FALL RIVER – When it comes to tourist attractions, Manhattan has its skyscrapers and theater district.
And although the much smaller Fall River is lacking in this regard, it can boast of being home to the house where Lizzie Borden allegedly used an ax in 1892 to murder her father and stepmother.
Since opening as a bed and breakfast in 1995, the three-story Second Street house, dating from around 1845, continues to attract a steady stream of visitors who have a constant interest in so-called black tourism.
The town of Spindle can also claim its waterfront war memorial, the Battleship Cove Maritime Museum, moored at WWII battleship the former USS Massachusetts – affectionately referred to as Big Mamie – and known to understand the most large collection of historic warships around the world.
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And don’t forget Al Mac’s Diner, which was built in 1953 and continues to serve hashish and coffee down President Avenue, in a plaza now known as Broadway Crossing.
Battleship Cove CEO expects tourism to rise
The Battleship Cove nonprofit, which is managed by the USS Massachusetts Memorial Committee, suffered a financial blow in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
At least 21,500 people paid admission to visit the Water Street maritime site in 2019 from Jan.1 through the second weekend in July, CFO Chris Nardi said. News from the herald in summer 2020.
For the same six-month period in 2020, he said, that number has dropped to 3,600 at most.
Nardi also said that at least 62,000 admission tickets were sold in 2019.
Meghan Rathbun, who took over as CEO of Battleship Cove in September, said she was confident tourism to Battleship Cove – whether visiting the site or even renting part of the battleship for a party or private event – will eventually return and even exceed pre-COVID levels.
Rathbun says a bright spot over the past year has been the popularity of Nautical Nights, a nighttime youth program that was reinstated after an extended hiatus in 2020.
She said the program remains the main revenue driver for the Battleship Cove organization.
Rathbun said that due to concerns over the continued threat of COVID-19, the maximum number of attendees for a Nautical Nights party still remains at 250, up from 500 before the global pandemic emerged.
âEveryone is more dispersed,â she said, referring to the bedrooms.
Fortunately, said Rathbun, there has been a constant and growing demand for educational and fun sleepovers.
âWe reserve three months in advance. There is a lot of interest, which is fantastic, âshe said.
Rathbun said she feels lucky to have been able to hire Sydney Valentine part-time to manage the Nautical Nights program, which she hopes will eventually become a full-time position.
âI’m very happy that we were able to steal it from Mystic,â Rathbun said with a smile, referring to the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut where Valentine previously worked.
Tickets for Battleship Cove, which is open year-round Friday through Sunday, are valid for two consecutive days.
In addition to a guided or self-guided tour of the Big Granny and her surrounding warships and war helicopters, ticket holders have the right to visit the separate Maritime Museum which remains open from April through September.
Exhibits in the museum building include a 28-foot model of the doomed RMS Titanic and various artifacts from the former Fall River Line that transported luxury steamboats to Manhattan until 1937.
Battleship Cove, which is located on the Taunton River below and next to the Charles M. Braga Jr. Memorial Bridge, also has a fully stocked gift shop.
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Rathbun said a children’s Halloween event held on the battleship in October was a success. And she expects a strong turnout next May when Big Mamie turns 80.
âWe’re going to have an event on the weekend for her birthday,â she said, adding that the USS Massachusetts is one of eight existing battleships, all in the United States, with steel hulls.
Rathbun is also excited about a new tourism project to create a permanent exhibit for the Cobra and Iroquois, the museum’s two helicopters dating from the Vietnam War.
She said Battleship Cove received two grants from the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism to use for the helicopter project.
These include a grant of $ 25,000 for marketing and a matching capital grant of $ 85,000 for construction of the exhibit.
And Rathbun is especially pleased that Battleship Cove is receiving $ 1 million from a bill passed by the legislature and enacted in December by Gov. Charlie Baker – to distribute $ 4 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act money through the Commonwealth.
She said the funding would go a long way towards restoring the battleship and other ships docked in the cove.
