When I found out that nearby Eastern State Penitentiary would be hosting a movie night, I couldn’t wait to go. What movie would we enjoy?
Having owned bunnies for probably 30 years, and being an animal shelter volunteer for 14 years, you would think I would know a thing or two about them. You might assume I would be a logical choice to adopt a rabbit, right? Wrong. I was rudely rejected, and I’m not surprised.
When most people think of serial killer Ted Bundy, executed in Florida in 1989, most people associate him with Washington, Utah, Colorado, and, of course, Florida. Did you know he began his life on the East Coast? Armed with Ron Franscell’s The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Pennsylvania, I set out to find two locations relative to Bundy.
When we visited the Crime Museum in Washington, DC, a couple weeks ago, there was a room containing various items that once belonged to serial killers. The most objects on display once belonged to John Wayne Gacy, a monster who killed 33 young men and boys in the Chicago area. He was sentenced to death and was executed by lethal injection on May 10, 1994. Purportedly his last words were “kiss my ass.”
On display was an autographed photo of Gacy dressed as Pogo the Clown, a character he often portrayed to entertain children.
The most personal article in the collection was his black wallet. I laughed at the Playboy Club Executive Key. That seemed to be in its own slot for easy access, unlike the cards encased in plastic. The explanation to the right of the wallet lists the contents, but fails to include the Playboy card in its list.
John Wayne Gacy was a husband, father, business owner, and by all appearances, just a regular guy. On exhibit is the leather jacket that he was wearing when he was arrested.
Gacy performed for children as two clowns, Pogo and the lesser-known Patches. He was given the moniker of Killer Clown following his arrest. On display were two clown suits, one for each character.
Between the suits was a self-portrait of Gacy as his alter ego, Pogo the Clown. It appears the killer painted it in 1983.
Gacy was fond of creating artwork, and housed in the museum is a case containing his paint set used to create his pieces.
Next to the paint set sits a typewriter that the murderer used to write a book about himself.
As a true crime fan, the serial killer section was one of my favorite areas of the museum. It’s criminal that the museum will be closing at the end of this month.
Summer vacation means trips to the shore and theme parks for most normal people. Well, I’m not completely normal. Fascinated with anything creepy or dark, when you’re trying to find the perfect spot to lay your beach blanket, I will be looking for another kind of plot, the unmarked grave of America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes (a/k/a Herman Webster Mudgett and Dr. Henry Howard Holmes).
Holmes was the mastermind behind the hotel at the Chicago World’s Fair, known as the Castle. The good doctor’s own drugstore was located on the first floor of the Castle, but the upper floors harbored something far sinister. The guests were never intended to leave, at least not alive anyway. Each room was designed to kill by suffocation, rooms fitted with gas lines to choke people locked in their rooms. Holmes sold some of the victims’ skeletons to medical schools. For more about H.H. Holmes and his connection to Philadelphia, see here.
America’s first serial killer was buried on May 8, 1896 somewhere in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania after being hanged at the Moyamensing Prison. I say somewhere because his grave is unmarked. However, thanks to findagrave.com (yes, there is such a thing) I have the GPS coordinates for his final resting place. Holmes’ coffin is encased with cement because he feared grave robbers would remove his remains for medical purposes. The irony of this is not lost on anyone.
Another local monster was Gary Heidnik, the madman who was convicted of the kidnap, torture, rape, and murder of women he held prisoner in his basement. I’ve read Cellar of Horror, and Heidnik was a despicable human being who became the last person executed in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For more on his crimes, see here.
While the house itself, once located at 3520 North Marshall Street in Philadelphia, is long torn down, I want to see the lot where it once stood. I’m not sure why, maybe it has something to do with my interest in things closed and abandoned. Viewing the site where the crimes occurred will make it seem more real, rather than just a horrific story I read.
Another place I would like to visit involves a bit of a road trip, to Baltimore to be exact. I want to tour Westminster Burying Grounds and Catacombs, with Westminster Cemetery the final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe. This is something I have wanted to do for a while but have never had the opportunity, and I’m hoping I can check it off my list soon.
In August I will be appearing in the annual reenactment of the murders at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts on the anniversary of the crime. More on that at a later date.
Aside from these unconventional warm weather plans, I will participate in activities that are more traditional to the summer months, such as trips to the shore and concerts. What are your plans for summer vacation?
If you are visiting Philadelphia and want to explore the darker, seedier side of the city’s history, look no further than the offerings of Grim Philly Twilight Tours. Founded by Professor Joe Wojie, each tour examines history not found in school textbooks.
I took the Cemetery, Serial Killers; Blood & Beer tour on a chilly November afternoon. This is a walking tour which lasts over two hours. Our guide Ted was energetic about the material, very knowledgeable on the subject matter, and handsome. (One reason why I married him).
Ted spoke about five local serial killers, H.H. Holmes, Gary Heidnik, Marie Noe, the Frankford Slasher, and corpse collector Harrison “Marty” Graham. I won’t go into details on the magnitude of their depravity. Take the tour and prepare to be fascinated by the local infamous characters.
