One of my favorite pieces of writing is an essay by Sarah Vowell entitled “God Will Give You Blood to Drink in a Souvenir Shot Glass.” (The essay is collected in The Partly Cloudy Patriot but sadly does not seem to be available online on its own anywhere. The book is worth seeking out if you haven’t read it and you’re into nerdy historical tourism.) Anyway, the essay is about tourism in sites of historical tragedies, mainly Salem, Massachusetts, and how odd it is to reconcile having a fun, enjoyable tourist time in a site where horrible atrocities were committed. As a recent transplant to Massachusetts, I’ve also visited Salem and also had a great time enjoying the beautiful town where young women were put to death a long time ago.
The Lizzie Borden B&B has really leaned into that whole vibe. When you walk into the house, you start, of course, with the gift shop, which features Lizzie Borden bobble heads and baby onesies printed with “I love my Mommy TO DEATH” with a little axe. It’s very light-hearted for the site of a gruesome double-murder. But the murders were a long time ago, so now we can have fun.
The house itself was, well…like a B&B. It’s furnished with period-appropriate furniture, but it’s also a working B&B, so everything that’s out is sat upon and slept upon by tourists every day. As we went through on our tour, getting more details about the day-to-day life of the Bordens and the murder itself, I just couldn’t get over the fact that people pay money to sleep in this B&B every day.
Anyway, it was a fun day trip, and we learned a moderate amount about history. It also did help contextualize the weird book about Lizzie Borden we read–how dysfunctional the family was, how oddly laid out their house was, and how many pears there were. (Listen to the podcast episode for more details.) If you’re ever in the area I’d recommend the Lizzie Borden house as an interesting day trip, if you’re into that kind of thing. If nothing else you can take some really ominous Facebook profile photos there.