Sometimes I think about people who likely stumble upon this blog in search of nineteenth-century ghost stories. My apologies, paranormal fans, but I love metaphor and my intention was never to write about actual ghosts. Sure, it’s possible the historic houses I’ve posted about could very well be haunted, but that’s never been my main concern. My priorities have always been architecture and decor. But my recent visit to Fall River, Massachusetts wasn’t about architecture at all.
The house itself isn’t anything to write home about. The structure is a simple, Greek Revival house and the interiors no longer contain the original furnishings. This is not your typical historic house tour.
I’m not a Lizzie Borden buff. Of course I know of the famous 40 whacks rhyme, but I’m not a crime junky and never read up on it. But now that I’ve been to the sight of such a gruesome event, I’m definitely interested in learning more. For anyone not familiar with the story, here’s a brief recap: Lizzie Borden was a young woman residing in Fall River, MA who became a primary suspect in the brutal murder of her father and stepmother. She was found not guilty, but her innocence is forever questioned and the mystery of what actually transpired might never be solved.
The Borden home is now a bed and breakfast and is also open for tours. The schedule offers daytime tours along with special evening “ghost tours.” The basic tour covers three levels, with the additional option to tour the basement where the murder weapon was found. Paranormal investigation equipment is also available for an additional fee. I’m frankly too chicken to spend the night, or do an evening ghost tour, so I opted for an afternoon visit.
The tour begins in the front parlor and the guide did an excellent job at telling the story, beginning with a little background on the Borden family. Lizzie’s father, Andrew Borden, was super frugal. Though a relatively wealthy man, the difficult financial circumstances of his youth created a frugal mindset and he had the Borden home constructed without indoor plumbing. The guide brought this up as a possible point of tension in the household.
The house does not have any of the original Borden furnishings, but they’ve tried to match the decor to photographs. Because of this, I wasn’t that inspired to take many photos. However, what became immediately apparent, or should I say, a-pear-ent (ha ha, can’t help myself), are the many references to pears throughout the house, a cheeky reference to how frequently pears are mentioned in the testimony. For example, Lizzie claimed to have been eating pears from the tree behind the house at the time of her father’s murder. For more of the many references to pears, see this article. That pear tree no longer exists, but a new one was planted in front of the house.
Another thing that stood out to me was the Victorian emboidered motto in the parlor where Andrew was murdered, which reads, “What is home without a father.”
I was also amused by some coins left by a framed photograph of Andrew. At first I thought this was a reference to his frugality, but the guide shared that guests have started leaving coins for Andrew in hope that his ghost will leave them in peace.
If someone is willing to spend the night there, I would think they’d be happy to experience a ghostly encounter. Nothing noticeable happened during my tour, though we were encouraged to take photos and share if anything were to turn up. The guide shared a few examples – like an unmistakable orb on the third floor where two crying children were purported to be seen, and a big cloud of white mist in the room where Abby (Lizzie’s stepmother) was murdered. I don’t know if it was merely my nerves (that sounds oh so Victorian, doesn’t it?) in anticipation or what, but I definitely felt an intense energy immediately upon entering. But otherwise the most haunting thing in my experience was the smell. And I don’t mean like a ghostly whiff of perfume or some other paranormal presence. I mean the worst kind of old house smell. General mustiness. A cross between mildew and I don’t know what else. I’ve toured many historic houses and I don’t recall any of them reeking like this place. I can’t say for certain whether there are ghosts, but there is definitely some mold lurking around.
While I didn’t have any encounters, I do believe the accounts of paranormal phenomena.The Lizzie Borden case is one of the most sensational tales of the nineteenth century, how could such a place not be haunted? As long as the story continues to be told, and the mystery unsolved, whatever ghosts reside at 230 Second Street will never be allowed to rest.
To book a tour or spend the night: https://lizzie-borden.com/