Tidbits of Lizzie’s life were doled out teasingly at Monday night’s lecture, “Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River,” a reading from the Fall River Historical Society’s upcoming publication. It was the second of seven lectures featuring Lizzie. All are being held Monday evenings at Bristol Community College.
Lizzie Borden is a woman who most people know as infamous, who may or may not have committed the murder of her father and step-mother, who lived in Victorian times stuffed in high ruffled blouses, who was a wealthy spinster who’d been ostracized by society and who lived the remainder of her life alone at Maplecroft.
What many people may not know is that Lizzie Borden “had the kindest blue eyes I’ve ever seen,” according to her traveling companion Trudy, a young woman who worked for Lizzie at Maplecroft between a job in a local mill and as a shop girl at McWhirr’s before getting married.
Trudy was employed at Kerr Thread and must have heard that the wealthy Miss Borden was seeking such a companion. She was soon off Danforth Street and living in Lizzie’s very posh Maplecroft home on French Street.
Trudy accompanied Lizzie to Boston and Washington, to fine restaurants, theaters and other fashionable places. In the evenings, the two women read in Lizzie’s library. Trudy recalled that it was a very enjoyable time and remarked in her letters that Lizzie had an affinity for animals.
This and other unknown tidbits of Lizzie’s life were doled out teasingly at Monday night’s lecture, “Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River,” a reading from the Fall River Historical Society’s upcoming publication. It was the second of seven lectures featuring Lizzie. All are being held Monday evenings at Bristol Community College.
The event drew more than 100 people, all hoping for a glimpse into Lizzie’s world. The book, “Parallel Lives,” examines just that. It pulls the focus from the historic, unsolved Borden case and redirects it to Lizzie’s private life and into her Fall River, what life and the time in which she lived must have looked like through her eyes.
Authors Michael Martins, Historical Society curator and Dennis Binnette, assistant curator, have been working on the 600-page volume for several years. It is heavily illustrated with period photographs, many that have never been published, along with letters, diaries, correspondences and other documents.
Martins and Binnette researched Lizzie’s life, finding private collections and sources not heard in the past. Though much of the book remains a mystery until its publication, they said it promises to bring Lizzie out from the black and white photographs and into a flesh and blood, full-color person.
Snippets from the book were read by Bonnie Mendes, director of the Somerset Public Library and Fall River historian.
Mendes told of the diary of “Lulie,” a schoolmate of Lizzie’s. In recording the details of her own life, Lulie also offered a glimpse into the time in which she and Lizzie lived. In 1875, Lizzie entered the Fall River High School and Lulie was a junior.
Lulie writes in her diary of them walking home from school together and going to the farm on Gardner’s Neck Road in Swansea, where Lizzie’s family summered. Lulie wrote of delivering flowers to Lizzie at Second Street.
On three occasions when Lizzie was 15-years-old, Lulie wrote of her not feeling well. Once, Lizzie was “miserable,” and had been feeling the effects of a fall. On another occasion she said that Lizzie was “tired,” and another day she seemed “melancholy.”
The book also paints a picture of Fall River, of the Fall River as it is lived by the wealthy with its balls, parties and “seasons,” and the other side that shows its poverty through crime and “depraved morality.” It takes the reader on a journey, from Fall River as a small town to Fall River as it transforms into a city.
There are stories of slop buckets being dumped, Christmas shopping downtown, a house of prostitution being raided, a tragic sleigh accident that takes the lives of three wealthy Fall River boys (one a neighbor of Lizzie’s), the growth of the city’s mills, the building of some of Fall River’s most beautiful buildings and more. These would have been the items Lizzie would have read while sipping her morning coffee.
The book will also examine what life was like at Maplecroft, what happened to Lizzie’s sister, Emma, after she life Maplecroft, Lizzie’s friends and her later life.
“Parallel Lives” will be for sale exclusively at the Fall River Historical Society. It is expected out before Christmas.
Five more lectures about Lizzie Borden will be held at Bristol Community College, in the Siegel Health Technologies Building, Room C111, on Mondays at 6:30 p.m.
E-mail Deborah Allard at firstname.lastname@example.org.