On Oct. 11, 1998, I started writing a diary. I continued adding to it until Oct. 10, 2002.
At the time, I was living in a beautiful and historic Colonial house in Swansea, Massachusetts, built in 1889, and located on a pond.
I stopped adding to the diary only because I knew that in April 2002, I would be moving to Orlando, following the lead that my sister and her family made in 1999. I had sold the Colonial and was packing up to say goodbye to Massachusetts, the state I was born in.
The diary was not a daily recollection of my job, home life, family, or private thoughts about world events. I started writing it, sporadically, for a very different reason: I had come to conclude that the house was haunted, so I began writing down the eerie, spooky incidents happening inside those walls.
Pictures falling off a wall, even though they were securely attached to a nail. Loud banging in our basement, with no indication of what it was when we went to investigate. One of my cats staring down a dark hallway, and suddenly all the fur on her back standing up — and there’s nothing there. This happened over and over again.
The house, by the way, was right across the street from a graveyard.
Check out this entry from Thursday, Feb. 17, 2000:
“It’s 8:30 in the morning, I’m on the second floor, in the computer room, signing off on line. Mel has already gone to work. Then I hear the front door open. A male voice says, ‘Hey, kitty cat.’ I figure Mel has returned. I get up, walk to the top of the stairs, and yell, ‘You decided to come back home?’ I never got an answer. I was alone in the house.”
Or this entry from Friday, March 10, 200:
“It’s about 9 p.m. on a cool night. Mel isn’t home yet — he’s working late. I’m laying on the couch, watching TV. The lights are out in the house, although there are lit candles in the room. On the air is a commercial about a senior citizen independent living center in Taunton. All of a sudden I hear a man’s voice yell something. Just once. But I couldn’t make out what the voice said. It definitely didn’t sound like it came from outside — it clearly seemed to come from within the house. In fact, it sounds like it came from the basement. For the life of me, I was not about to go down there and find out.”
You get the idea.
Swansea was a small, historic town of about 20,000 people located right next to the city where I was born, and worked as a news reporter, the City of Fall River. That’s a city with a rich history of its own — and a nice claim to fame this time of year. There’s a home in the downtown area, at 92 Second St., built in 1845. It’s known to be haunted. Beautifully preserved to look just as it did a century ago, it’s not a residential property anymore, but a business: the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast and Museum. Visitors can come stay in one of the property’s eight bedrooms. It’s a very appealing place for those intrigued by ghosts — and history and crime buffs.
The main attraction is the identity of the woman who made both that house, and in some ways the city of Fall River, so infamous, even today.
It was on Aug. 4, 1892 when Fall River police detectives began investigating a hideous double homicide. Andrew J. Borden and his wife, Abby, were discovered dead in the Second Street home. They had been bludgeoned to death. Andrew Borden received 10 blows to the area of his skull between his ears, eyes and nose, and Abby Borden got 18 blows to the back of her head, both by a handless hatchet.
Lizzie, Andrew’s daughter and Abby’s daughter-in-law, was arrested and charged with the murders, but following a 13 day trial, she was acquitted by an all-male jury that seemed couldn’t believe this proper woman could commit such a heinous act. She briefly returned to that home, and stayed in Fall River for the rest of her life, eventually moving to a house in the city’s elegant Highlands neighborhood on French Street. She died on June 1, 1927.
In the decades that followed, the Second Street home survived, and in 1996, it became a bed and breakfast and tourist attraction, appealing to those who love to see 18th century property preserved and restored to its original Victorian appearance — and to those with a curious fascination about this grisly case.
Not surprisingly, October is a busy time of year for the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, which has three floors, with a kitchen, dining room and parlor on the first floor — including the sitting room where Andrew Borden was found dead. For lovers of the morbid, there is a replica of the sofa that Andrew Borden was murdered on, a duplicate of the original crime scene photo from Aug. 4, 1892, with his body slumped onto the sofa and his head bloody and mutilated, and even a replica of Borden’s skull, with the 10 blows to the side of his face.
The legend of Lizzie Borden remains a strong draw for both the city, the bed and breakfast — and for the Fall River Historical Society, which has a museum at 451 Rock St. in the city’s “Historic Highlands” neighborhood. That museum has its own Lizzie Borden room, which contains the axe that was discovered by police to have been used in the murders of Andrew Borden and his wife Abbey.
If you decide to make a trip to Fall River to see the Lizzie Borden home or the Historical Museum, consider staying for a few days, and then making a trip up to the North Shore of Boston, to check out the city of Salem — also a great place for trips during the Halloween season. Salem is famous — infamous, perhaps — as the site of the 1692 witch trials, and today is home to the Salem Witch House, the only structure still standing with ties to the original trials.
Salem is also home to the House of Seven Gables, a 1668 colonial mansion that serves as a museum, and was made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s spooky 1851 novel “The House of the Seven Gables.”
I always get a longing around this time of year to go back to Massachusetts. The Bay State’s beautifully preserved historic properties may, in fact, lend itself more easily to being a comforting place for ghosts to stick around … particularly compared to Orlando, where so much of the housing is relatively new and with no real history to speak of.
And who knows, maybe I’ll go back to my old Colonial in Swansea … and see if I still get an eerie, uncomfortable feeling simply by walking in the front door.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..