What does Binette view as most impressive about the history of Fall River as given in the book? “One of the most impressive, or significant, things about the history of Fall River presented in Parallel Lives is the fact that even though the city was a major textile center and one of the wealthier cities in Massachusetts, in many ways it was still a small town,” he answers. “It’s fascinating to see the same names recur in story after story, and all sorts of connections can be made through families and social contacts.” As befits a book as lengthy and fact-filled as Parallel Lives, much in time and resources was spend in creating it. The authors found that, even after so much time, some people are still strongly emotionally affected by this case. “Parallel Lives took over nine years from coming up with the original concept to publication,” Binette says. “The scope of the book grew as our research progressed and more and more new material came to light. People were very generous with the material that they allowed us to use but it took, in some cases, years to establish relationships and cultivate the trust of the many individuals who possessed very important correspondence, artifacts or photographs because they were still very protective and loyal to the Lizzie Borden that their ancestors had known.” When interviewed by the writer, Martins made it clear that writing and publishing Parallel Lives was ultimately very satisfying. “I think the satisfaction came when the book was completed in that the other side of the story had finally been told,” he thoughtfully states. “Before the publication of Parallel Lives, very little had been told about Lizzie Borden’s later life. We were able to introduce the reader to what her later personal life was really like. We help people get to know Lizzie Borden beyond the legends and the rumors.”
Martins indicates that research for the book produced some very special surprises. “There were some great discoveries along the way!” he exclaims with unabashed enthusiasm. “Among the letters first published in Parallel Lives are the ones that Lizzie Bordenwrote from the jail to Anne Sheen Lindsey, a very close friend of hers. Those letters completely debunk the image of Lizzie as this very cold, stoic individual who displayed no emotion. There is a great deal of emotion in those letters! In one of them Lizzie says, ‘Any day now they may take me down the road to the insane asylum.’ I think that’s pretty telling.”
What has the reaction of readers been to the book? “The reviews thus far have been very, very good,” Martins answers. “Many people are somewhat overwhelmed by its size. It is a very long book. However, people who are interested in the case can expect to learn a great deal. No one has every previously looked at Lizzie Borden with a view toward the history of the place where she lived almost her entire life. Most people who have read it seem to like it very much.” Martins told ABC News that the journals recently acquired are in fragile condition and will not be exhibited until they are properly preserved. In an interview with the writer, Binette elaborated, “The paper as it ages gets very brittle and dry. The acids that are in the paper will act against it. These were inexpensive notebooks and the paper quality not the best. When things like this are over 100 years old the pages are very brittle. A paper conservator must see what is required to stabilize the paper to make sure it doesn’t break down anymore.”
Andrew Jennings kept the journals, along with much other evidence from the case including the infamous ‘handless hatchet,’ in a Victorian era bathtub. “It was a ‘hip bath,’” Binette states. “It was a bathtub not connected to a water supply but was a portable bathtub in which people would pour water into it when they wanted to bathe.” Jennings kept the bathtub filled with these items in a room being used as a family storage area. A daughter of Andrew Jennings donated the majority of the materials to the Fall River Historical Society in the 1960s. “I believe the grandson intended to use the journals for something himself but passed away before he was able to do so,” Binette comments. “It was in his will that they would be left to the Historical Society to complete the collection that his mother started when she donated Andrew Jennings material in the 1960s.” Newspapers from which clippings were taken include those of various states in the United States. The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The New York Sun are some of the newspapers represented. Binette believes that neither the material in Parallel Lives nor that in the Jennings journals is likely to persuade a reader one way or another as to whether or not Lizzie Borden committed the murders. “Michael and I have consistently said that the intention of Parallel Lives was that it not be a ‘did she or didn’t she’ book,” he explains. “What we did was dispel the myths about Lizzie Borden and tell of the real person. What readers take from that is their own choice.” However, Binette states that those with a low opinion of Lizzie will not see information in the book that paints her as an ogre while those who believe she was a decent person are apt to find confirmation for their views. “It’s interesting that, although we tried to find documentation to substantiate some of the disparaging claims against Lizzie, we never could,” he pointedly observes. “Reminiscences that came down through history about her were consistently good and counter to Lizzie Borden the legend, who was a product of speculation created by those who did not know her.” He continues that not enough of the journals has been thoroughly examined to know whether or not they support a hypothesis of guilt or innocence. “As far as the Jennings journals, because of their fragile nature, we have not read a sufficient amount of the material to make a statement as to whether or not their content would suggest Lizzie was guilty or innocent,” he states. “But as with anything else pertaining to the Borden case, they most likely contain a great deal of food for thought.”
A multitude of brutal murder cases have grabbed headlines and then faded from public consciousness. The murders of Abby and Andrew Borden continue to inspire speculation, research and theorizing well over a century after they were committed. In Binette’s opinion, what accounts for the continuing fascination with this case? “The longevity of interest in the Borden case is due to several factors,” he thoughtfully replies. “One of them is the fact that it was a crime that was considered a ‘man’s’ crime, a violent attack with a weapon that required the proximity of assailant and victim. That the accused was a woman and had church affiliations made her being the suspect all the more intriguing. The widespread media attention, thanks to the Associated Press coverage, also brought the minute-by-minute reporting into homes everywhere. And, of course, the crimes remain unsolved, forever to be a subject of speculation to researchers, scholars and armchair detectives.”
Denise Noe thanks Michael Martins and Dennis A. Binette for giving interviews.