When I was an undergraduate my interest in Lizzie Borden (as a person, a murderer and the defendant in one of the most famous trials in the history of jurisprudence) became much sharper in its focus, because my mother went to the Vassar Book Fair and bought me a book I still think is one of the best out there: A PRIVATE DISGRACE by Victoria Lincoln. She was a child (and later author) who actually knew Lizzie and grew up on the same street in the snazzy section of Fall River that Lizzie “upgraded” to after the murders and her acquittal. After reading Lincoln’s account, I was an armchair Lizzie aficionado. I couldn’t read enough about her.
So flash forward to my first visit to Necon (Northeastern Writers Conference) which is held every July in Rhode Island. A little voice (or perhaps not so little, but actually insistent) kept reminding me: Here I was now practically next door to Lizzie territory.
There was no GPS back then, so I asked Mary Booth about how to get there and she gave me directions to the murder house on Second Street. Two fellow attendees overheard me and declared they were interested in going and I offered to drive.
We got in my car and I asked where they were from. “Maine,” they replied.
“Really, where in Maine?”
Bangor was the answer. My heart skipped a beat.
“Wow, do you guys ever run into Stephen King?” I said.
Laughter.Then simultaneously: “We work for him; we’re his assistants.”
So there I was friends and neighbors, going to the reputedly haunted site of a famous double parricide, with Stephen King’s assistants. I thought it was one of the most interesting (and fortuitous) coincidences of my entire life to that point. But it certainly wasn’t the last one of that day.
On the way over, having read Lincoln’s book many times, I talked about the facts of the case. But really, nothing could prepare me for the visceral reaction I had when I saw it for the first time: Tall and narrow, painted a drab brown, looming, and seemingly leaning practically on top of the sidewalk, it hit me in the gut. Something about that house—just standing outside and looking at it was unnerving. It looked as though it were brooding…it looked as though it were looking back at us…watching, and yes, perhaps even waiting….
The tour of 92 Second Street proceeded from room to room and the assistants and I nodded in confirmation several times as the guide recounted facts we’d discussed in the car ride over to the house. It all seemed fairly normal until I walked into what had been Lizzie’s pale green bedroom at the time of the murders. I recall the room seemed unreasonably warm, that I felt dizzy, that I actually leaned against the doorway with my hand out to steady myself. In addition to a tightening in my stomach, I also felt nauseated and, worst of all, the room itself appeared to be veiled in some kind of brown gauzy mist. The curtains and shutters were open—the sun was shining on that summer day—but I saw the room through a dark haze. This is what you see when you look through layers of pain. It’s my thought, but it’s Lizzie’s voice in my head. As interested as I was, I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but the house or Lizzie wasn’t done with me yet—not by a long shot. Climbing the stairs to the attic where the maid, Bridget, had slept, I felt weighted down—as if I’d suddenly donned a pair of lead shoes. The uneasy psychic aura of feeling faint and hideously wambly persisted—so much so, I actually clung to the metal railing, worried I’d pass out.
When the tour ended, we were speaking with the guide and asking her about hauntings and I purchased a very well-done and extensively researched book by Leonard Rebello in what was then the gift shop. I asked if I could use the rest room and the guide said yes. At that time, there was a print shop attached to the house and I went through the doorway back into the kitchen to use what had once been the tap or sink room in the house—the place where Emma was washing dishes while Lizzie burned what most people suspect was the murder dress in the kitchen stove.
While I was away, the guide and my two new-found friends actually heard someone calling my name over and over, “Lisa, Lisa, Lisa!” I never heard it, but quick as I was in the bathroom just off the kitchen, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being observed by someone unseen by me. When they told me, I kept thinking of that line in Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE: “It knows my name, it knows my name!” And it scared the hell out of me.
We all decided to go to Oak Grove cemetery to visit Lizzie’s grave. Imagine my surprise as we strolled toward that stone obelisk when R__and M__ (King’s assistants) told me they’d had similarly unnerving and quirky feelings in the house like I did and, still more oddly, that all three of us felt exactly the same—queasy, faint, and oppressed with a peculiar heaviness—at the Borden tombstones. We all marveled, but we were nervous, too.
One final surprise awaited us. On the stone and verified in the Rebello book were Lizzie’s dates: The day we’d chosen to visit the Borden House and Museum was July 19th, 2002: her birthday and 110 summers after the murders had been committed that August.
I have since been told (and know by my own subsequent visits) the murder house’s most active paranormal time of the year begins around Lizzie’s birthday and culminates shortly after the date of the murders, August 4th…perhaps because she’d been brooding in the weeks following her birthday and looked forward to celebrating further still when she’d no longer be under her neurotic, reclusive mother’s watchful eyes, her miserly father’s economic strictures, and the emotional pain of what some believe was the incest he thrust upon her.….