Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bridget the maid was the first to finger Lizzie Borden


The sofa upon which Mr. Borden took his endless nap


In all the hullabaloo of a proper, elderly man being found slaughtered on his own sitting room sofa, and then not too long later, intrepid women climbing the stairs to find his wife on the floor in a similar state, no one thought to ask Lizzie Borden about her possible role in all this.

Not until Irish maid Bridget Sullivan innocently—or not so innocently—asked, “Miss Lizzie, where were you?” *

Can you imagine how quickly eyes must’ve flown to Lizzie’s face? In the house by this point were several neighbors, friends, and a doctor. I loved the simplicity of this phrase so much that I used it verbatim in my novel.

Attorney Moody and Jay Huguley, who plays him in the upcoming movie Lizzie


At trial, in his opening statement William Moody spoke about this moment. He said Lizzie’s response to Bridget’s question was, “I was out in the back yard, I heard a groan, came in and found the door open and found my father.”

The neighbor Mrs. Churchill saw Bridget out of her window running to fetch the doctor, and she came over to learn more. When she asked Lizzie the same question, Lizzie told her, “I was out in the barn. I was going for a piece of iron when I heard a distress noise, came in and found the door open, and found my father dead.”

After her best friend Alice Russell was fetched by Bridget, Lizzie told her that she was in the barn for a piece of iron or tin to fix a screen (window or door screen).

Moody summed it up nicely:

There is therefore, Bridget Sullivan, to whom she said that she heard a groan, rushed in and found her father; Mrs. Churchill, towhom she said she heard a distress noise, came in and found her father; Officer Mulally, to whom she said she heard a peculiar noise like a scraping, came in and found her father dead; and all those, gentleman, you see in substance are stories which include the fact that while she was outside, she heard some alarming noise which caused her to rush in and discover the homicide.

Well, that sounds decent. She wasn’t clear on the sound, but all the stories contain the same general idea. Innocent!

But wait. Moody went on.

You will find that when she gave a later and detailed account, she said that she went into the loft of the barn, opened the window, ate some pears up there, looked over the leader for some sinkers [for a fishing line], came down, looked into the stove to see if the fire was hot enough that she might go on with her ironing, found it was not, put her hat down, started to go upstairs to await the fire which Bridget was to build for the noonday, and discovered her father. It is not, gentlemen, and I pray your attention to it, a difference of words here. In the one case the statement is that she was alarmed by the noise of the homicide. In the other case the statement is that she came coolly, deliberately about her business…and accidentally discovered the homicide as she went upstairs.

Window screens, fishing lures, pears, haylofts, ironing handkerchiefs…it all sounds like a fever dream.

Kitchen cabinets adorned with pears at the Lizzie Borden B&B


And does it help to know this was a ridiculously hot day in August (people had been dying of the heat), and that lingering in a hot loft to eat pears doesn’t sound plausible?

I love reading the old trial testimony, the antiquated syntax. All very pleasurable to me.

And on a final note, given the news that the Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart movie soon to be shown at Sundance may cast these two as lovers, the title of my post may have a special double meaning… I leave it to you to decide.

*Footnote: Bridget asked this question of Lizzie immediately, but it was more fun for the blog post to start this way.

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