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Lizzie Borden took an axe – Dark Tourism in Massachusetts
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Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.


Lizzie Borden guesthouse, Fall River


Dark Tourism 


Dark Tourism is a growing trend in visiting landmarks around the world that have a morbid fascination to them. Guided tours of Jack the Ripper’s old hunting grounds in Whitechapel, London are a good example. My own interest in Dark Tourism stems from around 2009, when I first heard of Elena Filatova. This Ukrainian photojournalist, sometimes known as the ‘Kid of Speed’, claims to have repeatedly visited the area around Chernobyl and Pripyat to document its isolation and devastation. Her accounts of motorbike tours through the dead zone have been questioned by sceptics, but whatever the actual truth behind them, I’ve always found her unique essays both haunting and fascinating.




A couple of years ago we were driving through Texas from Austin to Dallas, and happened to pass quite close to the city of Waco. In 1993 the FBI laid siege to a compound near here that was inhabited by a religious group, the Branch Davidians. After a couple of months the standoff ended in tragedy, with nearly 80 people killed. Purely out of morbid curiosity, we decided to make a small detour and look around for a while.


Passing through the town itself, I had a very odd sensation of the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I couldn’t tell you what caused it, Waco seemed like a tranquil small American town, but it just creeped me out all the same.


We pulled over close to where the compound used to stand – it was bulldozed after the siege ended – and snapped a couple of photos. The area was completely deserted, and noiseless, and that eerie atmosphere made my skin crawl even more. Then, far off in the distance up a track, we saw a white pick-up truck start making its way toward us. It began to accelerate and although it seemed unlikely it was someone coming to talk to us, we figured we’d make like a banana anyway.




Cut to about two months later, and we had arrived on the outskirts of Boston. We’d rented an AirBnB way out in the gorgeous Massachusetts countryside, one of the most idyllic spots you could hope to find. It took us an hour to drive into the city itself, and after the first couple of days covering the main historic landmarks such as the Freedom Trail and the harbour, we decided to spend the rest of our week exploring the surrounding area.

I was idly browsing online for ideas on where to go and what to do, when I realised that we were only a half-hour drive from Fall River.


During the latter half of the 19th century, Lizzie Borden lived with her family in this sleepy Massachusetts town. Kind of like Waco, first impressions make it seem like the kind of place where not a great deal happens worthy of catching national attention. But in 1892, Fall River became famous not just nationally but around the world, when the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden, Lizzie’s father and stepmother, were discovered on a hot August morning. They had both been battered to death with a hatchet.


Lizzie Borden


The ensuing investigation and trial became an American cause célèbre. Lizzie was the prime suspect from day one. Her relationships with the victims were difficult, she had behaved suspiciously on the morning of the murders and afterward, and all the evidence pointed to the killer being a member of the household. American society was rocked to the core by the brutal murders of two upstanding members of the community, and the daughter standing accused.


Lizzie was tried and acquitted, and spent the rest of her life ostracized by the Fall River community, many of whom thought she was the culprit. The truth of what happened on that day is buried firmly in the past, but pick up any book about infamous crimes from history, and you can be sure there will be a chapter about Lizzie Borden.


Visiting the Lizzie Borden House


Despite its macabre history, the Borden house is now a popular bed and breakfast in Fall River. Reading up on it, I learned you can take a guided tour of the property, which has been partially converted into a museum. Sold.


Lizzie Borden Museum and Bed & Breakfast


I convinced Maria to come along with me by mentioning that Fall River has a distinctive Portuguese culture and she might be able to pick up a few traditional delicacies from back home while I was indulging the darker side of my personality. She wasn’t especially enthused about the idea, but my limited skills of persuasion eventually paid off.


We got into town nice and early, as I hadn’t booked ahead. Then, after settling the family in a cafe for an hour or so, I made my way to the Borden house.


The tour begins, as so many savvy tours of this nature do, with a short wait in the gift shop. I had plenty of time to browse a vast collection of trinkets which ran the gamut from the obvious, such as books and dvds about the case and souvenir t-shirts, to the frankly bizarre – fridge magnets bearing an image of the crime scene, and cookie cutters in the shape of a hatchet, anyone? Observing how such a tragic event has been turned into a profitable merchandising line was probably the weirdest part of the day.


We started exploring the house in the living room, where Andrew Borden was found dead on the sofa. A replica hatchet was propped up on a cushion where his body would have lain. Our guide explained the events leading up to the murders, and how the maid claimed to have been asleep at the time, so that only Lizzie and her parents were known to have been moving around the house.


