For those of you who are going to ignore that bit of advice, we left off with me and my girlfriend sitting downstairs in the parlor where Andrew Borden simultaneously met an axe blade and his maker at about 8:30 in the evening, waiting for all the guests to gather to take the official tour of the house.
November 26, 2007 — The tour began late, which gave us a chance to brave the hoodie-filled Fall River night first (see, already referencing the first part; here’s the link again in case you’ve re-considered) to find an ATM to get cash for the medium later. It was the first chance we got to survey the other guests, other than awkwardly running into one of the John Morse room residents in our room on our return from driving around the town earlier that day. Karma the frog.
Sleeping in that John Morse room were a pair of honeymooning ghost hunters from Ohio with EMF gauges, digital recorders, and a hefty bit of optimism. In the servants quarters in the attic were an age-mismatched couple from Boston. It would have added great color to this story had I found out anything about them, but I didn’t. I was there for dead people, not live ones. And then in the Andrew Borden/Abby Borden suite on the other side of our metal-hooked door were a foursome from Florida who were doing New England by car. That’s what they called themselves. The Florida Foursome.
It was the perfect set-up for a Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None-type plot, minus a butler and a private detective, and I think we were all acutely aware of that. We didn’t get much time to socialize at this point (or at any point, really), because the tour was already half an hour late or so in starting, so we began as soon as everyone was present.
We started in one of the sitting rooms, where we were told what was original and what wasn’t about the house, which basically boiled down to furniture, no, structure and woodwork, yes. We were also told that all the doors were original as well, so we were touching the actual doorknobs that the Borden family had turned themselves.
Next was the dining room, where the bodies underwent their first autopsy (ever), and where we’d eventually eat breakfast. One of the most interesting tidbits here is that our hostess passed around the autopsy photos. Not the crime scene photos. The autopsy photos. These are also on the Internet, but I didn’t know to look for them originally because the crime scene photos get so much attention. As a result, I got the opportunity to be freshly appalled. It’s a rare, but worthwhile pleasure.
The autopsy photos were similarly ghastly, as you’d expect. One revealed the shaved back of Abby’s head, complete with all the hatchet marks, which looked as if somebody were counting off their days in jail on the back of her head. The other showed the autopsy-eviscerated body of Andrew, the good half of his face covered in blood from the bad half of his face. These images were also air-brushed into the linen of the table cloth for effect. Just kidding.
Next was the parlor, where we all stood around the replica couch of death and were given a verbal re-enactment in situ, which really helped us make sense of the whole situation. And by situation, I mean, of course, the brutal hatchet murder of a septuagenarian by his naked spinster daughter. Alleged.
The only other room on this level was the kitchen, which actually didn’t exist during Lizzie’s time, when the parlor door opened directly to the outside. On the way to the stairs to go to the second floor, she pointed out the front door, which was also the original door, with its three original locks that were locked from the inside during the murder.
Next was the second floor, which was pretty much all bedrooms and bathrooms. A thin stairwell led up to a small landing, off which opened the John Morse room, the Lizzie Borden room, and a shared bathroom. In the Morse room, they’d arranged the furniture exactly as it had been at the time of the murder, so that the stretch of floor upon which Abby had been found face-down was right there alongside the bed. A twinge of envy passed through me that I wouldn’t be staying in that room, staring myself silly at that bit of carpet as I laid beside-above it in bed (does the English language really have no word for that spacial arrangement?), but that lasted until the end of the next paragraph.
There was also a dress worn by Elizabeth Montgomery (of Bewitched fame) when she played the part of Lizzie in a television movie nobody in the world has seen. Except for every one of you that will e-mail me upon reading this saying, “I’ve seen it.” Actually, I’ve learned since writing those last two sentences that is was a pretty big television event at the time. I keep forgetting that there was a pre-cable era in the history of television.
Next was the Lizzie and Emma suite of rooms where me and my girlfriend were staying. We were surprised to find that we suddenly had the unnecessary urge to be good hosts in “our” room. We battled that urge heroically, and instead of offering everyone chairs to sit in and granola bars to eat from our luggage, we just stood in a corner and let the tour guide guide the tour.
While we endured the uncomfortable sensation of people snapping pics in a place where we’d soon be in our pajamas cowering under the covers, we learned a tidbit or two. For instance, initially Lizzie and Emma had been in opposite of the joined rooms (Emma was the oldest after all and had the bigger room), but upon the return from some trip, Lizzie decided she wanted the bigger of the two rooms (probably the same impulse that made her want a named house), so her sister swapped with her. I'd probably do the same if my sister were a future axe murderess. Alleged.
