Edith Wharton authored numerous ghost stories, but did you know she wrote murder tales, as well?
“Wharton’s fixation on the woman who takes on a new identity to get away from her (supposedly) criminal past resurfaced…in a plan to rework the notorious Lizzie Borden story, a favourite American murder-trial,” says Hermione Lee in her biography of Wharton.
Lizzie Borden’s story has fascinated Americans ever since the news came out on August 4, 1892 that Abby and Andrew Borden were found murdered at the family’s home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Their daughter, Lizzie, was tried for the murders and it was this murder case that Wharton initially planned to turn into a play called Kate Spain.
Instead, the play turned into a short story, “Confession,” in which a New York banker falls in love with a young American woman named Mrs. Kate Ingram, whom he meets at a hotel in the French Alps. What he doesn’t know is that Mrs. Kate Ingram is actually Kate Spain, a woman tried for murdering her father (although Wharton had said of her original play idea, “My young woman could quite as well have murdered an intolerable husband”).
Lizzie Borden and Kate Spain were both acquitted of murder charges. But while Kate Spain fled the country, procured a new identity, and married, Lizzie Borden remained in Fall River as a spinster and was never quite forgiven by the town folk.
This Halloween, visitors to Fall River can spend the night in the room where Lizzie allegedly killed her step-mother with a hatchet, and enjoy the same breakfast the family ate on the morning of August 4, 1892. Those who can’t get away can create their own eerie experience by reading Wharton’s murder tale that was based on a true story.