Replica hatchet on sofa


Next we headed upstairs to see the bedroom where Abby Borden, Andrew’s second wife and Lizzie’s unloved stepmother, was found slumped in a corner. She had been caught while making up the bed. In another strange twist, a few members of the group were invited at this point to get down on their hands and knees and assume Abby’s huddled death position for photographs.


Abby Borden death scene


After this unique photo opportunity, we moved downstairs to the dining room where memorabilia included faded photographs of the family, the trial jury, the arresting officers and a board on which the bodies were carried away. In a display case next to the dining table can be seen a couple of replica skulls showing the damage caused by the hatchet to the victims’ heads. Imagine your gaze falling on them while you’re eating your boiled eggs in the morning.


Replica skull

Lizzie Borden House


This is probably the strangest, most darkly fascinating museum I’ve ever visited. I’ll be honest, I would have liked to stay overnight for the thrill of it, but the bed & breakfast was full, and I got the feeling Maria might have raised a few objections.


Perhaps because no-one can ever be sure what really happened, or because the thought of a respectable young woman suddenly snapping in such a horrific manner both repulsed and fascinated society, the Lizzie Borden case is an enduring mystery in American culture. As is the fact that I got through this entire article without making a cheap remark about burying the hatchet.


Find information on tour of the Lizzie Borden Museum and booking a stay at the Bed & Breakfast



You often hear it said that visitors at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo are tolerated rather than welcomed. The truth behind that sentiment becomes unnervingly apparent the first moment you hear the squeal of wet tyres behind you and spin around to see a forklift truck laden with polystyrene crates bearing down at speed and you realise that he’s not going to swerve, or brake, or even bother to shout a warning, and you’re either going to move or you’d better have good travel insurance. If you’re lucky then the wheels pass within a fish scale of your foot and you can breathe a sigh of relief and disappear back into the crowd, embarrassed but at least not roadkill.


This type of thing tends to happen a lot in the dark, crowded lanes of Tsukiji – concentration, spacial awareness and heightened senses are paramount, so you don’t wear headphones here. Nor do you wear open-toed shoes if you know what’s good for you, or sunglasses, and you certainly don’t wield a camera with a flash because there’s a lot of people in here swinging very sharp knives around with great dexterity and strength and skill and you really do not want to put one of them off their stroke.


We’d walked into Tsukiji around 6am, too late to queue for the famous tuna auction but too early still to have built up any kind of substantial appetite for the sushi served in the outer market, which is said to be the best, and certainly about the freshest, you could ever taste. Strictly speaking I’m a ramen guy all the way but I’d found a scrunched-up receipt in my pocket a few days earlier with the name “Okame” scrawled on it by and I saw it as some kind of prophecy we had to meet!


Tsukiji is one of those “raw and authentic” Tokyo experiences that everyone naturally wants to have, so you can find a hundred-and-one guides on “how to Do Tsukiji Right” but frankly there can be no right way because for most of us there’s never been anywhere quite like it on this earth and you haven’t the first idea how to deal with it, let alone escape it if you become trapped.


You might assume that a place like this would reek from some distance but in truth you don’t really notice the smell, at least not immediately, because a lot of the seafood is still frozen solid or not far off, and anyway it’s so fresh it probably thinks it’s still in the ocean. No, you experience Tsukiji first and foremost through your ears. The slops. The slits. The splashes. The curses. The cheers. The yells. The horns. Then you gradually become aware of the intense cold – that’s another reason why sightseers aren’t especially welcome here – all these warm bodies have a habit of fritzing with the sensitive climate-controlled atmosphere.


Tsukiji FIsh Market, Tokyo

Tsukiji FIsh Market, Tokyo

Dried octopus for sale


History of Tsukiji


Tokyo’s first food markets were established by the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu during the Edo period to feed the residents of his castle. In under 300 years Edo itself grew from a tiny coastal village to become a sprawling metropolis, largely on the strength of its fishing industry. Traders would hawk their leftover fish at the Nihonbashi bridge, which was the eastern terminus of the legendary Nakasendō and Tōkaidō roads. In 1923 the bridge and the market along with much of central Tokyo, were destroyed by the Great Kantō earthquake which was so powerful it apparently shifted the Great Buddha statue of Kamakura (93 tonnes) some two feet off its plinth, and it was decided to create several other fish markets in its stead. One of them, Tsukiji, was situated for convenience on the west bank of the Sumida River and today it ranks as the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. Recent efforts to shift the market to a more sanitised and less valuable stretch of real estate seem to have become bogged down in worries about safety and pollution, so for now at least Tsukiji and its place in Tokyo culture remain firmly rooted to the spot.