Also, disappointingly, nothing in the two rooms was originally hers. Undisappointingly, there was one exception. An old dress donated by the relatives of one of the Borden’s past servants who claimed it had been Lizzie’s hung on a dress maker’s dummy in Emma’s room. That’s right. The old dress that I glossed over in Part I of this article. As the hostess told the group about it, the girlfriend and I looked right at each other with the same idea. It was going to be a fun night.
The attic had two rooms on either side of a common space and a slanted ceiling from the angle of the roof. The age-mismatched couple were staying up here by themselves. It was honestly the spookiest place to bed down because no one else was staying up there and it was the furthest removed from the rest of us. Also, a couple of ghost stories originated there involving children and a past caretaker. But they were uninteresting. Which is a sad thing to ever say about ghost stories.
Then again, I didn’t spend the night up there and we never saw that couple again after that night, so maybe they have a different opinion about those ghost stories.
Finally, we went back downstairs and then downstairs again to the basement. It was like every other basement I’ve ever seen. It had rough, unfinished walls and was filled with boxes and plastic bins. In this case, the boxes and bins were used for storage for the gift shop outside. There was also an original basin owned by the Bordens and Lizzie’s own typewriter.
I’d seen a documentary once in which a pair of modern criminologists sprayed luminol all over the ceiling and walls of the Borden basement, a substance that for all intents and purposes glows space-alien blue when it contacts with any remnant of blood. Under the section of floor directly under where Andrew Borden was axed was like the Aurora Borealis, just soaked in dried blood. I know, that last phrase makes no sense. I’m keeping it, though. I took a picture of that spot of the ceiling only to realize in hindsight that I had just taken a picture of the particularly boring underside of some particularly boring floorboards.
And that was the end of the tour. It was a good one as far as they go. Usually I’m completely bigoted against tour guides. I just want go experience a new place on my own and at my leisure and with my own research, but in this case we were given that opportunity intrinsically, so the tour was a cherry. In an ice cream sundae metaphor that I wasn’t making.
I have to admit, despite the deep-set and completely defensible misanthropy that is my usual way, I was semi-looking forward to socializing relaxedly with my fellow strangers in this strange house. First, though, it was time for a séance, which is a type of socializing, I guess.
All the guests participated, which I guess means all of us were bad at saying no to enthusiastic offers. I don’t know if there is an equivalent word to misanthropy about one’s feelings toward ghosts, but I definitely am not afflicted by it, so I was looking forward to the séance, as well. As the medium prepared, we all sat awkwardly around not knowing exactly what kind of pre-game ritual we should be involved in for a séance. The medium introduced herself in a child-like voice as she set up her table and candles and apologized that because her table was so small we’d have to do it in two groups of five…and we owed her 10 bucks apiece for her communications with the undead. Which was fine. I’ve paid heftier long distance rates.
As I mentioned before, this was my first séance, but I learned a lot. First, when you shove ten people into a small room and then fill it with ghosts, it gets hot and stuffy fast. We weren’t in the first group of five, but we still sat around in the dark and watched it. Apparently Andrew Borden dropped by. And an old caretaker that had died at some point. Some others. The medium kept interpreting obvious creaks from the rickety little table as responsive knocks from the undead as she and the other participants moved it, which I found weird, but on top of that made me terrified to make any noise or sudden movement on my part that the medium would immediately interpret as a communication from the undead. “No, no, I was just cracking my back. It wasn’t dead people. Sorry.”
Finally it was our turn. This is what I learned about séances from being involved in one, they make your back hurt, they’re awkward and tiring, and they wear thin fast. That doesn’t mean I don’t think communication with the beyond should be an easy or a swift task; actually quite the opposite. It just seems like it should be a little more adrenalizing when the ghosts do arrive. Oh, and I also realized that mediums can be completely condescending to said ghosts. You know like when you try to cajole a child into doing something simple and cute? That’s what she kept doing with the ghosts. Could you please move this? Touch this? Make a noise?
For the first 10 minutes it was fun, but the rest dragged worse than a church service. I don’t know exactly what the level of gullibility was in that room, but I think the level of good sportsmanship was pretty high. In hindsight, I hate that I sat through my first séance and only came out of it with a long paragraph’s worth of material. But, when it comes right down to it, I was involved in a séance at a house where two well-documented murders happened...I don’t care about the quality, I just love the fact of it.
