Thursday, July 06, 2017

Lizzie Borden's Perfect Storm

Today's clam shack at Rocky Point. Courtesy, Mary Thibault

I've blogged before about how intrigued I am with the idea that a very tiny action can have huge consequences, especially if there are many, combined such small things: the so-called perfect storm.

One of those in the Lizzie Borden case was the barbecue planned for the Fall River Police Department at Rocky Point Amusement Park in Rhode Island. Lizzie knew about the barbecue; did it occur to her that there would be fewer officers left locally to deal with murders or other issues that might arise while most officers were 30 miles away?

The park closed in 1995, but Google Maps says the distance from Fall River, Massachusetts, to where the park operated in Warwick, Rhode Island, takes 45 minutes by car. We can only imagine that by horse and buggy the travel time was much longer. The police department had essentially advertised its own diminished capacity.

Moreover, I learned from the wonderful blog Warps and Wefts that Abby Borden was intended to watch her little niece whose parents were to attend the Rocky Point picnic, but because she was feeling ill (food poisoning or just take the word "food" off the phrase? Anyone?) she didn't. I'm curious to know if the parents still attended and simply found another babysitter. I learn from the same blog post that George Whitehead, the niece's dad, was a teamster, not a policeman, so I'm not sure why he would be attending. Maybe he was friends with officers.

That blog post points out, "Due to the illness of Abby Borden on Wednesday, these plans were changed, and forever after, those interested in the case have wondered if the outcome of the morning of August 4th would have been very different had Abby Borden been able to assume the care of her little niece."

Indeed. Would Lizzie have had to kill the niece too? Or cancel her murderous plans? Errrr, I should probably point out that Lizzie was acquitted of the crimes.

Other "perfect storm" elements:

  • Lizzie had  her period in the era before ibuprofen and tampons. Anger. Grrr. 
  • Big heat that summer in the era before air conditioning. Anger. Grrr.
  • Lizzie was supposed to go to the seashore with friends but canceled. What if she'd gone and had a great time? Found a bunch of sand dollars?
  • Emma was away. What if she'd stayed home?
  • Uncle John Morse showed up unexpectedly to spend the night at the Borden home. Lots of people loathed him, including Abby herself. What if he hadn't come?
Et cetera.

It's a fascinating story with so many little rabbit holes to go down.


I included a brief mention of the policeman's outing in my book The Murderer's Maid: a Lizzie Borden Novel. I couldn't find much historical mention of what was on offer there in 1892, so I took a chance that the electric trolley would be running. The Ferris wheel seen here was not yet built. How do I know that? Because of Erik Larsen's wonderful book Devil and the White City, which talks about the unveiling of the first Ferris wheel in 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair. There is a connection between the World's Fair and Lizzie Borden, and I'll blog about that soon.

In the meantime, I hope you had a happy Fourth of July!
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1 comment:

Christa Boucher said...

All very intriguing!