Video: Lizzie Borden acquitted in Arlington
There are swingers, and then there are swingers.
But did Lizzie Borden, an unassuming young woman from a prosperous Fall River family, take drastic measures in a hot August day in 1892 to cut ties - as it were - with her father and stepmother?
The debate simmers more than 100 years after the ghastly axe murders of Andrew Jackson Borden and his wife, Abby Durfee Borden – for which only Lizzie Borden was tried, and acquitted -- and which continue to inspire books, television shows and nowadays, online chats.
But in Arlington, at least, the people were on her side, as seen June 4 at Robbins Library, when audience members voted overwhelmingly to let her walk rather than hang.
The outcome disappointed District Attorney Hosea Knowlton, who said he had made premature plans with the Department of Public Works to build a scaffold.
She hasn’t always been so lucky; in March, for example, Bedford residents found her “guilty.”
Who knows how the next town may vote, as the Delvena Theatre Company takes the Fran Baron play, “Lizzie Borden and the Forty Whacks,” to various schools, libraries and historical societies in the region.
The play allows those in attendance to hear from Lizzie Borden – portrayed by actress Lynne Moulton --- and the trial’s prosecutor, Knowlton, a judge, and the defense attorney, George Dexter Robinson, roles all performed by Joseph Zamparelli Jr.
The other characters – portrayed by Moulton – include the Borden’s maid, full of grim gossip; a wise-cracking newspaper boy who is both grossed out and enthralled by the lurid details of the crime, and a little girl skipping rope and singing the taunt, “Lizzie Borden took an axe…”
Before stepping out of the room so audience members could vote, Borden looked pleased at the mostly-female gathering –to which she at first reacted with surprise, given that, at the time of the actual trial, no woman would have sat on a jury or voted.
And, as a member of the fair sex, Borden observed wryly,” A woman could never do anything like run for president, or harm her parents.”
She was, however, a bit taken aback by seeing so many ladies wearing slacks – which would have affronted anyone in the upper classes of the late 19th century.
She also appeared confused and intrigued by one woman’s footwear.
When the woman said she was wearing sneakers, Borden said, “Does this mean she’s sneaky?”
After the vote, Moulton thanked her audience and took questions about the mysteries surrounding Borden’s life after the trial.
Although some neighbors and church members shunned them, Moulton said Borden and her sister, Emma, went on to live comfortable and generally uneventful lives.
However, the sisters parted ways when Lizzie began entertaining theater folk and, it is widely believed, entered into a romantic relationship with a celebrated stage actress.
Mary Masse and Maria Littleton, both of Belmont – whether the play was recently performed -- are close friends who were divided on the verdict.
Littleton voted Borden “not guilty,” but Masse believes Borden could and did commit the murders.
“Lizzie was a very discontented person. There were a lot of feelings of friction. I honestly and truly believe she was guilty,” said Masse, noting that the play highlighted tensions in the family – Borden, for example, had a falling out when her father agreed to buy a home for one of his wife’s relatives.
But Littleton, a member of several cultural organizations in Arlington, said Borden did not possess the will or the strength to deliver the multiple blows. “I still don’t see that she could have done what they say she did,” Littleton said.
Ann Savage, of Arlington, whose father worked as a police detective in Boston, said she voted Borden “guilty” because of her motives – such as her rivalry with her stepmother.
Savage, a registered nurse, wondered whether Borden, whose behavior was considered eccentric by some, would have been diagnosed with a mental illness if she had lived in the present day.
Her interest in the murder is inspired in part by her upbringing; her father worked for many years as a police detective in Boston.
She said the intrigue over the Borden murders continues because it was never solved, and because of the speculation about the Bordens’ family life.
Showing a library book the case, she said, “I’m reading about Lizzie Borden now,” she said. “I’m fascinated by it.”
Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor for Community Newspaper Company’s northwest unit. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on submitting Calendar listings, see the Calendar pages in this week’s edition.