Situated on a rocky hill that slopes downward to hug the eastern shore of Mount Hope Bay, Fall River, Massachusetts, was once the crown jewel of the textile industry in the United States. The town thrived during the 19th century, when mills sprang up along the Quequechan River, but achieved lasting notoriety as the setting of one of the most gruesome, unsolved double-murder cases in American history: the Borden murders at an address that’s now known simply as “the Lizzie Borden house.”
The Lizzie Borden House Tour
The morning of August 4, 1892, may have begun like any other for the Borden family of Fall River, but before the clock struck noon, family patriarch Andrew Borden would be murdered as he was napping on a settee in the sitting room and his wife Abby butchered in the guest room.
Prior to their murders, Andrew and Abby had been living in the humble, Greek-Revival house on Second Street with Andrew’s grown daughters Emma and Lizzie as well as their maid, Bridget Sullivan. Emma was out of town, staying with friends, on that fateful day, leaving only Lizzie and the maid at home when the murders were committed. Bridget had been washing windows outside the house at the time of the murders, and was quickly ruled out as a suspect, so all eyes turned to Lizzie. Her apparent disdain for her stepmother and ever-changing alibis troubled the authorities, but Lizzie insisted she was innocent, claiming that an intruder must have made his way in and out of the house undetected.
After an investigation – which most notably included the discovery of a hatchet with a newly broken handle in the home’s cellar – Lizzie Borden was charged with the murders of her father and stepmother. However, there was no conclusive proof that the hatchet was the murder weapon and eyewitness testimony of Lizzie burning a dress that may or may not have been worn on the day of the murders was not enough to convince the jury. She was acquitted legally, though suspicions of her guilt have never abated. The Borden murders remain officially unsolved.
More than 120 years later, amateur sleuths, professional detectives, and paranormal investigators continue to investigate the grisly mystery, hoping to discover some overlooked clue. Many theories and suspects have been debated. Andrew Borden’s reputation as a wealthy miser was well-earned and may have garnered him enemies. Could one of them have had a motive for murder?
Whether motivated by morbid fascination or a desire to crack the case, folks who wish to get a peek behind the door of the Lizzie Borden House are in luck. The Borden home, which continues to be a mainstay of historical documentaries and paranormal reality shows, is open to the public as a bed and breakfast and museum.
My husband and I recently traveled to Fall River, Massachusetts, to tour the infamous Borden house. Stepping through the door is a bit like being transported back to the 19th century. Although the furniture and decor is not original to the house, great care has been taken to create a perfect Victorian setting. The pieces of furniture made famous by the crime scene photos have been replaced by near replicas making the site all the more chilling.
Deb, our tour guide, led us through each room, thoroughly explaining how and where the events of that day occurred. We were given plenty of time for inspection and photography was encouraged. The tour was casual and well done, and I was surprised at how much free rein we were given to explore. We were even encouraged to lie on the settee, recreating the crime scene for a macabre photo opportunity. There’s nothing typical or stuffy about this museum tour.
Though the tour is entertaining, we were reminded of the horror of the events by well-placed crime photos and a presentation of the murders’ sobering facts. It was unsettling to hear of the nineteen blows to Abby’s head as we stood at the spot where she fell.
The violent nature of the Borden murders has led many to believe that the house is a hotbed of paranormal activity, and the tour guides willingly recount their own experiences or those of others. Our guide, Deb, who is also a paranormal investigator, has had her own experiences of being touched by an unseen hand, of feeling a tug on her shirt, and hearing whispers spoken in her ear. Others have claimed to hear children giggling in the attic bedrooms.
Those who choose to spend the night at “the Lizzie Borden house” are granted a more in-depth tour of the home. The merit of each possible suspect is weighed and debated. After the tour, guests are welcome to retire to one of the home’s bedrooms. You may even sleep in the very room where Abbey Borden was cut down with an axe. Folklore has it that some of the spirits in the home can be bribed to leave you alone. Mr. Borden prefers a few coins placed on his bedroom bureau, suggesting that his love of money extended into the afterlife, while the children in the attic respond best to toy offerings. With those supernatural safeguards in place, would you brave a night in the Borden home?
For anyone intrigued by unsolved crimes and brave enough to risk an encounter with the supernatural, the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast is an ideal destination. If the idea of staying an entire night makes you uneasy, however, the daily tours are a good and thoroughly enjoyable alternative.
Have you ever visited the Lizzie Borden house?
This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated.