Sunday, January 07, 2018

Is a good breakfast important? Lizzie Borden's dad and stepmom provide cautionary tale

Banana oatmeal chocolate cookies and coffee: replicating Lizzie Borden's breakfast?

You can have cookies for breakfast if you put oatmeal in them! #truefact

So, I did, and it made me think about a breakfast 125 years ago. A breakfast that was examined much later in a glass jar by a forensic scientist, trying to determine how long ago the breakfast was eaten, based on the degree of digestion.

I'm talking of Andrew and Abby Borden, victims of separate vicious hatchet attacks in the same Fall River, Massachusetts, home on Aug. 4, 1892. The attacks were fatal for husband and wife.

The couple breakfasted together with a visitor, John Morse, the brother of Mr. Borden's first wife who had died. Much attention was paid to their strange repast.

They ate warmed-over mutton soup.

What the heck is mutton? Lamb.

They had a meat soup for breakfast. Pause for a moment to digest that. (ha!) Not only that, but that same mutton roast had been served up in different ways over the course of a week. It may have been going bad. In 1892, refrigeration was a chunk of ice in a cupboard and whatever foods you could quickly scoot in and out of the cupboard without the cold air escaping or the ice melting too quickly.

They also ate johnnycakes. Phew! Way more traditional. A sort of pancake made with cornmeal rather than flour. The other bit of breakfast put upon the table was . . .  cold slices of that same mutton. I refrain from commenting.

After eating, Mr. Borden and Mr. Morse prepared to leave the house for their errands, while Mrs. Borden went upstairs to change the pillowcases on the guest bed where Mr. Morse had slept the night before. She never left the room alive.

Abby Borden

Bridget Sullivan cleared the breakfast table, and Lizzie Borden came down later for her breakfast. She didn't dine with her father and stepmother anymore, not after a family dispute a few years earlier. Lizzie's sister Emma was away visiting friends in another city.

Lizzie ate cookies for breakfast.

Perhaps they had oatmeal in them to justify this.

She had one cup of coffee with her cookies. Bridget Sullivan assured the court Lizzie never had two cups.

Bridget washed windows, outside and in, while Lizzie did any number of things.

Mrs. Borden was attacked during this time period, upstairs in their small home, and her body was left undiscovered for several hours.

Andrew Borden

Mr. Borden came home, sat down on the sitting room sofa to read the newspaper, fell asleep, and was attacked.

After letting Mr. Borden into the house, Bridget had gone up to her attic bedroom to take a nap. She awoke to Lizzie calling her downstairs because, "Someone has come in and killed Father!"

So...why was the breakfast important?

Mr. and Mrs. Borden ate at the same time, but Mr. Borden's stomach contents were considerably more digested. In other words, the breakfast helped roughly establish time of death. And since Mrs. Borden predeceased her husband, his entire estate went to his two daughters rather than any relations of Mrs. Borden, who was Lizzie and Emma's stepmother. Who they resented. Whose relatives they resented.

When you stay at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, you get to experience a version of this breakfast. I was sad they did not serve mutton stew, but honestly I would've taken one spoonful for experience's sake and then let it sit. I hate to see food go to waste. So instead, you are served johnnycakes (they are actually pancakes), eggs, fruit and potatoes. Standard fare. And no one threw up! (I'm deliberately suppressing a vital bit of information about the Borden household, which is that there was possibly food poisoning or possibly outright poisoning in the days before the hatchet murders).

Me at the B&B

If you're interested in my narrative about my overnight at the B&B, click here to read my article in The Millions.

They say a good breakfast is the best way to start your day. Unfortunately for the Bordens, they seemed to have proved that true in reverse.

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