Alden Graves | Graves registry: The sweet mysteries of life


Life is full of mysteries and there's a moldy clich if there ever was one. Still, I don't think mysteries are given the credit they deserve in our lives considering the amount of time most of us expend pondering them. What happened to Amelia Earhart? How about those shots people heard fired from the grassy knoll? Why did those birds behave so badly in Hitchcock's film?

We live in an area of the country where there are long periods of time when we can mull over things like someone's disappearance, an unsolved murder, or whether that car dealer you see so often on the local television channels is really trying to sell his family.

A mystery that has obsessed mankind since the beginning of time is one that Peggy Lee explored eloquently in her song, "Is That All There Is?" I would like to think that there is more to come, but it worries me that, if there is a conventional Heaven and I'm fortunate enough to attain it, I'm going to have to spend eternity with people like Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Mike Pence.

I suppose that, if you have met the criteria for the Final Ascension, you may have earned the right to inquire if there are any alternatives. I also think that God has been around long enough to know the difference between genuine piety and the Pence brand of sanctimonious hypocrisy.

Of course, the major question that most people have at this particular moment in our nation's history is how did we ever get to this point. I made a resolution that I wouldn't name the major contributor to America's precipitous decline in this piece (I can almost hear the sigh of relief out there).

I'm not sure that the current state of the union is really — in the strictest sense — a mystery anyway, because a mystery implies elements that aren't readily apparent or easily understood. And we all know how we got to where we are, don't we? A congressman from Texas is against stricter background checks on potential gun buyers despite two mass murders in his state within the past month because they might interfere with his ability to loan out his guns to friends. That's how we got to where we are. Hardly Agatha Christie material.

I'm afraid that the mysteries that intrigue me generally revolve around less savory incidents in history. I'll tell you the truth about the one that I have spent countless hours researching, reading about, and ruminating on (the Three Rs?): I don't really want to know who Jack the Ripper was. Suffice it to say that he was a monster who killed at least five women in the Whitechapel District of London in the fall of 1888. Our imagination and Hollywood's flair for atmosphere probably added the gaslit streets, the fog, and the Gladstone bag.

But, the Ripper changed the way society regarded the degrading and dehumanizing conditions that existed in sections of one of the most affluent cities in the world more than any well-intentioned social worker, politician, minister, or policeman ever did, and he left the world with a mystery that we are still debating, dissecting, and expounding upon over a century later. It's a tainted legacy to be sure, but that mysterious and sinister figure in the fog is still whispers to us, "Who was I?"

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There was some thought at the time that Jack had crossed the Big Pond and plied his craft with a sharp object four years later in America. It wasn't really the Whitechapel killer, of course, but it's been a mystery to me why the mystery that ensued in Massachusetts and enveloped the entire world has proven so durable.

On a sweltering August morning in 1892, one of the most notorious double murders in American history took place on a busy residential street in the city of Fall River. The victims were a prominent local businessman and his second wife.

Andrew Jackson Borden was not particularly regarded with much affection in the community. He owned a lot of property and was notorious for his miserliness. He had three daughters by his first wife, Sarah. Emma Lenora was born in 1851. A second child died in infancy. Lizzie Andrew Borden was born in 1860. Two years later, Sarah died and Andrew Borden married Abby Durfee Gray.

Emma resented what she regarded as an unwelcome intrusion into their lives at 92 Second Street. It was a troubled household to say the least, but her instinctive protection of her sister's quixotic behavior would continue until a few years before their deaths ten days from each other in June of 1927.

I had an opportunity to talk with Cara Robertson, who wrote a riveting account of Lizzie Borden's incarceration and trial following the ax murder deaths of her father and stepmother, appropriately called "The Trial of Lizzie Borden." I asked the author, as she said everyone does, if she thought Lizzie was guilty. Ms. Robertson told me (and I am paraphrasing) that it was difficult to believe that a young woman from a relatively well-to-do background, who harbored a genuine affection for her father, would commit such a brutal crime, but that it was even more difficult to believe than anyone else did it.

The novelist Harper Lee had a different assessment of the murders, one with a feminist twist to it. The author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" said, "I know exactly why Lizzie Borden did it. Anyone burdened with long petticoats and having had mutton soup for breakfast on a day like that was bound to have murdered somebody before sundown."

The mystery surrounding Lizzie Borden has never been so much whether she took up that ax so much as it is how she got away with it.

Winter's coming and I'll have time to give it more thought.

Alden Graves writes a regular column for the Banner.


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