Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rich People’s Houses, Dead People’s Houses

We’re on the road again, this time for a grand tour of New England. First stop was Newport, RI, where we visited a couple of the “cottages” in which the wealthy New York families of the gilded age spent the summer months away from the heat of the city. If they had been in Newport this week, they would have surely abandoned the cottages and headed further north. Just like at home, the temperature was in the high 90s and even over 100 on Wednesday. I think I’ve sweated off 10 pounds since we left home.

The biggest and gaudiest house here is The Breakers, which was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt, and it proves there used to be real money in railroads, especially if you owned them. No photos are permitted inside,DSC_0211 so the exterior shot will have to do, but we were told the term “conspicuous consumption” was coined during this period of the late 19th century, and apparently old Corny really knew how to consume conspicuously. But the tour told us that the Vandy family were just regular folks in many ways. They liked to have fun, played practical jokes on each other and even  slid down the grand staircase on serving trays…silver, no doubt.

One detail of the house pretty much sums it up – the library walls are constructed of platinum panels.

A much more interesting house tour was through a B and B in Fall River, MA.  You may remember the song:

Yesterday in old Fall River, Mr. Andrew Borden died. And they got his daughter Lizzie on a charge of homicide. Some folks say she didn't do it, and others say of course she did. But they all agree Miss Lizzie B. was a problem kind of kid.

Cause you can't chop your papa up in Massachusetts. Not even if it's planned as a surprise No, you can't chop your papa up in Massachusetts. You know how neighbors love to criticize.

She got him on the sofa where he'd gone to take a snooze. And I hope he went to heaven 'cause he wasn't wearing shoes. Lizzie kinda rearranged him with a hatchet so they say. Then she got her mother in that same old-fashioned way!

DSC_0219 Yep, the house where Lizzie allegedly did the foul deeds in 1892 is open as a museum and bed and breakfast. The tour took us through all the rooms, including the room in which Andrew was chopped, and the guest room upstairs where Lizzie’s step mother was killed. And by the way, the song was wrong, Mr. Borden died with his shoes on, as you can see in the photo.




The tour guide, who works as the cook in the house, was very knowledgeable about the case and the trial. The crime scene photos are on display in the very rooms where they were taken, and although the Borden furniture is long gone, the place is furnished with pieces that look a lot like the originals. Lizzie was acquitted of the crime, after spending a long time in jail awaiting trial, but it is very likely she did it.

DSC_0232 Guests who spend the night in Andrew’s former bedroom often leave some change on the dresser in the hopes he, who was known to be a penny-pincher, will be enticed to return for a visit. The tour guide said that as far as he knows, Andrew, or more likely, Andrew’s ghost, has never made an appearance.

A bonus of the tour was a glimpse of autopsy photos, including the skulls of Mr. & Mrs. B. after the medical examinerDSC_0221 had removed all of the soft stuff. Ouch!

One minor problem en route to Fall River. Our Tom Tom GPS stopped working – dead as a, dead as Andrew Borden. So we had to rely on a map (ugh) to get there. I have a spare GPS I bought for Penny a couple of years ago, but she never even opened the box. So I set it up,( it took hours to download current maps and updates) and plugged it in to the cigar lighter (I have no idea why they call it that. Maybe real truck drivin’ men smoke cigars.) in the truck. In about half and hour it was dead too. So this got me thinking. I plugged my phone into the lighter socket, and it didn’t charge. Turned out the lighter socket is dead, not either GPS. I figured it was a fuse, but it turns out the lighter fuse is located under the hood of the truck behind the coolant reservoir in a spot that requires a mechanic to get to.  Fortunately, the truck has a second power point, so we’ve now got Tom plugged in there and I’ll have the lighter socket fixed the next time the truck is serviced.

Now we’re in Salisbury, MA and over the next few days we’ll be taking a whale watch tour out of Gloucester, and visit some witches in Salem.


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