It is a sprawling, poorly lit maze of narrow alleys that are lined with rusty, filthy old corrugated iron sheds, many of them probably erected after the earthquake and never replaced. An easy place to get lost in, and not an unhappy one if you can cope with the woozy feeling of jetlagged mayhem that it sometimes induces. The red-eyed men and women that work here lifting and cutting and scraping and draining and packing were taught to do so by their parents, who were taught by their own parents in turn, and so on back through the mists of time. When one of these artisans, for that is surely what they are, rips a meaty chunk of swordfish from under the two-man band saw and flings it across the aisle to his partner, you can walk underneath with confidence because it has been aimed with precision, even if neither one was actually looking.


This fever dream of a place is not for those who squeam easily – there’s more blood and guts slopping and channeling around the uneven cobbled floor in Tsukiji fish market by 9am than you would have found at even Rome’s goriest gladiator spectaculars come sunset. Heads go in this bucket, tails go in that bucket, nothing is wasted.


And what do we have here? Polystyrene creates full of squishy sea cucumbers, giant spider crabs and crayfish; hollow-eyed squid sombrely resigned to their fate; huge tanks full of live oysters, sea urchins and prawns; ripe red salmon roe; tray after tray of mackerel packed in ice; predatory bonitos become the prey; thick clumps of translucent nori as densely green as the forest; tightly clenched clams being shelled rapid-fire by laser focused old women sporting darkly stained aprons; size-conscious sardines awkwardly positioned next to monstrous barracudas; disarmed swordfish in varying states of intactness; squirmy conger eels headed for the sushi stalls; the occasional octopus making a desperate crawl for freedom across the filthy floor before being noticed and flung derisively back into the tank alongside its doomed brethren; here and there a deadly toxic puffer fish to be carved with utmost care; sea squirts, lobsters and the ubiquitous and massive bluefin tuna fresh from both Pacific and Atlantic, its flesh either thickly sliced and frozen or shaved into feathery pink flakes, its eyes removed, bagged and sold as delicacies. And, it is said, blubbery slabs of whale meat if you know the right person to ask.






Tuna Slicing



The Famous Tsukiji Tuna Auction


The tuna auction at Tsukiji begins around 5.30am, and with a maximum of 120 visitors invited to watch from the sidelines, places are granted strictly on a first-come, first-served basis. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the auction is the gargantuan size of the tuna themselves – I knew they grew big, but I didn’t know they got this big. It made me think about the guys who catch tuna with a pole out in the ocean, and how crazy you’d need to be to enter an arm-wrestling contest with one of them.


Tuna Auction


After the auction finishes, you can move into the vast wholesale section and wander around pretty much at your leisure, so long as you don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms, or even acknowledged most of the time. The people who work here might not be wearing business dress but you’d better believe they have deadlines to meet too and they’re not going to risk missing them just to exchange a few pleasantries.


We made our way to the outer section, and found Okame without too much difficulty. The queue outside the little roadside shack was long but we figured it was worth waiting it out for a while, and sure enough within 20 minutes we were seated with trays of colourful nigiri in front of us, including some buttery sea urchin, dusted with salt for a little extra tang. Most of the other customers in the place had their heads down concentrating on their food so we bowed to their wisdom and followed suit.


Need more information about visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.


Deadwood is a place where the right kind of man might prosper, but the wrong kind would quickly sink into the mud.


I’ve just finished reading Pete Dexter’s novel Deadwood, first published in 1986 and which I’d guess served as inspiration for the similarly excellent HBO series of the same name. It follows the later life of Charles ‘Colorado Charlie’ Utter, loyal friend and companion to ‘Wild’ Bill Hickok, one of the most iconic figures in the American Wild West. To call it merely a Western novel would be a grave injustice – despite its brevity this is a work of immense humanity, depth and wit, and I strongly recommend finding a copy for yourself if you love a good page-turner.




Deadwood was forged amid the last great American gold rush in the 1870s, when hordes of opportunists, entrepreneurs and ne’er-do-wells in search of fortune descended on what was then still an insubstantial gold mining community, located in a gulch lined with dead trees. Just to the south, the Black Hills mountain range made for a formidable access route, with frequent attacks on wagon trains by Cheyenne and Lakota war parties. What with the ever-present threats of sickness, fire, shooting and mining injuries, to survive in a town as rough-and-ready as Deadwood needed grit and more than a little luck. It’s no surprise that some of the most legendary characters of the Old West wound up here.


Hickok and Utter rode into this whirling centrifuge of graft, opportunity and violence in 1876. By this stage in his life, Wild Bill’s legend ran far in advance, though his eyesight and health were now falling behind. Hickok’s stay in Deadwood would not be a long one – within six months he had been gunned down by a drunk named ‘Jack’ McCall.while playing cards – but it has given the town something of a cultish reputation.


