No. 653
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 27, 2024

A Substitute for a Wife.

October 27, 2014
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The archives of the Humble Oil & Refining Company are about the last place where you’d expect to run across a first-rate poltergeist account, but it just goes to show that we live in a funny old world.  In 1948, a folklorist and historian was browsing through the company’s papers when he came across a letter that had absolutely nothing to do with oil.  It read:Jan [illegible] '
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Strange Company - 5/27/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
When these photos from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York were taken at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery at the end of May in 1899, Memorial Day didn’t exist. “Decoration Day,” however, was an established holiday celebrated every May 30. The idea was to visit the final resting places of thousands of […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/27/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
John Wesley Elkins.11-year-old John Wesley Elkins was slight of stature—four feet eight inches tall, weighing 73 pounds. He was intelligent and well-spoken, and he had never caused trouble until the day he murdered his parents. At 2:00 am, on July 24, 1889, while his parents were sleeping in their Iowa farmhouse, he shot his father in the head and then beat his mother to death with a club.
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Murder By Gaslight - 5/25/2024
CHIEF OF CONSThe Morning Times(Cripple Creek, Colorado)February 15, 1896Courtesy of Mitch Morrissey ig Ed Burns robs a dying man?      Mitch Morrissey, a Facebook friend and historian for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, found and published an interesting newspaper piece on "Big Ed" Burns, one of the most notorious characters in the West. Burns was a confidence man and
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 4/2/2024
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Bulldozing a Voter. | "It Costs Money to Fix Things."

A Substitute for a Wife.

Substitute Wife

A disconsolate widower secures a dummy, and dresses it up in his wife’s clothing, just to humor a “little fancy;” New York City. [more]

A Dummy Made to Fill a Wife’s Place.—The Force of Habit.

The breezy Captain Marryat relates in one of his novels an incident illustrative alike of the wonderful force of habit and the facility of substitution, so to speak, in human nature. Its awful to think that one’s place in the world may be filled by a scrubbing brush, and yet the captain demonstrates the possibility of such a thing. A worthy old salt, so goes the chronicle, has been in the habit of sleeping with his hand on his wife’s head. She wore her hare close cropped, it is narrated, yet to the weather-beaten hand the stubble cushion seemed of downy softness, such is the power of infatuation and perfect sympathy.

The worthy tar all too soon became a widower, and when he stretched out his hand in his bed and found only smooth pillow beside him he could not sleep. Long and deeply was he troubled and the physicians tried in vain. Finally, he one night took the scrubbing brush to bed with him, placed it upside down on the pillow next to him, reposed his hand upon it and nature’s sweet restorer came swift on downy pinions to light upon his tear-sullied lids. Now, another widower, who states that he lives in New York, has written a letter to this office to state that he has had the extreme felicity of burying his wife, and that he misses her well-dressed form in the house he intends, instead of getting an old maid for a companion, to purchase as dress-maker’s dummy and dress it up four or fives times a year in the newest flounces and millinery wrinkles and so replace his loss.

“So long as the bills from the dressmaker come in regularly,” he writes, “I can still feel like a married man.”

From some subsequent allusions in this purported widower’s letter the suspicion grows that he is not what he pretends to be, but is, in fact, a married man who has failed to subscribe for the new fall number now due, and his faithful wife has grown acrimonious.

 


Reprinted from The National Police Gazette, October 23, 1880.