Lizzie Borden Took An Axe

Ask anyone on the street what Lizzie Borden did, and they’ll probably recite the rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
gave her mother forty whacks
when she saw what she had done
gave her father forty-one

In 1892, Lizzie Borden’s parents were found hacked to death in their home. The rhyme fudges details a bit, as one might expect: the murders were committed with a hatched, neither received quite that many whacks, and Borden herself may not have done it at all! In fact, the jury acquitted her in about an hour and a half. No murder weapon was found. But historians remain divided over whether she was really the killer or not to this day. The “real” killer was never found. See the wiki for more

As to the rhyme itself, it’s sometimes said that it was written by a newspaperman at the time of the 1893 trial. I can’t find the rhyme in any paper from before the 1920s, or in print at all before 1907, but I wouldn’t doubt that it’s from the trial era. Some also say that Theodore Roosevelt got a real kick out of the rhyme, though no one seems to have a good source on that (besides the fact that he appointed William Moody, one of the prosecutors in the trial, to the office of Attorney General).

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  1. Anonymous

    you guys are nuts

  2. Anonymous


  3. Anonymous

    About age three in San Antonio, Texas (in 1937) the older kids were jumping rope and singing the ballad. That is where I learned it.

  4. Anonymous

    As a child in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I never taught it to my own daughter, though. I found it gruesome and innapropriate.

  5. Anonymous

    Lizzie Borden took an axe

  6. Red Wolf

    Living Dead Dolls has a Lizzie Borden doll with that poem on the box. In fact they have one of the dolls at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast (they turned the Borden house into a B&B).

  7. Anonymous

    Under the spreading chestnut tree,
    The village idiot sat.
    Amusing himself by abusing himself,
    And catching it in his hat.

    First heard in Milwaukee, WI in the early 1970s.

  8. Anonymous

    I heard it while jumping rope on the playground (mid 1960's). Had no idea who Lizzie Borden was but thought the rhyme was funny. I knew better than to ask my parents, who would have thought the rhyme was inappropriate. In the 1970's I saw the TV movie about Lizzie, starring Elizabeth Montgomery, and finally learned the story behind "Forty Whacks."

  9. Shadow

    Not exactly old, or playground related, but the first time I heard this rhyme was in Amanda Palmer's Ukulele Anthem. The section goes like this:

    "Lizzie Borden took and axe
    and gave her mother forty whacks
    and gave her father forty one
    and left a tragic puzzle.
    If only they had given her an instrument
    those puritans
    had lost the plot completely
    see what happens when you muzzle
    a person's creativity
    and do not let them sing or scream
    and nowadays it's worse 'cause kids have automatic handguns"

  10. Jayde

    late 1990's early 2000's Duncan BC

    Lizzie Borden took an axe
    And gave her mother forty whacks
    When she saw what she had done
    She gave her father forty one!

    Occasionaly we switched mother and father around.

  11. Zoe Bickford

    There is more to the rhyme!
    Lizzie Borden took an ax,
    Gave her mother forty whacks,
    When she saw what she had done,
    She gave her father forty-one.
    Lizzie Borden got away,
    For her crime she did not pay.
    (I heard the rest from a book of scary stories on Wattpad in 2013.)


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