OSWEGO, NY – Cast members of the upcoming Oswego High School Drama Club production of “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe” recently took in the splendor of the Victorian Age at the Richardson-Bates House Museum at 135 E. Third St.
Oswego County Historical Society president Justin White and board of trustees member Peg McKinstry guided the student actors on a tour of the lavish home, tying in references to the world Lizzie Borden and her contemporaries populated in Fall River, Mass., circa 1892.
Drama Club advisor Robert Dumas and playwright-director Garrett Heater facilitated the trip to highlight various connections the two regions shared.
“Lizzie Borden’s father had the money to build a home like the Richardson-Bates House, but he was notoriously frugal with his money and instead resided with his two unmarried daughters, Emma and Lizzie, and his second wife, Abby, in a very modest home that was close to the heart of the city,” said Heater. “Lizzie was friends with girls whose fathers built homes similar to the Richardson-Bates House in the fashionable part of town in Fall River, called ‘The Hill.’ Recorded testimonies cite how frustrated Emma and Lizzie were: being forced, they felt, to live beneath their station.”
To those interested in the unsolved hatchet murders of Andrew and Abigail Borden, for which Lizzie herself stood trial and received an acquittal, many point the finger at Andrew’s unwillingness to spend his money on conspicuous displays of wealth.
The architectural and fashionable aesthetics of Victorian society would have been deemed excessive and foolhardy by Andrew, who struggled his entire life to escape the poverty of his childhood.
Just as the Oswego Kingsford’s made the region synonymous with starch production, Andrew Borden’s savvy business dealings put him in control of three major textile mills in Fall River, once known to be the textile capital of America.
While Andrew’s colleagues ‘kept up appearances’ by building gorgeously embellished homes on “The Hill” and dressing their daughters in the latest fashionable attire, Andrew saw that his own daughters were comfortable without being ostentatious.
But the Borden girls surely did not understand why a potentially upper-class family such as theirs should have to settle for a middle class existence.
“The Richardson-Bates House is stunning,” said Dumas. “There is so much artistic detail everywhere you look. What a remarkable asset to the Oswego community.”
Lizzie, whose friends’ homes would have resembled the Richardson-Bates House, certainly longed for a gilded mansion of her own.
“She eventually got it,” McKinstry said. “But, only after the murders occurred.”
McKinstry is referring to the sprawling home on French Street in Fall River that Lizzie purchased once she and her sister Emma received deceased Andrew’s millions.
Lizzie decorated her new home with artistic precision, even installing decorative carved stone fireplaces featuring quotes from her favorite poet. She named the home Maplecroft.
The drama club actors also chatted with two members of the original cast.
The play premiered in Syracuse in 2010 with Bernie Kaplan as Andrew Borden and Chuck Parsons as Lizzie’s maternal uncle, John V. Morse.
Rachael Leotta, who plays Lizzie in the OHS production, asked the special guests if they could speculate on who committed the murders.
While Parsons believed his character John Morse was somehow involved, Kaplan took a different stance.
“The play is written to allow the audience to decide for themselves, which is a wonderful way to enjoy such an intriguing piece of history,” he said.
“Lizzie Borden Took an Axe” will be presented at the Robinson-Faust Theatre for the Performing Arts at Oswego High School on November 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $10 at the door; please contact the box office at 341-2270 with any questions.