Lizzie takes a bow, 1894

September 19, 2014

This is out of the time period I look at (1789-1872), but I thought I’d post this here because for the past couple of weeks I’ve been using the Borden murders in my composition class.  (And introducing the murders to my students.  Introducing Lizzie Borden.  Introducing her to college students.  Who have never heard of her.  *sigh*)

While looking for newspaper pieces on the acquittal, I was pleased to find the early version of the infamous “Lizzie Borden took an ax.”  (And, yes, “infamous.”  It really is.  Almost every discussion of the murders that I’ve seen opens with the “40 whacks” version.)  And I was amused to see an earlier generation of middle-class parents attempting to keep children unaware of the seamier aspects of life—and being somehow circumvented.  It’s a joke piece, but apparently it was a joke that readers in 1894 knew how to appreciate.

“To Mitigate Hard Times.”  Worcester Daily Spy [Worcester, MA] (4 Feb 1894):  9, col 3.

A Boston lady who brings her children up very carefully and never allows them to see a newspaper found them, on going into her nursery the other day, singing:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother 20 whacks;
After seeing what she’d done,
She gave her father 21.

(Btw, Abby was killed first—with 19 blows; Andrew was killed second, with 11 blows to the head.  More accurate than the 40 and 41 whacks in the later version.  I’m betting folklorists have had a lot to say about the construction of the rhyme.)

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