Lizzie Borden fans
Lance Zaal has made a few changes and modifications since purchasing the business and real estate of the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum last May for just under $ 1.9 million.
First, the entrepreneur from Richmond, Va., Gave the company’s gift shop a complete overhaul.
The store occupies a converted two-story barn in the parking lot behind the three-story house circa 1845 where Andrew Jackson Borden, 70, and his second wife Abby Durfee Gray Borden, 64, were sent by someone with an ax on the morning of August 4, 1892.
Lizzie Borden, who was 32 at the time, was acquitted of the murder at trial and lived to be 66.
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In addition to a big clean-up inside the historic house at 230 Second St., Zaal offers walking ‘ghost tours’ of downtown sites that were decimated by three major fires – one in which 23 workers factory died – from the mid-1800s to the early 20th century.
Ghost tours are nothing new to Zaal, who has run an online business called US Ghost Adventures in recent years. The walking tour service is available in cities across the country.
The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum recently hosted a two-day event featuring the mythical Krampus – a central European horned folk figure whose purpose during the Christmas season is to scare off misbehaving children and reward them with pieces of coal.
Jared Robinson, who took over as general manager of the bed and breakfast and gift shop last July, said a total of 80 children and adults visited Krampus over the two days.
âThey loved it, loved it, loved it,â he said.
Robinson said there are now 10 part-time tour guides who bring individuals and groups through the Borden house where overnight stays are also booked.
âIt’s an annual pilgrimage for some people,â he said, many of whom come from various parts of the country.
Kristie Lesleman from Binghamton, New York, and her daughter Corie Brundage from Boise, Idaho, came to Fall River for a tour of the notorious double murder house after initially spending two nights in Salem – where 19 people were hanged in the late 1600s after accused of engaging in witchcraft.
âI guess you could call it a morbid curiosity,â Lesleman said.
She said she learned about the Lizzie Borden case through podcasts, books and movies.
Robinson said Zaal is working on other future plans to be rolled out in 2022: “He really wants to go, go, go.”
Robinson said the Borden House was a kind of second home for him.
He says when he was little his grandmother organized tours after it was turned into a guesthouse by then-owner Martha McGinn – whose grandfather John bought the property in 1948 – and his partner Ronald Evans.
Robinson says her mother helped McGinn restore the house and one of her aunts did carpentry and wallpaper work and painted portraits of Lizzie and her sister Emma which now adorn the walls.
âWhen I was young it was really a family affair,â he said.
Prior to becoming Managing Director last summer, Robinson had worked on and off for almost 10 years at Al Mac’s Diner.
He said during this time he often spoke to patrons from outside the New England area who told him they were keen to visit the Fall River restaurant.
Robinson says that during a visit to Orlando, he ate at a restaurant where a reproduction of a magazine advertisement for Al Mac’s Diner hung on the wall.
Al Mac’s Diner has its own followers
Cliff Ponte Sr. runs Al Mac’s Diner and its new counterpart Al Mac’s On-The-Go – both owned by his son Cliff, who chairs Fall River City Council and lost an election bid last November against outgoing mayor Paul Coogan. .
Ponte said the photo his former employee Jared Robinson referred to – showing a group of 1950s classic cars parked outside the restaurant – has also been turned into a poster.
âYou can see it in restaurants all over the country,â he said.
Ponte says so-called diner chasers from other states made a point of eating at Al Mac’s, which was built in 1953 by a New Jersey company.
âIt’s not uncommon to see customers from New York on their way to Cape Town,â he said.
Ponte said the state’s $ 100 million plan to reconfigure and redesign Route 79 and Davol Street in front of Al Mac’s “is itself going to be a huge tourist attraction.”
âIt wasn’t that long ago that the waterfront (on the west side of Highway 79) was brownfield,â he said.
âHere at the restaurant, we are impatiently waiting for the road to turn into a boulevard. It’s going to thrive with business, âPonte said.
Charles Winokoor can be contacted at [email protected] Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today.