Thursday, August 04, 2016

Anniversary of Lizzie Borden double murders

Today, August 4, 1892, in Fall River, Massachusetts, a middle-aged woman named Lizzie Borden called out to her maid to come downstairs. The cause of the alarm? Her father had been killed. Bridget Sullivan came down and thus proceeded the strangest of mornings, with contradictory tales told of what Lizzie had been doing at the time her father bore the brunt of multiple hatchet marks to his head and face.

With the alarm raised and neighbors and a kindly doctor surrounding her, Lizzie then reacted to the question where her stepmother might be during all this commotion. "I thought I hear her come in," she said vaguely, asking Bridget to go upstairs to check. Bridget quite rightly refused to go alone, and neighbor Mrs. Churchill climbed the stairs with her. Towards the top of the stairs, as they turned their heads, they could see under the bed in the guest room where Mrs. Borden lay on the other side, also hatcheted to death.

Lizzie Borden was acquitted, but history has wondered for over a century if those jurors did right.

In the 1970s, a made-for-TV movie starring Bewitched's Elizabeth Montgomery did a very decent job of telling the tale. It's called The Legend of Lizzie Borden. The movie set features a floorplan replicating exactly the Borden household (for those who follow this story, the floorplans play an important role in untangling the who-was-where-when stuff, replete with locked doors and doors blocked by desks). Elizabeth portrays Lizzie quite well, despite being younger and more attractive. They shared an ancestor in common, it turns out.

Elizabeth Montgomery as Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Borden
The movie is worth watching. It's out of commission, but I found a DVD through my library. One of the scenes I found the most interesting I will link to here. When Lizzie's lawyer tells her she faces the possibility of death by hanging for the crime she's suspected of, she reacts with such horror that it literally made my heart leap.

And of course, what is most telling about that moment is that at no other time does Lizzie show horror in the film. Not when she sees her father's body--disinterestedly lifting up the sheet in the middle of the night where his body rests in the dining room, awaiting its autopsy, a brilliant choice on the part of the filmmakers, for those bodies did indeed rest in the house with living occupants... Not when she discovers it, not when she worries (as one would) that the murderer may yet lurk in the house. Mr. Borden's head was so destroyed that his eyeball was cut in half, and yet the only moment Lizzie shows horror is when her own fate is endangered.

Was that Hollywood license? No. The court testimony has repeated witnesses testifying to Lizzie's remote character within moments after the murders. "She was cool," said a police officer. Lizzie never cried, never screamed, never showed distress. To me, most importantly is that she never showed fear. If some intruder came into the house and murdered her father and stepmother, why was she not running into the street in terror that she might be the next victim?

One answer: she knew there was no intruder.

Here's that clip. It's ten minutes, and the moment of her realizing she may hang for the crimes comes around 4:00.

The credit for it: "Lizzie Borden - No Longer Believed" Oct 07, 2013. Aug 04, 2016. .


Linda said...

Great post, thank you so much for sharing. Elizabeth Montgomery has been my favourite actress for decades. Sad that she died in 1995.

Erika M said...

I agree, she was wonderful! Thanks so much for reading and posting.