Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Why did Lizzie Borden burn her dress?


A Bedford cord is a cotton dress good. This advertisement is one I'll
blog about later. You can see Bridget Sullivan's lamp reflected in the glass.


Lizzie Borden burned a dress in her kitchen stove shortly after learning she was a suspect for the murder of her father and stepmother. She was seen doing it by her friend Alice Russell, who told the city marshall.

It ended the friendship (Alice was the friend Lizzie sent for upon “discovering” her father’s body) and ensured Alice’s position as a prosecution witness a year later.

Lizzie’s sister Emma was also present during the dress burning episode although Lizzie’s actions were not visible to her. She was washing dishes in the scullery, and calling over her shoulder, advising Lizzie to burn the old, paint-stained dress.

The dress Lizzie burned was a Bedford cord. Emma said in the trial, “It was a blue cotton Bedford cord, very light blue ground with a darker figure about an inch long and I think about three quarters of an inch wide….trimmed with just a ruffle of the same around the bottom, a narrow ruffle.”

The dress had been made by a dressmaker in May; the murders were in August. It took at least two days to make the dress, and yet a few months later it was being pitched into the stove. Apparently, very soon after it had been sewn, within two weeks Emma judged, Lizzie ran into some wet paint on the house walls and ruined it. She continued to wear the dress when indoors without visitors, to the degree that it got “very dirty, very much soiled and badly faded.”

In three months???

On Saturday, the day the house was officially searched—several days after the murders, during which time Lizzie, Emma and Alice had free range of the crime scene—Emma found that she didn’t have a vacant nail upon which to hang her dress. And so she said to Lizzie, “You have not destroyed that old dress yet; why don’t you?”

Now a three-month-old gown was being called “old.”

Dresses were not “ready to wear” in those days. Mrs. Raymond, the dressmaker, came annually to the Borden household to make their dresses for the year. The disappointment of a dress being ruined by paint only weeks after its creation must’ve been severe.

And how did the dress become faded when not worn out in the sun? Perhaps the dye faded from frequent washings—but then why would it be described as soiled?

On Saturday night, Fall River’s Mayor Coughlin came to the house all loose-lipped and Lizzie learned she was a suspect.

On Sunday morning, Lizzie burned the dress. 

The clothes press is now a bathroom at the Lizzie Borden B&B


So you may be asking yourself, why did she bother to burn it after the house was searched? After all, it must’ve been seen by the officers. Well, probably not. They did very cursory examinations of the “clothes press” (a sort of closet for the family) and we can only imagine how uncomfortable the male officers would’ve been, in the “inner sanctum” of the ladies’ garments. It would have been quite easy for Lizzie to fold a dress around the Bedford cord so it wasn’t seen (in fact, multiple dresses must’ve been on single nails since Emma said she couldn’t find a free one). She might’ve even put one dress inside another.

On Monday morning, Alice Russell lied to an investigator that all the dresses had been in the clothespress that were there the day of the tragedy. (It took her a while to come clean). Lizzie and Emma expressed that she should not have lied, and must immediately retract it. Lizzie even took the opportunity to blame Alice for letting her burn the dress: “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me do it?”

The clothes press was at the top of the stairs where Lizzie laughed


It's killing me that somehow I left the B&B without ever getting a photograph of the reproduction stove and the cupboard next to it where Lizzie had previously stashed the dress she burned.

There is a lot riding on that gown. Was it bloodstained? Why would Lizzie destroy what was clearly to be considered “evidence” by the officers who searched the home? After wearing it all dingy and faded for months, suddenly she couldn’t stand having it around anymore? Was there really such a scarcity of nails?

Many questions… and we don’t have answers, only guesses.


. . . . .

1 comment:

Christa Boucher said...

Something made Lizzie snap after years of dealing with her situation. I wonder what was the "last straw"??