Monday, August 23, 2010

Murders, Mysteries and Other Mayhem

All right, here it is, the event you’ve been waiting for all summer (not too convinced of my own importance, am I?): The Haugh Hadley Annual Vacation!

Let me start by addressing the 2nd most common question I’ve gotten about the trip (The 1st most common question, in case you’re wondering, is a tie between “Are you serious?” and “What’s the matter with you people?” But I get those questions every year and have learned to ignore them). The 2nd most common question this year is “Aren’t you dating someone? How does he feel about you and Eric gallivanting about the country?”

No, all of you don’t say “gallivanting” but it’s an awesome word and it’s what you all mean.

In any case, never fear, people, I didn’t just gallivant away without checking first. After all, hypocritical jealous creature that I am, I’m pretty sure I would be annoyed if he told me he was spending the weekend in a bed and breakfast with someone else.

And by annoyed I, of course, mean insane with rage.

So, months ago, I asked him if he cared.

And he said “Well, if you guys are going somewhere I really want us to experience together, someplace I want to take you, that would bother me.”

(Clearly, I failed to properly explain the exact nature of this trip).

“So,” he went on. “Where are you going?”

“Ghost Hunter University at the Lizzie Borden House,” I replied.

What followed was a long silence that I like to call a “dramatic pause” but might have been him reflecting on my sanity, his hearing, the future of our relationship and/or any combination of the three.

“Have a good time,” he finally managed.

And we were off!

So, for those of you who may not know the story, let me give you a brief rundown of Lizzie Borden. Back in 1892, Lizzie Borden lived in Fall River, Massachusetts with her sister, step-mother, and father. Lizzie did NOT get along with her step mother and her father was rumored to be abusive. However, times being what they were and American society being misogynistic and oppressive, Lizzie was forced to live there, even as an adult.

One day, while Lizzie was one of the only people home, someone bludgeoned her stepmother to death with an ax. Almost 2 hours later, her father came home for lunch and he was beaten to death as well. Lizzie was put on trial for the 2 murders but was acquitted, probably because no one could believe a WOMAN who taught Sunday School could be a killer (these are people who never met my second grade teacher…religion teacher or not, she’d kill ya’ as soon as look at ya!). Even today there is a divide between people who think Lizzie knew what was happening but didn’t wield the ax (Eric Hadley) and people who think Lizzie was a psycho and swung the ax with reckless abandon (Kimberly Haugh).

A few people believe she was completely innocent (the same people who think Elvis, Jim Morrison, and Tupac faked their deaths and are all working at a 7-11 in Arizona somewhere).

Anyway, the house in which these murders took place is now a bed and breakfast that has been put back in as much of its original state as possible—with the aid of actual CRIME SCENE PHOTOS!!! And is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in America. It has, in fact, been featured on the Travel Channel’s Most Haunted Destinations.


Which brings me to the big disappointment of the trip. Oddly, the Ghost Hunters at Ghost Hunter University didn’t get enough participants to sign up and, at the last minute, it was canceled!

And, to be honest, the house wasn’t NEARLY as scary as that old farmhouse in Villisca, Iowa that we went to a few years ago…

Don’t get me wrong, it was a great trip...and the house had its creepy moments…like when I realized I was camped out on the floor INCHES from the spot where Mrs. Borden’s blood had soaked into the floorboards. Or when Eric woke up in the middle of the night, sure he was hearing odd noises and people moving around.

But here is a list of all the things that were scarier than the house itself, in order of occurrence:

1. Eric and my complete inability to start a trip without something going wrong…since we were flying this year we couldn’t really get lost. And I even managed to get in my car and head for his house COMPLETELY ON TIME.

A fact which seemed much less impressive when I called Eric to brag and couldn’t get through…because he was in his car, calling my phone to brag about the same thing.

2. The 1 star, $30 hotel room we stayed at on the nights we didn’t stay at the Lizzie Borden house. That’s $30 TOTAL, by the way, not $30 apiece. And I think the overall quality of the place was pretty well summed up in the first few minutes of our stay. We checked in, got on the elevator that hadn’t been cleaned in a week or more, and this young guy got on right after us. Ever the friendly sort, I wanted to say something kind and appreciative about the prison tattoos covering his arms, neck, and part of one cheek but we got to his floor before I could decide between “Nice ink” and “How was the big house?” Thus, I had to settle for smiling sweetly at Eric and announcing “We’re going to die.”

