For me, places can be pure inspiration. And when they combine with workshops and friends, they are extra special.
And so we come to an unusual experience at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts.
As a child growing up in Florida, I heard the rhyme often enough, especially playing jump rope. “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.” Mr. Borden really got about fourteen whacks and Mrs. Borden a few more, but, hey, artistic license was at work.
I never thought at the time that I could so something so intriguing as actually spend the night in this house. Something that everyone can now do! It’s owned and run by Leeann Wilbur and a friend. Leeann has been painstaking in returning the home to its late nineteenth-century appearance, for it was August 4th, 1892, when the murders rocked Fall River—and the nation.
Every year, friends and I head to Necon—Northeastern Writers Conference—affectionately known as Camp Necon because it’s one of the warmest—and strangest!—cons ever. Writers and artists and film makers descend in small number—the con is cut-off at 200. But there are panels, art, books—and Saugie’s (hot dogs) on the quad by night. All deliciously creepy with horror stories and amazing art and a camaraderie that exists almost nowhere else.
And then, after Camp Necon, a group of us heads to the Lizzie Borden house.
So, this year, I was meeting videographers I’d never met before at the house to film a promo piece for upcoming books. I love Leeann—she has been wonderful to us!—and I rushed in after the last tour on our day to give her a hug and find out if the people there were “my” people.
But they were not. She was standing with a young woman and I realized I’d interrupted and I apologized and found out that she was the DP or design producer for another show being shot there for the Biography Channel. “Hey, they need a Lizzie,” Leeann told me. Hm. Well, since Chynna was with me, I laughed and said, “Hey, I think maybe I should be Abby—but have I got a Lizzie for you!”
So I did wind up being Abby Borden, victim. This had its good—I didn’t need to lose weight since she had me about fifty pounds. In fact, the coroner had described her as “fleshy.” But we were set; Dennis Cummins, friend, writer, and amazing musician, was with us; he became my “husband” for the day, Andrew Borden. Corrinne de Winter was signed on to be a guest, and our little group set out to take part. The first day, my people did come and we filmed info on the house and interviews with our group. The next day . . . .
Roll out the blood!
Now, some may think this strange. Here’s a family ready and happy for the daughter to whack away at the mother. But, then, we’ve always loved Poe and Lovelace and my children actually grew up in something like the Munster’s home, so—maybe not so strange. But, wrapped up in a dress that nicely added poundage I set out to straighten up the room while Chynna stalked me up the stairs. Historically and forensically, detectives and scholars through the years have determined that Abby did know her killer—she had no defensive wounds and surely didn’t know what was coming.
We used the hatchet that Leeann keeps in a woodbin in the kitchen. Chynna had to be careful—it says “Welcome” on one side.
The joke of the day with my family was that by the time the filming ended, I might actually know how to fold a blanket.
It takes time. I was whacked and whacked. I fell—right where Abby Borden was really found in what is now referred to as “the murder room.” I was asked if I was all right on the floor there—I was. Necon is one of those experiences that doesn’t really include sleep, so it was a nice little nap, really.
We spent a fair amount of time on what will boil down to a matter of seconds, and then I was free while Chynna went on to murder her “father.” For this, Brea, the production designer, gave me the task of tossing film blood all over Chynna. I mean, seriously, after being whacked all day, tossing a little blood back felt okay!
When we finally left, they’d gone to film their “ghost expedition.” The show will air in mid-October on Biography. That 220 “fleshy” person (she was also described as being ‘well-nutritioned’) on the floor will be me.
If you’ve always had a desire to do chilling things, get on over to Fall River Massachusetts. Google-search the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast. Ask for the “Murder Room,” or sleep right where Lizzie herself did night after night. See if you can solve the age old questions—did she do it? Was there a conspiracy? Everyone has an opinion. But, whether you solve the crime or not, it’s a wonderful place to visit and stay. Tours—barring the unexpected—run daily except for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
But . . . .