AUTHOR’S NOTES ON THE STORIES
The stories published in this first volume represent several adventures of Lizzie Borden of Fall River dated between the fall of 1874 and the summer of 1877. While these five stories do not cover all the cases that the Girl Detective successfully concluded during that time period (others will be revealed in subsequent volumes), they offer a variety of situations and characters, class conflicts and moral dilemmas, unsolved paradoxes and confrontations with the criminal element. Lizzie lives against the background of an industrial America undergoing a rapid growth, poised between the steam-powered machines of the Industrial Revolution and the titanic skyscrapers of the early 20th century. She was born before the commencement of the Civil War, but lived long enough to witness Al Jolson speak from a motion picture screen. Within that time span, she watched a nation transform itself into one of the modern age, leaving behind many legends and secrets of the Victorian era. The Girl Detective, admittedly a fictional creation, is an attempt to capture the spirit of that transformation. These five stories represent a girl still filled with idealism and a belief that a clever mind and a willful spirit can bring about the eradication of evil and the creation of a great society. From this it is clear that Lizzie never really had to go to work, but her life of leisure, made possible by her father’s hard labor and careful investments, was not spent idle. Here are the secret adventures of Lizzie Borden.
To distinguish between the historical Lizzie Borden and the Girl Detective of my imagination, I will indicate either Lizzie (H) or Lizzie (GD).
THE FORLORN MAGGIE
In the terms used by comic book fans, this story is the “origin ish,” how Lizzie Andrew Borden (GD) of Fall River became a detective. She is fifteen years old, just out of high school, perhaps too clever for her own good, and still living in the small room with no privacy behind her sister Emma’s spacious and sun-drenched bed chamber. Lizzie (H) was a young daughter of an affluent father who did not have to work, and had plenty of time to shop for clothing and occasionally “take her fancy.” Lizzie (GD) has not yet realized that her shoplifting is a problem, nor has the pattern drawn the notice of the Fall River police (both Hodges & Son and Officer Bence seem unsuspecting enough), but here she is placed into the most paranoid situation that any shoplifter can be in, trapped in a police station with the stolen goods stowed in her bustle. Soon, her problems are overwhelmed by a much larger human drama that involves the wretched consequences of horrible choices made by several people, including her own father. Moral choices are made, and the instincts of a detective are wakened from slumber.
Maggie: Lizzie and Emma Borden (H) had a maid in the late 1880s called Maggie, and got into the habit of applying that name to their domestic, Bridget Sullivan, who came to work for the Bordens in 1889. While it can be argued that Maggie is a derogatory name for a working-class Irish girl, Sullivan didn’t seem to mind and even dismissed the suggestion at the trial in 1893 that she felt slighted by being called Maggie. Admittedly, I have backdated the use of the term Maggie in Lizzie’s lexicon by about a decade and a half. In fact, Lizzie (GD) here calls any maid “the Maggie,” implying a lapse of taste even in the Girl Detective, who in other situations shows unusual signs of class consciousness.
The Waterfalls of the Quequechan: Fall River is named after the river Quequechan which runs from several large inland ponds westward, emptying into Mount Hope Bay. Despite its physical beauty and the elegant poetic name (Quequechan means Falling Water), the river was exploited heavily in the 19th century by industry to the point where large sections were covered by the mills. Even today, the river is underground, covered by Route I-195 and the “new” City Hall. In this story, the hidden waters of the river is counter-balanced against the playful and leisurely activity in the shopping district. The river itself is a casualty of not only the Industrial Revolution, but the modern age.
Hodges & Son: A fictional establishment at the corner of South Main and Columbia Street. Being a city built largely on the textile industry, Fall River had many store-front establishments that sold cloth for all purposes including dress-making, which most interests Lizzie (GD). A lady would buy the cloth she needs from these sources and then hire a dress-maker to create the dress, often in their own homes where measurements can be taken with discretion and rooms can be put aside for the operation. The Bordens (H) often used their second-story guestroom as the space in which the dressmaker would create their clothing.
Peter Gaskell Bence: Peter is the half-brother of Eli Bence, the pharmacist who was later to testify at the Inquest and Preliminary Hearing that Lizzie Borden (H) was in the apothecary where he worked on August 3, 1892, attempting to buy prussic acid, presumably to attempt the murder of her father and step-mother. Peter did, in fact, become a patrolman in the 1870s, but there is no evidence that he and Lizzie (H) ever met. While Eli’s testimony was thrown out of court due to various legal loopholes, it would indeed have sent Lizzie to the gallows if it had been deemed admissible. Perhaps this is why Lizzie, (GD) even in 1874, had a small dislike for Office Bence, but found him pleasant enough.
