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Where Lizzie lives on

The Borden family home in Massachusetts is a museum by day and a lodge by night. Which is when things can really get creepy.

October 26, 2008|Jay Jones | Jones is a freelance writer.

FALL RIVER, MASS. — Karen Zorn and her boyfriend fled their cozy bed-and-breakfast earlier this year. It wasn't that the place was dirty or the neighbors noisy. Zorn says they grabbed their bags and left for a nearby motel after discovering that, apparently, some of the other guests were ghosts.

The couple had just finished checking in to the B&B in Fall River, Mass., when things started to go awry.

"We went up to the room and it was freezing cold. It was the coldest room in the house by far. And that kind of spooked us out," she recalls.

Tales of goblins haunting old houses are nothing new. But the former residents of the home in which Zorn and her boyfriend briefly stayed have more reason than most to be agitated: It's where the 32-year-old Lizzie Borden allegedly hacked her mother and father to death in the late 19th century. The tale of the grisly slayings remains vivid, thanks in part to the macabre rhyme that children still recite:

Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks. And when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41. . . .

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, October 28, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 75 words Type of Material: Correction
Lodgings with macabre pasts: An article in Sunday's Travel section on a B&B at Lizzie Borden's former home misidentified one of the 1892 slaying victims as Borden's mother, Sarah. The victim was Borden's stepmother, Abby. The article also called Borden's older sister her younger sister. An accompanying article about local lodgings said Sam Cooke died at the Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo. It was the Hacienda Motel on South Figueroa Street in South Los Angeles.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, November 02, 2008 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 2 inches; 94 words Type of Material: Correction
Lizzie Borden: An article in the Oct. 26 Travel section on a B&B at Lizzie Borden's former home said that one of the victims in the notorious 1892 murders was Borden's mother. She was her stepmother. The article also referred to Lizzie and her younger sister inheriting their father's fortune. The sister involved was older. A related article about local lodgings with a storied past said the site where Sam Cooke died was the Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo. In fact, it was the Hacienda Motel on South Figueroa Street in South Los Angeles.

The rhyme may be good for skipping rope, but it's not accurate. The historically correct version of events is shared with visitors to the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, a rambling, eight-bedroom manse that doubles as a museum during the daytime, before overnight guests arrive. When it was built in 1845, it was one of the finest homes in Fall River, a then-thriving community known for its textile mills.

During tours, visitors learn that Andrew Borden, a wealthy banker, was struck 10 times. His wife, Sarah, suffered 18 blows. They weren't delivered by an ax, either; the police thought a broken hatchet found in the basement was the murder weapon. Although Lizzie's name is infamous as a result of the shocking murders, a jury found her innocent.

Tourists are shown various crime scene photos during their walk through the antebellum house. Using those photographs as a guide, the B&B owners, Lee-Ann Wilber and Donald Woods, have painstakingly restored the home to what it looked like in 1892, when the slayings occurred. They scoured antiques shops throughout New England in search of furnishings that replicate those in the old pictures.

Intrigued by the legendary Lizzie, Zorn first stayed in the former maid's quarters at the B&B a couple of years ago. Earlier this year, when she saw an auction on EBay for a stay in the room where Lizzie's mother was found, Zorn couldn't resist bidding. The stay was for the night of Aug. 4, the 116th anniversary of the murders. A seance to conjure up the spirits of Sarah and Andrew Borden was included.

When the auction closed, the Crofton, Md., woman discovered she had won, with a bid of $405. She now wishes someone else had bid just $1 more.

"As the night wore on, other weird things started happening," Zorn explains. "At one point, my boyfriend went into the room and he claimed there was a lamp in there rocking back and forth that had turned itself on."

There was more to come.

"We were sitting in bed talking about the creepy things that had happened. And I said, 'What do you say if anything else really freaky happens we just get up and leave?' And he said, 'OK.' And just as we said that, the bedroom door swung open.

"We began to scream," she continues. "Everybody in the house could hear us." Within minutes, the couple was headed to a nearby Best Western.

Zorn and her boyfriend weren't the first people to leave prematurely, and they probably won't be the last, given the home's reported paranormal activity.

"On a scale of one to 10, I'd say it's a 10-plus," says Christopher Moon, a well-known paranormal investigator from Denver. Four weekends a year, Moon conducts "Ghost Hunter University" at the B&B.

"We have full interaction in the Lizzie Borden house," he adds. "We have the knowledge to communicate with all the spirits there."

Wilber says she didn't believe in ghosts before buying the house four years ago. But after many strange occurrences, she doesn't know what to believe. "Things have moved on me. I've been touched, pushed, poked and prodded," she says. "To this day, I try to explain some of them and there's just no possible way."

The attraction goes well beyond the spooky stories. Detectives, law students and others interested in the celebrated unsolved case are also among the 10,000 people who tour the home each year. Guests leave with differing opinions as to whether Lizzie, who with her younger sister inherited their father's fortune, got away with murder. Moon says the spirits of Andrew, Lizzie and others have convinced him that although Lizzie didn't deliver the fatal blows, she wasn't an innocent bystander either.

"Lizzie was definitely one of the people involved, but it wasn't just one person," he says. "There was a group involved in the murder."

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travel@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Planning the trip

The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast is open year-round for daily tours and overnight stays.

COST AND LOCATION

Rates: Rooms in the off season (November to April) start at $150 per night. There's no need to book well in advance. Despite the interest in the house, Fall River is off the beaten tourist path.

City life: The closest town with any sizable tourist trade is Newport, R.I. (25 minutes), and then Boston (one hour.)

Info: (508) 675-7333, www.lizzie-borden.com.

latimes.com/lizzieborden

See more photos of the Lizzie Borden house.

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