I Tried (and Failed) to Sleep at the Lizzie Borden House

Lyndsey Matthews
Photo credit: Lyndsey Matthews

From Country Living

Three loud blasts rang through the house. I must have nodded off, because the fire alarm tore me out of a shallow sleep. And then the screaming started.

"What was that?" my sister, Lauren, whispered in the dark next to me. I could barely think straight over the sound of the three 18-year-old girls in the room next to us screaming that ghosts must have set off the fire alarm. I looked at my phone. It was just after 3 a.m. Only a couple hours left before the sun came up. Up until that point, my sister and I had been trying our best (and failing) to get some rest in the same bedroom where Lizzie Borden's stepmother Abby was brutally murdered with an axe.

I don't know how I let myself be talked into this experience. Halloween is my least favorite holiday and I had nightmares well into high school after watching Nosferatu when I was 12 years old. Yet, somehow I let Lauren-who loves horror movies-convince me to spend the night in the murder room at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum.

Photo credit: Lyndsey Matthews

On August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden, a respected merchant and his second wife were murdered in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts with an axe. While Andrew's daughter, Lizzie, was tried and acquitted of the gruesome murders in one of the most famous trials of the era, the case remains unsolved to this day.

Even though there wasn't enough evidence to convict Lizzie, many believe that she committed the crimes because she stood to benefit the most financially from the death of her father and stepmother-not to mention the searing resentment she allegedly felt toward Mrs. Borden.

Over a hundred years later, the Borden family house, located 20 miles north of Newport, Rhode Island, is now a bed and breakfast where brave (or maybe just foolish) guests-including myself-can spend the night.

Photo credit: Lyndsey Matthews

On the drive to Fall River, I kept reminding myself that ghosts don't exist. But as we walked into the Borden house just after 4 p.m. on a warm Sunday afternoon in early September, it dawned on me that it didn't matter if it was actually haunted or not. The fact is, two people were violently murdered in this house that I had committed to spending an entire night in. Dread started to creep its way into my head as our host climbed the staircase and showed us into the room where I had to at least attempt to fall asleep-in a bed just inches away from where a very real person had her skull split in two with a very real axe. Haunted or not, this house was creepy and left me feeling very unsettled.

But before we could turn out the lights and get under the covers, a guide took us and the dozen or so other guests on two-hour tour of the entire house. Starting in the parlor, which was decked out in enough lace and chintz to supply several B&Bs, he launched into the history of the Borden family.

The first stop was the room I'd be staying in later that night, the John V. Morse Room, also known as the murder room. As the guide described the details of Abby's murder, he also passed around a binder of laminated photos guests had taken while staying at the inn. One picture, the guide told us, was taken by a woman staying in the murder room. In the middle of the night, she spotted something on her partner's side of the bed so she jumped up and quickly snapped this photo:

Photo credit: Lauren Matthews

This was the exact bed I was sleeping in later that night. Great.

As we learned more about that fateful day, we eventually made our way into the parlor where Andrew Borden was murdered on a couch while taking a mid-morning nap. While none of the furniture is original to the house, the owners are incredibly committed to decorating the house to look exactly as it was in 1892 with period pieces, including a couch that looks eerily like the one from the crime scene photos (on display nearby, for guests who require a visual).

Photo credit: Lyndsey Matthews
Photo credit: Lauren Matthews

As if that wasn't creepy enough, there were several vintage Ouija boards on display in the parlor, too-one of which our guide strongly cautioned us against using. (Believe me, I didn't need to be told twice.)

Photo credit: Lauren Matthews

From there we went up to the attic, where the Bordens' maid and Lizzie's would-be accomplice, Bridget Sullivan, used to live, and then all the way down to the basement, which was creepy enough to make me want to head back up to the murder room and at least try to sleep so it could all be over sooner.

Photo credit: Lauren Matthews

As the other guests went off to bed in their rooms, they wished us luck as we headed into our room around midnight to get some sleep. Squashing any chance I had at forgetting about this room's sordid past, the B&B owners had helpfully decorated the space with framed crime scene photos from the day Abby was murdered.

Photo credit: Lyndsey Matthews
Photo credit: Lyndsey Matthews
Photo credit: Lyndsey Matthews

Already distraught over this morbid detail, I started to hear a frantic beeping through the wall of our bedroom. As I went to investigate, I nearly ran into one of the girls staying in the room next to ours in the hallway. The beeping was coming from a "ghost detector" app she had downloaded on her iPhone. While basic logic tells me that an app clearly can't detect supernatural occurrences, I couldn't get over the fact that the "detector" calmed down whenever she went back into her room-where no murders happened-and increasingly started to get louder, faster and more irritated as she entered our room and, specifically, went over to the spot where Abby was murdered.

Photo credit: Lyndsey Matthews

By that point, I forced Lauren to watch The Last Unicorn with me on Netflix just to distract myself from how creeped out I was by this house. I tried to force myself into a deep sleep, but after the fire alarm went off with no explanation at around 3:08 a.m., Lauren and I just gave up and sat there in bed trying not to let our imaginations run wild over all the implausible explanations as to why that would happen. (It didn't help my anxiety that Lauren decided to start searching the internet, and discovered that some people refer to the hour between 3 and 4 a.m. as the "witching hour" or the "Devil's hour" because they believe it's when "paranormal forces" are at their most powerful.)

Finally at around 6 a.m. the sun came up and we got dressed and tried desperately not to drive away as quickly as possible. At breakfast, all the other guests were talking about the rogue fire alarm. Overhearing us, the employee who was making our eggs and pancakes came into the dining room.

"What time did you say the fire alarm went off?" he asked. When we told him it was just after 3 a.m., he paused and started to look a little stressed out.

"Well, this is an old house, so the wiring isn't perfect," he started. "But I would be lying to you if I said this same thing doesn't happen once every couple months, always around the same time of night."

Photo credit: Lyndsey Matthews

Whether or not that's true-or he was just trying to scare us even more-I knew that I was ready to leave. So we finished our breakfast, put our bags in the car, and left town as quickly as possible.

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