The Police Station: When Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered on August 4th, 1892, the family suffered a great tragedy, but one thing working in their favor was the convenient Central Police Station just a few short blocks from their home. Thomas Kiernan, an engineer who made surveys and plans for the government, testified at the trial that the distance between the Borden home and police station on Prospect Street was 1,300 feet. George W. Allen, the first police officer to arrive on the scene, timed his sprint to the murder scene at four minutes. Admittedly, the walk from Hodges & Son at the corner of South Main and Columbia is a bit longer than the walk from Borden’s, but not by much, and it is not unreasonable to imagine that Officer Bence and two sturdy men could help the woman arrested at the cloth store to Prospect instead of waiting for a police carriage.
B.M.C. Durfee: Bradford Matthew Chalonder Durfee (1843-1872) died at the age of 29 and was officially labeled by Forbes as the “richest boy.” His parents were Major Bradford Durfee and Mary Brayton, however his father has previously been married to Pheobe Borden, the sister of Richard and Jefferson and the mother of Holder Borden. So the money that came down to B.M.C. was significant. A Yale drop-out who never quite felt comfortable managing his money or tending to his board duties at various banks and mills, he died of a sudden brain seizure. Upon his death, his mother went into mourning and named a bunch of stuff after him, most prominently B.M.C. Durfee High School. One thing that his mother did NOT name after him was a brigantine. Here is a picture of his grave in Oak Grove.
Extra Bonus Question: This story contains an extremely obscure phrase that is used in a Sherlock Holmes story. In fact, it took some diligent research by Sherlock Holmes scholars to even know what the phrase meant. Name the phrase and the Sherlock Holmes story in which is appears, and I’ll give you prominent credit on this blog.
THE PURLOINED CURIO
This was the first Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective story written, probably about 2007, and was published in The Hatchet: A Journal of Lizzie Borden Studies. It was my first time working with Stefani Koorey and her sister Kat, and it was a thrill to see my fiction get into print. I even got feedback from fans! As you can see, the original concept of the series was to have Lizzie (GD) teamed up with Sarah Borden, her cousin from French Street, and Homer Thesinger, the Boy Inventor (he prefers the term Electromechanician), but for some reason this line-up did not materialize in later stories. Only with The Agitated Elocutionist did Sarah Borden make a reappearance. In fact, she started narrating the story itself, making her a bit of a Doctor Watson (Lizzie prefers to compare her to Boswell!)
This story is about a spritualist and a corrupt textile tycoon. Spiritualism was a rage in the 1870s, being that so many people who had lost loved ones in the Civil War were desperate to communicate with the dead. The Fox Sisters of Hydesville, New York started a popular fad for rapping with the departed in 1848, and subsequently a host of mediums preyed upon the emotional and spiritual hungers of a grieving population. The one seance that I attended many years ago was faked. I know this to be a fact because I faked it myself. The medium was asking questions and the spirits were answering with some creaking noises that seemed to be coming from the table I was pressing my palms against. I realized that I could flex the muscles of my palms and imitate the creaking noise (it had occurred to me earlier that we were using a particular wobbly table). This freaked out the medium who continued her act uncertain whether someone at the table was messing with her head or, indeed, she had succeeded in conjuring a spirit. I did not confess my lack of spiritual good-citizenship, but I felt sorry for the others in the circle who paid money to hear Richard Behrens faking communications with their loved ones.
Mentioned in this story is King Philip and Awashuncks the Squaw Sachem of Seconet. A bit of explanation is involved here. King Philip’s War (1675–78) was an early conflict between the Native American tribes of New England and the English colonists of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colony. King Philip was Metacomet the Sachem of the Wampanoag whose father Massasoit had built a fifty-year peaceful relationship with the Mayflower Pilgrims. Initiated after a long series of diplomatic blunders, real estate disasters, and a few deadly hate crimes, King Philip formed a military coalition of many local tribes to go to war against the English. King Philip’s War turned into the bloodiest conflict on American soil in proportion to the population at the time. Fought largely in Massachusetts, it involved the wholesale slaughter of entire populations, guerrilla warfare in what was then a primitive forest, and the hunting down and murder of King Philip. The horrific war almost obliterated Native Americans from New England, many of the survivors being sold into slavery or exiled.
