Maplecroft, Lizbeth and Nance O’Neil
With Lizzie exonerated of the murders, life needed to go on. But that life would not go on at 92 Second Street. Lizzie and her sister Emma purchased a new house less than two miles from the murder site. This house would be located on “The Hill,” where Lizzie had always believed the family should reside. Her father “could have purchased and lived in any of the other homes in this neighborhood. He chose the house he died in; and when he died, Lizzie chose hers.” (Brown, p. 282) This new house, located at 306 French Street, would contain fourteen rooms, four bathrooms, a carriage house, a grand garden and a household staff of housekeeper, cook, maid and coachman. The Borden sisters were located just down the street from the wealthiest family in Fall River, the Braytons. Along with this new home came a new name: Lizbeth. Lizzie felt she needed to change her persona in order to erase the past and fit into the new lifestyle. Her new home would bear the name “Maplecroft,” and she was determined to become a part of the more elite community. But in reality, the community still looked upon her as a pariah and upstart. She may have been found innocent in the murders, but the stigma attached to it was still apparent. Lizzie tried going to church, but felt the icy stares that were directed at her. She went one time and never went back. She did develop some close acquaintances, but most social occasions took place within the safety of her home. Contrary to what their other neighbors did, the Borden sisters installed locks on all their doors and bars on all their lower windows. They never kept their windows or doors open, even on the hottest days of summer. Both sisters had a deathly fear of making themselves accessible to anyone unknown to them.
It would seem that the sisters would have ended up as spinsters living the rest of their lives together in mutual seclusion. But this arrangement ended with the inclusion of Nance O’Neil (October 8, 1874 – February 7, 1965). While Lizzie was visiting in Boston, she met the stage actress, who was born with the name Gertrude Lamson, and was quite taken with her. Nance was beautiful, glamorous, and most importantly, nonjudgmental. For Nance, Lizzie had money and a comfortable lifestyle. The actress had always struggled with financial problems and Lizzie seemed willing to support her in a lifestyle she preferred. What the exact nature of their relationship was is open to interpretation. We know that for a time Nance made her permanent home with Lizzie. In the truest sense of the word, Lizzie was quite smitten by Nance. It is known that Nance was acknowledged in theater circles as a lesbian. And Emma did not approve of Lizzie’s relationship with Nance. It soon became apparent that the house was not big enough for the three of them. And since Lizzie was not letting go of the actress, Emma made the decision to move out. This relationship would put a final wedge in the sisters’ living arrangement. Emma moved out of Maplecroft and never returned to live there. As described in The Boston Sunday Herald on June 3, 1905:
“After repeated disagreements, Lizzie A. Borden and her sister, Emma Borden, have parted company. Several days ago Miss Emma packed up her belongings, called a moving wagon and shook the dust of the French street home, where they have lived together ever since the acquittal in the famous murder trial, from her feet. She is reported to have moved to Fairhaven. Ever since her departure the tongue of gossip has been wagging tremendously, even for Fall River, which is saying a great deal. All sorts of reasons for the quarrel between the sisters have been afloat, but the best founded ones involve the name of Miss Nance O’Neil, the actress. It is nothing new to learn that the sisters have not agreed; that has been known ever since the famous murder, and even during that cause delebre it came out that they had never agreed on many things. Miss Emma was sedate and retiring. Miss Lizzie was fond of good times and jolly company. When they moved from the Second street establishment, where the murder occurred, to the handsome residence on French street, rumors of disagreement continued to escape from the neighborhood, and when the moving van backed up, a few days ago, the gossip fairly poured out.” (Kent, p. 329)
Lizzie’s relationship with Nance eventually sputtered to an end and Nance returned to her acting. She would go on to a career in silent and talking films, married a fellow actor in 1916 named Alfred Hickman who she was with until his death in 1931, and lived until 1965 when she died in the Actor’s Home in Englewood, New Jersey. Lizzie final years were very isolated and lonely. Her dreams for living a life with the upper crust of Fall River were in reality in proximity but a sham in the sense of acceptance by that caste group.