Entertainment (and the Big Crime) of 1892 By Christine (C.A.)Verstraete
Developing and fleshing out a character means researching what their life would be like: where and how they lived, what they liked, what they wore or ate, and even the music they listened to or their entertainment interests.
It’s a bit different when your character is based on a real person, especially one as well known as accused murderess Lizzie Borden, who was arrested, tried and then declared not guilty of murdering her father and stepmother in August, 1892.
The problem is that even though much is known about her via newspaper reports and crime information of the day, most of it isn’t too personal. There are a few snippets which have come out or can be gleaned from blogs or publications, but much of it is based on conjecture or distant observation, not on first-hand knowledge.
Writing fiction, however, gives you more leeway. After all, giving Lizzie a new life as I did in my book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, is certainly far from real. Yet, I did try to stay within the guidelines of her real life situation and the crime. The rest—her actions, likes, personality, even some supposed romantic interests, and of course, the zombies—came from my own imagination.
The interesting part of doing a project like this is researching the time period. There was plenty going on, with crime then as now, deaths (many from morphine abuse), and scandals (Lizzie’s trial becoming the OJ trial of 1892.)
But there also was a big interest in entertainment. Lizzie, of course, is mostly tied up with her trial—and avoiding the gallows—during this time period. But I imagined her also being a big newspaper reader, as most people of the time were then with no other way to get the news.
She not only follows the local papers like the Fall River Herald, but I imagined her reading reports from the nearby Boston Globe. She especially is incensed with the lewd attempts in some publications to heighten publicity about her and her trial. After all, this was “the” story and crime of the day (and the century), and newspapers followed it with a vengeance, seeing it as circulation bonanzas. Readers, if you will, devoured every detail they could get. It was sensationalism at its height. Even nationally, readers couldn’t get enough.
For entertainment, sheet music was big with families playing and gathering around the piano. Most everyone knew the words or the tune to songs like Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built for Two), a big hit in 1892. And it still is a fun song, reminiscent of a much sweeter age, isn’t it?
The lively marches of composer John Philip Sousa had many toes a tapping. What always struck me about older music were the fun titles. You have to wonder what Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow sounded like. (See more musical titles from 1892.)
Live theatre also was a popular pastime for those in better economic positions to buy tickets, just as vaudeville was the entertainment of the everyday person. By 1893, with Lizzie free from jail if not still untainted by scandal, she reportedly did find some solace and freedom in travel and supposedly enjoyed going to the theatre.
In my book, I’m guessing that one play I mentioned , Lady Windermere’s Fan, written by Oscar Wilde, may have hit Lizzie a certain way (or hit too close to home) since it satirized the morals of society. It continues to be produced even now.
Another big theater hit of the time was Charley’s Aunt, which involved an unexpected visit from a rich aunt. It opened in London, had a long Broadway run and enjoyed success worldwide. It still is put on today. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charley%27s_Aunt and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Windermere%27s_Fan.)
That’s the real fun of writing such a story, I think. It’s learning about, and getting lost in, the details of the time.
Where can you find out more about Christine (C.A.)Verstraete?
Add it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31553183-lizzie-borden-zombie-hunter
About Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by C.A. Verstraete
Every family has its secrets…
One hot August morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden picked up an axe and murdered her father and stepmother. Newspapers claim she did it for the oldest of reasons: family conflicts, jealousy and greed. But what if her parents were already dead? What if Lizzie slaughtered them because they’d become zombies?
Thrust into a horrific world where the walking dead are part of a shocking conspiracy to infect not only Fall River, Massachusetts, but also the world beyond, Lizzie battles to protect her sister, Emma, and her hometown from nightmarish ghouls and the evil forces controlling them.