3. The neighborhood the Lizzie Borden house was in…a little place I fondly remember as Murderville. See, Eric and I got to the house a little before check in, dropped off our bags and decided to explore the area—foolishly assuming that a little place like Fall River, Massachusetts would be brimming with New England-style hospitality and not be a den of poverty and criminals.

Equally alarming, to be honest, was the difference in the amount of time it took Eric and I to notice our surroundings. Our conversation went a little something like this:

Eric: Look at that architecture!
Me: Look at the gang graffiti and boarded up windows.

Eric: I wonder if they have high property taxes here?
Me: I wonder if we’re going to be mugged for our shoes?

Eric: Do you see the potential these buildings have?
Me: Do you see the crowd of poorly dressed youths, standing in a circle and smelling like dope??!!! Do you? DO YOU?? DO YOU WANT US TO DIE, YOU IDIOT??!!

It is further interesting to note that, right after this little exchange, instead of being mugged for our shoes, Eric and I managed to accidentally steal twenty dollars from this drugged out former felon shuffling around buying lottery tickets.

4. Eric and my steadfast belief that—in spite of all evidence to the contrary—we are navigational geniuses—a misconception worsened by the GPS feature on my phone. After our sojourn through Murderville, we began on a FIVE MILE trek through the rest of the town to find the cemetery where the Borden family was buried. And, once there, started our famous grid search for the graves (And by grid search I, of course, mean wandering around in circles while complaining about our lack of booze).

Yet, to our shocked but happy surprise, we came across a Borden family plot five minutes into the search.

Which led to much dancing and rejoicing…until we realized that Borden is an uncommonly common name in good old Fall River…there were about 15 different Borden family plots in that cemetery…and I’m pretty sure we saw every one before locating Lizzie.

Even creepier was that, even though the entire family is buried there, INCLUDING THE MURDER VICTIMS, the only grave that was clearly tended and had flowers planted was Lizzie’s…which means some person out there, weirder even than Eric and I, is making sure a murderess’ grave is tidy.

Kind of glad we didn’t run into them…

5. The fact that the Lizzie Borden house FORBIDS ALCOHOL…which would have made less resourceful people wander around the place moaning “Why God, why?!!” But we only had to spend a few moments in that kind of panic because of two very important things:

a. We remembered the presence of a little liquor store right on the edge of Murderville.
b. We had a backpack that could EASILY hold a illicit bottle of vodka or two.

Unfortunately, after RISKING OUR LIVES and heading back to the outskirts of Murderville, we discovered that the store called Annie’s Liquors doesn’t actually sell liquor…wine and beer, yes. Vodka, no. In fact, when I asked the clerk where the vodka was, she looked at me like I was the crazy one. “We don’t carry LIQUOR.” She said in this confused tone.

To be honest, she was just lucky they had merlot in stock and I had a ghost tour to attend.

6. The moments in which we thought maybe the former felon we had inadvertently taken for twenty bucks had followed us back to the house and was planning retaliation…exacerbated by the fact that the yelling we could hear outside was in rapid, angry Spanish and therefore, incomprehensible.

Fortified by merlot, I suggested that Eric open the window and scream “Callate, hijo de puta!” and other such profanity (Mrs. Finnegan, my high school Spanish teacher would be bursting with pride about now) but he wouldn’t.

7. The deliberate placement of mannequins and weird looking cats in the corner of every room in the Lzzie Borden House…clearly designed to make you look twice and think you see ghosts in every corner…particularly if you have been hiding out in the Murder Room, slamming merlot moments before the tour.

The deliberate placement of a Ouija Board in the sitting room was a little unnerving but—in spite of the tour guide’s urging—even Eric and I aren’t crazy enough to call up spirits in a haunted house.

8. And finally, the fact that ten years later, Eric STILL has not managed to find an acceptable storage place for his underwear.

Some of you may remember our first trip, way back in 2000, when we went to a wedding in South Carolina. After the reception, many an adventure and many a vodka, Eric decided to invite the wedding party back to our hotel room…in spite of the fact that his dirty underwear and other clothes were strewn about the room willy nilly.

This year, when the tour of the Borden House included a visit to the murder room in which we were staying, Eric’s underwear was once again on prominent display…although at least this year they were clean.

What in the world will the next ten years bring? It’s hard to imagine….