We also stopped at Elfreth’s Alley, which is the oldest continually inhabited street in British North America. A very beautiful, historical road, it also has grim elements to its story.
When we explored the Christ Church Burial Ground, Ted turned us over to Bob, a guide with knowledge of the cemetery. He spoke about two notable physicians of the time, Dr. Benjamin Rush and Dr. Philip Syng Physick. Before exiting, we paid our respects to the grave of Benjamin Franklin.
When we stopped at Christ Church, Neil took the reins with an intense talk about the church’s history. The church is beautiful and worth checking out.
The final stop of the tour was 4 Fathers, a tavern located on Market Street. This is where the beer comes in. Patrons who take the tour are entitled to one free beer, and can purchase pub fare to compliment the ale. I recommend the cheese fries.
If you want to take a tour that delves into the uncensored, unsavory side of Philadelphia history, and is not suitable for children, Grim Philly offers just the thing. For more information on their other tours, or to make a reservation, click here.
It took five hours to travel north to Fall River, Massachusetts. We have stayed at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum four consecutive years for the anniversary of the murders of Abby and Andrew Borden, allegedly committed by Andrew’s daughter Lizzie. This year marks 122 years since the crime, and the first time my husband and I had roles in the annual dramatization.
Upon arrival, we settled our things in our third-floor room and met our cast mates for 4:00 p.m. rehearsal. We ran lines and practiced scenes for the following day’s performances.
When everyone was comfortable with their parts, the group walked to the local pub, Taphouse for a bite to eat before more preparations for the big day. I picked at my burger, exhausted from a draining week and nerves preventing any appetite. All I wanted to do was sleep, but there was more work to be done once we returned to the Borden house.
We were fitted for costumes that evening. My husband portrayed medical examiner, Dr. Dolan. His own clothes comprised the character, all he needed to do was choose a cravat. I thought he looked rather handsome.
I played Alice Russell, neighbor and close friend of the Borden sisters, Lizzie and Emma. Alice’s lavender and white dress required no alterations, my boots that made the trip elevating the costume to just the right height. A brooch was added for decoration, making Alice quite the style maven.
It was time to decorate after the costume fittings. If you’re performing a dramatization in the actual rooms where murders happened, there must be blood. Once the bloody sheet that covers Andrew Borden’s body was located, it was time to bloody a door and picture that hangs above the couch where Andrew met his demise. Of course, the blood splatter needs to be as historically accurate as possible.
I had the honor of sullying the room. There is a technique for proper application of blood, which comes from a jar of currant jelly. A fork is used to flick the jam, which leaves the desired consistency and drip. For historical accuracy, the jam must form an arc on the picture. I did manage to get some “blood” on myself, but that’s because I was having fun with the application. (Much to the owner’s relief, the jam is easily removed from surfaces).
The following morning was show time, and the date of death for Andrew and Abby Borden so many years ago. I gobbled a granola bar for breakfast before becoming Alice Russell. After changing into the dress and having my hair crafted into a French twist, I was ready to meet the public.
My scene was on the second floor of the house, starting in Lizzie’s room and finishing in her parents’ room. For the most part, I delivered my lines as written, except for one unfortunate group who heard the Cliffs Notes version of Alice’s story. “They were all poisoned. She left. She was overwrought.” Oops, for one tour I forgot some details, but the other eight tours were for the most part spot on.
We had an hour lunch break in the house, where the cast enjoyed pizza and sandwiches. For dessert, we snacked on a sheet cake emblazoned with, “You can’t prove a thing,” complete with a female hatchet-wielding cake topper. The cake was sliced by our own Lizzie Borden, played by Carol Ann Simone.
The Pear Essential Players performed eight sold-out shows, and an encore performance. The event was well covered by the press, and well received by the guests. Due to the increasing demand for tickets, the dramatization may take place over two days next year.
After the last show, we visited Oak Grove Cemetery, the final resting place of the Borden family. As new Pear Essential Players, my husband and I had the honor of placing flowers on the graves of Andrew and Abby Borden before observing a moment of silence in memory of the victims and the tragedy that occurred that morning.
Following Oak Grove, the cast readied themselves for dinner. Again we walked to the Taphouse to celebrate the end of a successful reenactment. We took the party back to Lizzie’s house, and had a great time.
The following morning was the hardest part of our trip, saying until next time to our New England and Ohioan friends. It wasn’t goodbye, as we plan to see them again next year. We’ll be in Salem, Massachusetts in October and we hope to see some of them then. We had a memorable experience and we thank those who made it all possible. You guys are the best.
Fall River Spirit Article On Second Street, Investigation Continues 122 Years Later
Herald News Article A Day in the Death of Andrew Borden
Herald News Article Lizzie Borden B&B Prepares For Anniversary Re-enactment, Tours
Special thanks to Shelley Dziedzic and Glenn Teza, whose photos may be used in this blog