Finally, when that was done and all the ghosts were safely tucked back in the underworld, our hostess announced that she was leaving and the house was ours...feel free to roam as we wished. By then it was late, though, and we didn’t feel too much like roaming or socializing any more. We went to bed, latched the hooks, took some pics, and then stood in front of the dress mannequin and intoned solemnly to each other, “We have to do this.”
Before I get to that little highlight, though, I have a gimmick. I’ve always wanted one, so I’m very excited about this. At some point I had the grand idea of writing some of this article while I was in Lizzie’s actual room. I’m not sure how this will work, but I’m definitely italicizing for effect:
I’m actually in Lizzie Borden’s room right now writing these two paragraphs. I’m at a facsimile of her writing desk, in the exact spot where she kept her original writing desk, my posterior falling through a flimsy antique chair. My girlfriend is about to try on what is purported to be one of her dresses. When I write the rest of this article, I’ll stick this paragraph in it, hopefully somehow creatively. And without editing a single word. As a result, in a way this is the worst paragraph in the article because it lacks any art of composition. In another, it’s the best, because these words are literally being formed at the place they are describing.
Between you and me, I wish I was more creeped out. And I mean by the room...not for the fact of photographing my girlfriend in a dead girl’s dress. I like that. I’d write more but I’m beat from a dragged-out séance. Oh, and if you’re from the B&B, we never did that thing I’m about to write about with the dress, regardless of the pictures I may or may not include in this article. If you’re just a reader, though, we totally did it. I’m definitely going to edit this paragraph.
The dress was brittle, with snaps up the back, and not permanently fastened to the mannequin...which would have put a real crimp in our plans. Believe it or not this was the first time I’d ever undressed a mannequin. It’s not as erotic as you’d think. Maybe because the mannequin was headless. And legless. And armless. All right, it was kind of erotic.
The dress fit my girlfriend perfectly. We took some good pictures of her in various places around the room that are some of my favorite of all time, but I’m terrified to look at them in case Lizzie shows up in the background somewhere. I’ll post some. Let me know if you see anything.
Now the moment we’d been wondering how we’d react to. Bedtime. The house was dark. All was quiet. We laid in bed. Just like Brian Wilson did. I in my kerchief and her in her cap.
Honestly, the night wasn’t spooky at all. The house was filled with sleeping people, the bed was comfortable, we’d had a busy day, and there was no closet in Lizzie's room for me to imagine her running out of with a hatchet above her head screaming, “Get out of my bed!”
I reckon if I’d of tried hard enough, I could have freaked out both myself and my girlfriend into a state of solid terror by just imagining Lizzie laying there, staring at that same ceiling, dreaming dreams of violent bloodshed and named houses, but I’d already promised her I would do nothing to encourage fright. It’s something I often have to promise her. She just doesn’t understand that “scare” is only an “s” away from “care,” after all. Still, privately, I laid there and tried to imagine Lizzie lying there, scheming the state of affairs that have become legend, but sleep came fast before I could terrify myself with that idea.
In fact, it came so fast, that my girlfriend kept hitting me every time I drifted because for some reason she didn’t want to be the only one awake. Sometimes she’s selfish. Eventually we both fell asleep. I didn’t even have nightmares despite the fact that every conversation of the day involved violent murder in some way.
The next morning we awoke to the smell of breakfast, which is always the best thing about B&Bs. Dave, our amiable chef who I’ve already mentioned in the first part of the article fixed us a breakfast consisting of what is supposed to be the Borden’s last breakfast. I assume they knew the contents from the autopsy of Andrew’s eviscerated stomach. It consisted of the usual breakfast food along with these dense small pancakes called johnny cakes.
We chatted with everybody, except for the mismatched couple who’d gotten up before all of us to head to work (or so we were told). We exchanged New England tips and listened to the ghost hunters’ stories of waving gadgets in the basement all night. Then we went out to the gift shop, bought a souvenir vial of brick dust from the house and a book, set the TomTom to John Cleese, and then took off, still in complete disbelief of the last 18 hours, and wondering what it all meant about us as people.
Oh, and Lizzie so did it.
Update: I eventually received an e-mail from the female half of the abovementioned newlywed ghost-hunting team. Turns out she penned her own account of the night, so if you're up for it, you can see how much I lied in mine here. Plus hers involves ghosts and less egocentric pictures than mine.