Lucky Belcamino, the in-house psychic, was not there, I did speak to Glenn Teza, a psychic/medium consultant. I couldn’t have picked him out of a crowd in a jeans and sweater combo, sporting a bald head and a well-kept goatee. But he sat in an armchair next to a Ouija board across from the couch where Andrew Borden was hacked to death.

“Since I was 4, I have been able to see spirits and ghosts,” Teza told me, handing me his business card. He told me he mostly works as a consultant for police departments regarding homicides and kidnappings. He’s been coming to the house from New Jersey since 2002. I asked him if he thinks Lizzie did it.

“Yes. That’s my opinion… But yes, I’m right. She told me so,” Teza said.

I went to this house for the rush of adrenaline, the thrill of haunting, so I jumped when we heard a sound coming from upstairs. Sue grinned at me a little sheepishly when a heavily-pierced young man in a dark band T-shirt came down the stairs holding some sheets from the beds.

As we entered the bedrooms, Sue handed me black-and-white crime scene photos, the first American ones of their kind. I looked at a real mother and father who had been killed, one attacked from the back, one attacked while sleeping, without a chance to fight back.

I looked at the spot next to the bed in the guest bedroom where Abbey’s body had lain in the crime scene photo, her dress pulled down by the police so she wouldn’t be indecent.

“People will pay to sleep in this room, and they won’t even sleep in the bed. They sleep right there in that spot,” Sue says. They sleep right on top of floor boards where Abbey’s body fell, as close to death as they can get.

On the way out the door, Sue reminds me to rank the double homicide bed and breakfast on Trip Advisor so they can make more money to keep up the house.

As I drive away past the shop window full of bobble heads, I think of what Teza said to me before I left.

“Things happen here all the time. It’s definitely haunted, but that doesn’t scare me,” he said. “I’m not scared of ghosts. I’m scared of people.”

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