February 19, 2001
Nickerson to wax on Borden case
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
Long before the birth of Court TV or even radio, this country could be spellbound by sensational crimes.
One of the first highly publicized criminal cases in the United States
was the Lizzie Borden murder trial of the late 19th century. The daughter
of one of the richest men in Fall River, Mass., Borden was acquitted of
killing her father and stepmother with an axealthough the question
of whether Borden was actually guilty has spawned many debates over the
past 100 years.
Catherine Nickerson will discuss these debates at her presentation, Lizzie
Borden and the Fascinations of the Past, as part of Emorys
Great Teachers Lecture series, Thursday, Feb. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in the
Miller-Ward Alumni House.
The title is also that of a book Nickerson is working on and hopes to
complete sometime next year.
Im actually less interested in the question of whether she
did it or not, said Nickerson, associate professor of English and
director of undergraduate studies in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal
Arts. Im more interested in the way other people get involved
in the question.
And the bulk of Nickersons discussion will center on the many ways
this involvement manifests itself. For instance, Thursday night Nickerson
will show part of a documentary film shot at a Lizzie Borden convention
in which people from around the country meet to discuss the case. Some
attend in period costume. The Borden case has inspired a ballet, an opera
and many stories.
I think one of the things that is sustainingly interesting about
this case is that its so difficult to imagine her having done it,
Nickerson said. One of the big questions of the Victorian era was,
What are women capable of?
The Borden case is part of American lore, particularly in New England,
where the murders took place. On Aug. 4, 1892, Lizzie found Andrew Borden
and his wife Abby hacked to death with an axe in their Fall River home.
Lizzie was charged with the murders three days later, and her trial began
June 5, 1893. After 14 days of testimonynone of which came from
Borden, who did not testifythe jury acquitted her.
Nickerson said much of the states evidence against Borden was circumstantialno
weapon could be tied to Borden, for instance. Nickerson added that a few
years ago a class at UCLA held a mock Borden trial, and Lizzie was acquitted
once again. Her opinion, though, is that Lizzie committed the crime. Along
with older sister Emma, Lizzie inherited all their fathers money
after his death.
After her acquittal, she never published anything; she never spoke
to newspaper reporters about her side of the storyshe just maintained
her silence, Nickerson said. There were anecdotal stories
about her talking to neighbors, but very little even of that.
She maintained that silence and I think thats very unsatisfying, Nickerson said. We want to know [what happened]. It creates this space in which you can imagine all sorts of possibilities. People are always trying to retell the story.
Nickerson became interested in the Borden case while researching a book on detective fiction by American women. She has been on the Emory faculty since 1992 and received the Excellence in Teaching award in 1999.