Blood, Milk, and Magic: Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Borden took an ax

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.

Of course, she didn’t actually give her (step)mother forty whacks. At most, Mrs. Abby Borden had at least 19 whacks. Mr. Andrew Borden? About 11.

But it was this rhyme, sang during jump rope in the schoolyard, that inspired me to seek out Lizzie Borden. After all, it’s a bit macabre for children’s play time (think that’s gruesome? Try reading the original Grimm fairy tales – yikes!). This rhyme has been around since 1892 when an anonymous writer penned it as perhaps a way to sell newspapers.

The story of the Borden murders and the subsequent acquittal of Lizzie Borden fascinated the polite society of the late 1890s and has continued to do so for over one hundred years. The Borden murders have been the subject of books, movies, television specials, and plays as well as tourist destinations (you can stay in the actual Borden house where Abby and Andrew Borden were axed to death).

While the Borden name is typically associated with visions of spinsters wielding hatchets, I bet you didn’t think about milk.

That’s right.

Ms. Lizabeth Borden of Fall River, MA was the fourth cousin twice removed from Gail Borden, the inventor of condensed milk and founder of the Borden Milk Company (bet you won’t look at Elsie the Cow the same way).  Please do me a favor and the next time you pour yourself a cold glass, say out loud, “I could just murder this glass of milk right now.” Bonus points if you caption any photos. I’ll be waiting.

But perhaps one of the more interesting Borden connections is to that lovable t.v. witch/stay-at-home sorceress, Samantha Stephens.

Agnes Moorhead (Endora), Dick York (Derwood/Darrin), and Elizabeth Montgomery (Samantha). Source: ABC Television

Let me just say that first of all, I was born in the wrong decade. If there was one show I watch over and over again, it is Sol Saks’ Bewitched (that is – only the Dick York years. Sorry, Dick Sargent, you did not complete me). Retro television is straight up my jam. I’m currently just  now watching The Golden Girls (don’t scoff at me – I was three when it first premiered; give a sister a break!)

Aside from Bewitched, one of my favorite television movies from is the 1975 classic The Legend of Lizzie Borden starring none other than that sexy witch Elizabeth Montgomery a.k.a Samantha Stevens…


The movie is factually accurate, using testimony from the actual trial. But where it deviates is that it focuses on the use of flashbacks/docudrama as Lizzie awaits her verdict. While the film offers no closure on the case, it gave viewers some theories on how Borden got away with it (if she did it).

But wait!

There’s more!

After Montgomery’s death in 1995, a genealogist by the name of Rhonda McClure discovered that Montgomery herself was a cousin of Lizzie Borden – sixth cousin once removed. When she made The Legend of Lizzie Borden, she had no idea that they were related. If you study their pictures a little more closely, you can see the family resemblance (the noses and eyes). In fact, the Borden family tree also boasts several more famous kin such as Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe, and Willie Nelson (to name a few).

You can currently watch The Legend of Lizzie Borden in all its glory on YouTube.

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