It is hard to believe that Lizzie Borden (H) could have grown up without at least hearing about King Philip’s War. Philip made Mount Hope Bay itself his government seat and Benjamin Church, one of the survivors and heroes of the War was one of the founders of Fall River. In 1703, Benjamin Church he built a sawmill, a gristmill and a fulling mill on the Quequechan River. The land was later sold to Richard Borden of Tiverton and his brother Joseph, a land purchase that would launch the Borden dynasty in Fall River. Yet to Lizzie Borden (H), King Philip’s War would be 200 years old, as far flung in her past as the Revolutionary War is to us.
Awashuncks was a female sachem of the Seconet tribal unit who conspired with the English rather than join forces with Philip. It is hardly surprising that he condemned her soul to the Spirit Box in the Widow Mrs. Borden’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
Extra Bonus Question: This story contains a line from a famous Shakespeare play. What is the line, what play is it from, and which character speaks it?
THE EXHAUSTED AMANUENSIS
This was the third Lizzie Borden story to be written and one of my favorites. It comes from my love of Gilbert & Sullivan, quantum physics and calculus. Doesn’t sound like the beginnings of a humorous detective story, but small acorns from tall oaks can fall. In actuality, it started as a decision to include Emma Borden, Lizzie’s long suffering sister, into a mystery. Originally, I was going to make it an exclusively Emma story, but the intellectual rigor of Professor Welles was crying out for Lizzie (GD). The comedy potential between the two sisters was obvious from the start and I worked hard on integrating it into the main narrative.
It’s no surprise that the crazy math professor is named after John Wellington Welles, the operatic, patter-singing Sorcerer of Gilbert & Sullivan fame. Besides the name, there isn’t much G&S in here, except for the entire potential for absurdity that surrounds twins who have switched identities.
In writing mysteries for a Victorian lady detective, one is faced with the task of finding ways that the lady, especially a young one like Lizzie (GD), can go undercover for her investigation. It wasn’t quite possible for a woman to go about like Sherlock Holmes demanding interviews with those involved in the mystery. Lizzie either has to be invited by the family (the Bordens of French Street in The Purloined Curio) or authority figure (the City Marshal in The Traumatized Metallurgist) or she must disguise herself, as Lizzie does when she pretends to be an amanuensis. Since it is the Professor who is under suspicion by his wife, Lizzie must approach him from behind a mask. Unfortunately for Emma, she chooses the less labor-intensive identity.
Naming the Professor after the Sorcerer from the G&S opera, I did want to draw a link between mathematics and magic. Science is so conjoined in our imaginations with technology, that we often start to see our manipulation of invisible waves, forces and fields as mundane. But if you learn more about how a television remote works, you’ll find that it is in fact a modern magic wand in which the Will of the TV viewer can cause phenomenon to occur from a distance. And it uses invisible forces. Isn’t this, after all, the desired goal of magic in the ancient world? Minus the TV, of course.
Even a light bulb is extraordinary considering no one quite knows exactly what Light is, but we generate and use it all the time without a second thought. It’s significant that spiritualism, the practice of communicating with the dead, got very popular around the time that the telegraph and telephone was creeping everyone out with its creepy actions at a distance, encoded messages (one knock for no, two for yes) and the mysterious force called electricity that no one knew anything about, but learned how to command it to our Wills in the same way a sorcerer binds a demonic creature inside a magical circle. The quantum physicist who deals on a daily basis with infinitesimal, almost non-existent particles (in fact he interfaces with them as pure mathematics, not as solid matter) is performing a magic act infinitely more profound than pulling a rabbit out of a hat. So in fact, this story of Lizzie, Emma and Professor Welles is about magic.
Calculus has always amazed me. Many high school students who find it boring and doze off during class don’t realize just how much they are missing. There should perhaps be a calculus course for philosophical musings upon how mind blowing it really is and then allow those who really care to sign up for the electives. Although I only know the rudiments of both integral and differential calculus (just like Major General Stanley of G&S fame!) I’ve learned enough to think of it as a magical language of great power, something that can, like technology, become quite mundane upon repeated exposure.
The “method of exhaustion” was used in early attempts to calculate the area under a smooth curve. It either referred to the slicing of the area into an almost infinite number of wedges (exhausting the space, so to speak) or it referred to the physical shape the poor sap who had to do the calculation was reduced to after sitting there with a pencil trying to draw an infinite number of wedges. Either way, calculus gave us a much easier way of doing the math, one that I find a major accomplishment of the human intellect.
