What Made Lizzie Borden Kill?

On the hundredth anniversary of the unsolved double murder of Andrew and Abby Borden, is it time to ask: What was going on in that family?

A century ago in Fall River, Massachusetts, a jury of twelve men deliberated about one hour before acquitting Lizzie Borden of killing her father and stepmother. Lizzie’s innocence has not been so easily accepted by other people—either in 1892, when the murders were committed, or today. Since the trial people have continued to question evidence, police procedures, alibis, and strange behavior by members of the Borden household. Amateur prosecutors have put forward other suspects.Read more »

The Parson’s Hearth

A rare survivor of New England’s earliest days testifies to the strength that forged a nation

 

When Joseph Capen moved to Topsfield, Massachusetts, in 1682 to become minister of the Congregational church there, his prospects did not seem bright. Two of the last three preachers had difficulties collecting their salaries, and another went on trial for intemperance. These conflicts degenerated into charges and countercharges of slander and drunkenness.Read more »

Nicknames On The Land

A small but dependable pleasure of travel is encountering such blazons of civic pride as “Welcome to the City of Cheese, Chairs, Children, and Churches!”

Stephen Vincent Benét confessed that he had fallen in love with American placenames, and George R. Steward, author of the classic Names on the Land, wrote that he was born with rapturous feelings towards the names and cities that “lay thickly over the land.” Read more »

The Country Club

For a century now it has been a haven to some, an outrage to others—and it is one of the very few social institutions that have survived their founders’ world

I‘m sorry, son,” said the father to his young offspring in a New Yorker cartoon some years ago, “but we WASPs have no tribal wisdom to pass on.”

 

Nevertheless (and at the risk of stepping on a joke), no ethnic group capable of developing a social institution as durable, adaptable, and now universal as the country club could be wholly lacking in tribal wisdom. Read more »

The Slave Who Sued For Freedom

While the Revolution was still being fought, Mum Bett declared that the new nation’s principle of liberty must extend to her too. It took eighty years and a far more terrible war to confirm the rights she demanded.

Early during the year 1781, having heard a lot of talk about the “rights of man,” a black slave woman named Mum Bett walked out of her master’s house in western Massachusetts to tell a lawyer that she wanted to sue for her freedom. After asking her what had put such an extraordinary idea into her head and being satisfied by her reply, the lawyer agreed to represent her. The case is a reminder of the fact that slavery existed even in the cradle of abolitionism, and it is a testament to the hopes inspired by revolutionary rhetoric.Read more »

The Maypole Of Merry Mount

Had Thomas Morton raised his maypole anywhere but next door to the Pilgrims, history and legend probably would have no record of him, his town, or his “lascivious” revels

TIME : Summer, 1628. PLACE : Merry Mount, a small coastal settlement on the edge of the Massachusetts wilderness. “Pilgrim” Plymouth lies somewhat to the south; “Puritan” Boston will not be founded for another two years. ACTION : A group of young revelers, Englishmen and Indians together, dance around a lofty maypole. There is food and drink aplenty; jollity reigns.Read more »

William James Finds His Vocation

One of America s truly great men—scientist, philosopher, and literary genius—forged his character in the throes of adversity

THE YEAR IS 1890 and the place Cambridge, Massachusetts. On one of the streets leading northeast along the Harvard Yard a man in early middle age—he is, in fact, fortyeight years old, of slight build and medium height but vigorous motion—is walking with a pair of students, boy and girl, who have followed him out of his class in experimental psychology. His face is bearded and his eyes bright blue, and his features reflect the rapidity of his thought. He is William James, the scientist and philosopher.Read more »

Day By Day in a Colonial Town

How Hadley, Massachusetts, (incorporated 1661) coped with wolves, drunks, Indians, witches, and the laws of God and man.

DURING THE FIRST half of the nineteenth century, there lived in the Connecticut River valley of Massachusetts a scholar and country editor with an insatiable curiosity about the region in which he lived. His name was Sylvester Judd, and his work, except for one posthumous and locally printed history of the nearby village of Hadley, Massachusetts, is practically unknown.Read more »

My Radcliffe

The author recalls two generations of “Cliffie” life—hers and her mother’s—in the years when male and female education took place on opposite sides of the Cambridge Common and women were expected to wear hats in Harvard Square

My mother was a member of the class of 1899 at Radcliffe College, having come east from St. Paul, Minnesota—a sort of reverse pioneer. She was one of the two or three students from west of the Berkshires and was considered rather exotic by her classmates because of her Midwestern background, which she loved to describe in exaggerated detail, implying that a fresh Indian scalp was hung over the fireplace every week or so. Her years at Radcliffe were, it seems, passed in a state of continual euphoria.Read more »

Putting Worms Back In Apples

In reconstructing the past, Old Sturbridge Village is doing a lot more than selling penny candy and buggy rides. Struggling for verisimilitude, curators are raising scrawny chickens, trudging behind 150-year-old plows—and keeping pesticides out of the orchards.

Just inside the late Pliny Freeman’s 180-year-old barn in Old Sturbridge Village, I recently watched a gray-haired gentleman eyeing with evident disgust a bucket of wormy apples freshly picked from the Freeman Farm’s cider orchard. “Why don’t you spray your trees?” he asked a grimy youth who wore the garb of a New England farmer of 1830 and who helps work the Freeman Farm as if it still were 1830. “We can’t spray the trees,” explained the young man. “It wouldn’t be authentic.Read more »