Massachusetts tourist attractions sue over Lizzie Borden’s legacy

If you need further evidence that there is pretty much nothing above a lawsuit in the United States these days, I give you the case of Lizzie Borden.

Yes, that Lizzie Borden, the woman thought to have taken an ax to her stepmother and father back in 1892.

One of the first “celebrity” trials in U.S. history, her story captivated the nation. She was acquitted of the crime, but she has nevertheless been a favorite among the ghoul-loving tourists who seek out the spots where weird things have happened.

Now about the lawsuit.

Lizzie Borden lived in Fall River, Massachusetts, which has embraced the grisly murders that happened there more than 110 years ago as something of a tourist attraction. You can stay at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, the very Victorian mansion where the murders occurred. You can actually sleep in the room where Borden’s stepmother was found all hacked up.

But Fall River is not the only Massachusetts community that wants a piece of the Borden pie these days. Farther north in the town of Salem, not exactly a stranger to weird things, a museum has recently opened dedicated to the Borden story. It originally was named the “Lizzie Borden Museum,” and though it has changed its name to merely “The True Story of Lizzie Borden,” the Salem museum’s Web site still has the address

There, folks, lies the problem.

The general manager of Fall River’s cozy little Borden bed and breakfast, Donald Woods, is suing Salem’s Borden museum for trademark infringement, since the Fall River B&B owns the rights to the moniker “Lizzie Borden Museum.”

So, who owns the Borden story? Can you actually claim a patent on an historical event?

All that stuff is at issue as these two Borden attractions duke it out in the coming months. Followers of the Borden legend — and there seem to be a lot of them out there — say both the Lizzie Borden B&B and the True Story of Lizzie Borden have a lot to offer interested tourists, including memorabilia and conspiracy theories (did Borden stand to benefit from the fat insurance policy on her father and stepmother?).

The B&B really tries to sell itself. Guests can eat “a hot breakfast reminiscent of the food the Borden’s ate on that fateful” day, its Web site says.

Of course, anyone who knows Fall River, and its neighbor New Bedford (where Borden was tried and acquitted) will tell you that even today, if you get caught in the wrong area it really can be murder.

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