Haverhill’s Forgotten Link to Hollywood


If you live in Haverhill, Massachusetts for more than 15 minutes, someone will undoubtedly bring you up to speed on the most notable of Haverhill’s claims to fame:

  • Hannah Duston and her newborn daughter were captured by Abenaki people during King William’s War in 1697. Hannah escaped, killing and scalping ten of the Native family members who had been holding the two of them hostage.
  • Haverhill is the birthplace of poet and abolitionist, John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier is best known for his book Snow-Bound and his anti-slavery writings.
  • The Archie comics were based in Haverhill. The author, Bob Montana, was from Haverhill and the students and faculty of Haverhill High inspired the characters in the Archie comics.
  • Louis B Mayer – of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) fame – got his start in Haverhill. In 1907, Mayer purchased a theater in Haverhill, and within a few years, owned and controlled the largest theater chain in New England. Also, scenes from the 2015 movie Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence, were filmed in Haverhill.

The Hollywood-Haverhill connection is where we will find our story. There is, in fact, a second, less well known Haverhill-Hollywood connection. It’s a story that links together Haverhill, alleged ax-murder Lizzie Borden, President Theodore Roosevelt, the United States Supreme Court, a naval destroyer and, of course, Hollywood.

Lizzie Borden took an axe

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.

So goes the skipping-rope rhyme’s description of the murders. In the 1800’s version of the “trial of the century,” very few facts are uncontested. What we know for sure is Andrew and Abby Borden were killed in the home they shared with 32-year-old daughter Lizzie. Each victim suffered multiple ax blows, but not nearly as many as the rhyme suggests. Lizzie was charged and, in a spectacle that was the 19th-century version of the OJ Simpson trial, ultimately acquitted. No one else was ever charged with the crime.

Newspaper reports at the time blamed the acquittal on a botched police investigation, incompetent prosecution, and a judge biased in favor of the defense. The one shining star to emerge from this legal morass was junior prosecutor William H. Moody.

Moody had been elected city solicitor of Haverhill in 1888 and Eastern District Attorney in 1890. According to his Wikipedia page, Moody’s work in the Lizzie Borden case was “generally acknowledged as the most competent and effective of the attorneys on either side.”

Moody was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1895 and served until President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him Secretary of the Navy in 1902. After two years IMG_4470running the Navy, Roosevelt tapped him to be Attorney General, where Moody served until 1906. The President turned to Moody a third time, nominating him to the Supreme Court in December 1906. He served on the Supreme Court until ill health forced his retirement in 1910. He lived the rest of his days in Haverhill, passing away in 1917.

William H. Moody is remembered in Haverhill by the naming of Moody School. Moody’s office furnishings and some possessions are held by the Haverhill Historical Society at the Buttonwoods Museum in Haverhill. The U.S. Navy named a destroyer, the USS Moody (DD-277), for him in 1919.

The USS Moody was built in Quincy, Massachusetts and was one of the 156 ship Clemson-class of destroyers. This was not the most successful design in naval history. The shipsh98927 had a large turning radius, making them less than optimal for anti-submarine warfare; they tended to roll heavily in rough seas, and their design resulted in wet and slippery decks.

The USS Moody was in active service on and off between 1920 until its retirement in 1930. Her superstructure – the part of the ship above the main deck – was sold for scrap in 1931 and the ship’s hull was sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. And now we’ve come full circle, back to Haverhill’s Louis B. Mayer.

MGM used the hull in the filming of 1933’s Hell Below, rebuilding the superstructure to resemble a German destroyer. At the end of the movie, the ship is torpedoed by an American submarine and sinks. To simulate this, charges were placed at critical points in the Ex-Moody’s hull and detonated for the cameras.

This makes the USS Moody unique in two ways: First, footage of the sinking was used in the movie and still exits and second, the wreck has become a popular dive site on the west coast.

There you have it (feel free to read this in your best Paul Harvey voice), the rest of the story. Haverhill’s forgotten link to Hollywood by way of an ax-murderer, a President, the Supreme Court and the United States Navy.


One Response to “Haverhill’s Forgotten Link to Hollywood”

  1. Where in Haverhill is William Moody’s Homestead?

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