Armed with the calculus, scientists (or natural philosophers as they were called way back when) cast aside the bell, book and candle magic of Hermeticism and Alchemy for the powerful new tech that was called the Scientific Method, fueled by new mathematics. Four hundred years later we are swimming in technology that to Newton would be indistinguishable from magic.
Fall River in the 1870s during the peak of the textile boom may not be the most fertile ground for advanced mathematics, so writing so much math into the story was a bit of a risk. I hope fans take it light kindheartedly. Zeno’s Paradox is not the first thing you think of when you think Teen Detective Story, but it’s actually very amusing to me that Lizzie (GD) knows so much math. She did take a few years of high school and, as we later find out, studied under Dr. Bartolo the mathematics professor who, as we shall see, is not quite what he seems.
Extra Bonus Question: Calculate how much time elapses during the course of the story and how many epicycles does the Professor go through. When you get the answer, please let me know. I’ve lost track!
THE TRAUMATIZED METALLURGIST
The inspiration for The Traumatized Metallurgist was three-fold. For one, I read a discussion on the Lizzie Borden Society Forum about the textile mills in the late 1800s. A poster was describing how the workers of Fall River were content, free from labor disputes, benignly taken care of by their benevolent industrial masters. From the little I knew about labor relations in the 1800s, this seemed downright fantastical and I immediately started reading a book called CONSTANT TURMOIL: The Politics of Industrial Life in Nineteenth-Century New England by Mary H. Blewett. The title says it all. Fall River industry was brutal, violent and a lot of people suffered. It was either Richard or Jefferson Border who allegedly said, “I regard my work-people just as I regard my machinery. So long as they can do my work for what I choose to pay them, I keep them, getting out of them what I can. What they do or how they fare outside my walls I don’t know, nor do I consider it my business to know. They must look out for themselves as I do for myself. When my machines get old and useless, I reject them and get new, and these people are part of my machinery.”
The second inspiration was my good fortune to have walked several hours through the ruins of Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania shortly before it was partially torn down and converted into a Sands Casino complex. This came about when involved in a project with photographer Marc Reed who had done an extraordinary job photographing the ruins for a film project. After signing a document at the front office that we were completely responsible for our well-being while in the midst of massive crumbling machinery, deteriorating buildings, and century-old blast furnaces, we took off into complex. It was like walking on a massive film set depicting an abandoned city, but the danger was very real: catwalks were falling from their bolts, entire buildings were collapsing inward so the floors rippled upwards like small mountain ranges, ceilings were sagging above us, sharp rusted metal was everywhere. It took a wild imagination to feel the heat of the furnaces, to see the rivers of liquid metal flowing through the casting floors, to hear the thundering roar of the engine room and to imagine the army of employees who came to work every day to build battleships, bridges, armaments and skyscrapers. Everything looked like the 1940s and many structures dated back to the Civil War when the company manufactured iron and had produced the guns and ammo that fueled the Civil War. When I discovered that Fall River had an iron works (seen below) in the 1870s, I knew I had to get inside and bring my Girl Detective with me.
This was followed shortly by a visit to the remains of the Batsto Village and Iron Works in the Pine Barons of New Jersey and the Saugus Iron Works National Park in Massachusetts, two sites I found both haunting and lyrical. These three visits changed me in subtle ways I can’t describe. I soon became enamored by a book called “Yankee Science in the Making: Science and Engineering in New England from Colonial Times to the Civil War,” by Dirk J. Struik and before I knew it The Traumatized Metallurgist was seeping out of my imagination.
Lastly there was my desire to tackle that most time-worn technique of mystery stories, the Locked Room Mystery. However, I enjoyed the idea of having the room in which the murder occurs not only unlocked, but having a huge crowd of people outside the open door watching. How exactly would that work? I leave it up to the reader whether they feel cheated by the solution or not.
It seemed logical to drag in Homer Thesinger the Boy Inventor (although he prefers the term Electromechanician after Thomas Edison). Homer doesn’t quite invent anything in this story, but he does predict iPods by more than a century. It was just fun to bring him inside the Fall River Iron Works and get his perceptions of the technology. After all, I’m not going to go the steam punk route with Homer, as tempting as it may be. He is going to stand in for some of my own wacky ideas about science and technology that have already appeared in The Exhausted Amanuensis. I have great plans for Homer, far more lofty than turning him into a Tom Swift spoof. ‘Nuff said for now.
THE MELANCHOLY SCION
(Notes coming soon!)