On library’s 10th floor, author discusses 19th century murder

Katie Huntley


Credit: DKS Editors

Elizabeth DeWolfe, accomplished author and professor at the University of New England, presented a lecture at the University Library’s annual Borowitz Lecture last night. The lecture focused on The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories, the tale of a young, 19th century woman’s murder.

The Borowitz Lecture, named after the collection of true crime literature at Kent State, was held in the brand new Read Special Collections Classroom on the 10th floor of the University Library. Donors Albert and Helen Borowitz were among the 35 people in attendance.

“This is the inaugural event in this classroom,” said Mark Weber, dean of the Library, as he recognized Gerald and Victoria Read for their contributions.

In honor of Women’s History Month, a story of one woman’s struggle during the 19th century was chosen.

The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories is a two-part book that explores the facts about Mary Bean, followed by two fictionalized accounts of her murder.

Cara Gilgenbach, curator and university archivist for the special collections, organized the lecture.

“We knew the book was coming out late last year,” Gilgenbach said. “And we thought it would make a great topic for this year’s lecture.”

During the lecture, DeWolfe retold the story of Mary Bean, more accurately known as Berengera Caswell. DeWolfe discussed the details of Caswell’s life, her murder and the subsequent events.

When DeWolfe found a piece of sensational fiction about Bean in her husband’s book store, she had a gut feeling that there was more to examine.

“I expected to find a very straightforward story, and it really was a lens into an incredibly powerful moment in the 19th century,” DeWolfe said. “I surprised myself with how rich this story was.”

As DeWolfe investigated the truth behind the sensationalized stories meant to teach a lesson, she compiled countless newspaper clippings, haunting photographs and a gruesome coroner’s report.

“To understand what really happened, you have to look at all the stories,” DeWolfe said. “Part of my research was pulling out meaning from things that everyday people read.”

Research from the Saco Library, Maine State Archives and Kent State’s Borowitz True Crime Collection finally began to make sense to DeWolfe. And after six years of luck and hard work, the Kent State University Press published her book in 2007.

The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories can be found in the library’s special collections.

Contact libraries and information services reporter Katie Huntley at [email protected].