Legends of Lizzie
By Edmund Pearson, April 14, 1933, The New Yorker
When the curtain falls on the first performance of “9 Pine Street,” the play about the Borden murders, I could wish to inspect one of the graves in a Fall River cemetery. Not in the family lot of Andrew J. Borden. No; the turf which ought to be examined, to see if he who rests below has been turning over and over, is on the mound above Edwin Porter, police reporter of the Fall River Globe, and author of the history of the Borden murders which failed to sell—or was withdrawn—so that part of the edition remains today, covered with dust, in the loft of an old barn.
The actual principals in any murder case—murderer and murderee—are not apt to be impressed when their story is turned into fiction. They can’t possibly recognize themselves. So it will probably be Mr. Porter, conscientious historian, who will writhe in his sepulchre when he hears what has happened to that superb crime which was committed in Fall River forty years ago. Like many another collector of facts, he knows that whether or not truth is stranger than fiction, it is sometimes a devil of a lot more exciting. The real Miss Lizzie Borden can hardly be dramatized: she is incredible.
The moving pictures, by creaking machinery and papier-maché, can make us put our faith in a brontosaurus or a pterodactyl. But Miss Lizzie was a plump and complacent person wearing rimless eye-glasses, a lady who liked to put on an apron and fiddle about in the kitchen, who stuck up bird houses all around her garden, who loved sweet poems and novels—I think that the best-sellers of the nineties were exactly her meat: “Alice of Old Vincennes” and “When Knighthood Was in Flower”—who delighted to visit the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, who served as secretary of the Christian Endeavor Society, taught a Sunday-school class, belonged to a Fruit and Flower Mission and the W.C.T.U., and presented one of her friends with a painting on porcelain entitled “Love’s Dream.”
Yet a majority of her townsfolk, as far as I can discover, believe that this gentle lady chopped her stepmother’s head to bits with a hatchet, hung around for an hour and a half, welcomed her father into the house, and then repeated the operation with him. And did all this, one summer’s morn, on an empty stomach—except for half a cup of coffee and a few nibbles out of one side of a cookie.
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