Deadwood from Mt. Moriah

Deadwood from Mt. Moriah


Touring Deadwood


We spent a couple of days in Deadwood back in 2015, on our way from Sioux Falls to Yellowstone through the Badlands National Park. I’d been glued to the HBO show when it was first broadcast, and crushed when it was cancelled. Having been fed a steady diet of Western movies in my childhood, making a short stop here to explore a piece of history was a no-brainer.


The risk of passing away from a lethal dose of lead poisoning is now greatly reduced, but Deadwood is still pleasingly rough around the edges. Main Street is lined with gaudy bars and casinos, where crowds of bearded men with sleeve tattoos and biker leathers gather outside to drink and smoke. One of these casinos, the Midnight Star, is owned by Kevin Costner, and the walls are covered in posters and memorabilia from his films. Costner of course once portrayed a contemporary of Hickok’s, Wyatt Earp, although Earp had yet to make his reputation as a lawman at the time of Hickok’s death.


First-stop was ‘Wild Bill’s Trading Post’, which stands on the site of Nuttal & Mann’s saloon where Hickok met his end. The store sells a vast range of firearms, ‘prepper’ supplies and miscellaneous Western souvenirs. We bought a couple of soft drinks and a toy plane for my son. In the basement of the store there is a recreation of the murder scene itself – Hickok had always been wary of sitting with his back to the room, conscious of those seeking revenge or glory – but on the night in question hadn’t been able to get the chair he wanted. The cards he was said to have been holding at the time he was ambushed – a pair of eights and a pair of aces, all black – is now known in poker as the ‘Dead Man’s Hand’.


Grave of "Calamity" Jane

Grave of “Calamity” Jane


Bust of "Wild" Bill Hickok in Mt. Moriah Cemetery

Bust of “Wild” Bill Hickok in Mt. Moriah Cemetery


Later, we joined a bus tour that took us to Mt. Moriah Cemetery. Hickock’s well-maintained grave can be seen here, alongside that of ‘Calamity’ Jane Cannary. Jane was a renowned frontierswoman and scout but also a notorious drunk. In Deadwood, Dexter treats her with compassion, emphasising the nurturing nature that coexisted with her wild side. She was said to have been infatuated with Hickok and claimed they had married, though the feeling was far from mutual. Wild Bill would probably have preferred she hadn’t been laid to rest next to him, but he wasn’t in much of a position to complain.


Right at the top of the cemetery, with a commanding view over the town, is the grave of Seth Bullock. Bullock was the sheriff at the time of Hickok’s assassination and also a prominent businessman. The Bullock Hotel, which he built with his partner, Sol Starr, is still in operation today on Main Street. Just a short walk away is the Mineral Palace Hotel which stands on the site of the former Gem Saloon. The Gem had a very seedy reputation – it was owned by Al Swearengen, who mistreated the prostitutes he kept upstairs and paid enough bribes that he was virtually untouchable by law enforcement.


Bullock Hotel, Deadwood

Bullock Hotel, Deadwood


Mineral Palace Hotel, Deadwood

Mineral Palace Hotel, Deadwood


Site of Wild Bill's assassination

Site of Wild Bill’s assassination


We didn’t stick around for long in Deadwood. It’s not much of a family-friendly destination, although there is plenty to do even if you’re not as fascinated with Old West history as I am. But if you’re in the vicinity, it’s worth tying up your horse for a while.


Things to do in Deadwood


In our experience, most of the action in Deadwood is focused on drinking, gambling and tourism. If like us you’re mainly interested in sightseeing, then there are various organised tours of Deadwood that give an accurate flavour of what life was like there during the Gold Rush – Mt. Moriah cemetery is a must-see. You can also go underground with a tour of the Broken Boot Gold Mine, get pampered at a luxury spa, or even do a little tasting at the several boutique wineries nearby. One of the highlights of our stay was the daily ‘shootout’ for the tourists on Main Street, which our four-year old son loved.


Where to stay in Deadwood


It’s not hard to find accommodation in Deadwood and the surrounding area, whether you’re looking for high-end hotels, guesthouses or campsites. Had we not been on a budget we’d have tried to get a room at the historic Bullock Hotel, but we ended up in a perfectly good AirBnB owned by a friendly local lady. In the evenings I would smoke cigars and drink whisky in the garden with some fellow guests who had hired Harley Davidsons for a couple of weeks. Midway through our six-month road-trip around the US, this was the first and only time I was asked if I knew the Queen. I don’t, just for the record.


Where to eat in Deadwood


There are plenty of good restaurants in Deadwood serving everything from primo steaks to easygoing burgers and ethnic cuisine. We stumbled across Saloon No.10 by accident and got a pretty decent feed, not realising until later that in years gone by it was one of the town’s best-known brothels. Oops!