Annotation: During the twentieth century a number of trials have excited widespread public interest. One of the first cause celeries was the case of Nicola Sacco, a 32-year-old shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a 29-year-old fish peddler.
They were accused of double murder. A paymaster and a payroll guard had been shot to death during a payroll heist in Braintree, Mass., near Boston. About three weeks later, Sacco and Vanzetti were charged with the crime. Their trial aroused intense controversy because of a widespread belief that the evidence against the men was flimsy and that they were being prosecuted for their immigrant background and their radical political beliefs. Sacco and Vanzettti were Italian immigrants and avowed anarchists who advocated the violent overthrow of capitalism.
It was the height of the post-World War I Red Scare, and the atmosphere was seething about anxieties about Bolshevism, aliens, domestic bombings, and labor unrest. Revolutionary upheavals had been triggered by the war, and one-third of the U.S. population consisted of immigrants or the children of immigrants.
U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer had ordered foreign radicals rounded up for deportation. Just three days before Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested, one of the people seized during the Palmer raids, an anarchist editor, had died after falling from a 14th floor window of the New York City Department of Justice office. The police, judge, jury, and newspapers were deeply concerned about labor unrest.
No witnesses had gotten a good look at the perpetrators of the murder and robbery. The witnesses described a shootout in the street and the robbers escaping in a Buick, scattering tacts to deter pursuers. Anti-immigrant, anti-radical sentiment led the police to focus on local anarchists.
Sacco and Vanzetti were followers of Luigi Galleani, a radical Italian anarchist who had instigated a wave of bombings against public officials just after World War I. An Italian anarchist had blown himself up while trying to plan a bomb at Attorney General Palmer's house.
Sacco and Vanzetti acted nervously and the arresting officer testified that Sacco and Vanzetti were reaching for weapons when they were apprehended. But neither man had a criminal record and a criminal gang had been carrying out a string of armed robberies in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Police linked Sacco's gun to the double murder, the only piece of physical evidence that connected the men to the crime. But the defense argued that the link was overstated.
In 1921, they were convicted in a trial was marred by prejudice against Italians, immigrants, and radical beliefs. The evidence was ambiguous as to the pairs' guilt or innocence. But the trial was a sham. The prosecution played heavily on the pairs' radical beliefs. The men were kept in an iron cage during the trial. The jury foreman muttered unflattering stereotypes about Italians. In his instructions to the jury, the presiding judge urged the jury to remember their "true American citizenship."
The pair were electrocuted in 1927. As the guards adjusted his straps, Vanzetti said in broken English:
I wish to tell you I am innocent and never connected with any crime... I wish to forgive some people for what they are now doing to me." Their execution divided the nation and produced an uproar in Europe. Harvard Law Professor and later U.S. Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter condemned the prejudice of the presiding judge (who reportedly said in 1924, "Did you see what I did with those anarchistic bastards the other day?") and procedural errors during the trial. These errors included the prosecution's failure to disclose eyewitness evidence favorable to the defense. A commission that included the presidents of Harvard and MIT defended the trial's fairness. Today, many historians now believe Sacco was probably guilty and Vanzetti innocent, but that the evidence was insufficient to convict either one.
Document: Sacco and Vanzetti Put to Death Early This Morning
Walk to Death Calmly
Sacco Cries 'Long Live Anarchy'; Vanzetti Insists on His Innocence
Warden Can Only Whisper
Much Affected as the Long-Delayed Execution Is Carried Out
Madeiros First to Die
Machine Guns Bristle, Search Lights Glare During Execution -- Crowds Kept Far From Prison
From a Staff Correspondent of The New York Times
City Crowds Silent on News of Deaths: Sacco Sympathizers Disperse After Many Protest Meetings Earlier in Night: Police Doubly Vigilant: Force Guards All Vital Points, While Warren and Inspectors Stay on Duty All Night
Four Final Legal Pleas Made to the Governor that Failed to Delay Execution of Death Sentence
Governor Fuller Rejects Last-Minute Pleas for Delay After a Day of Legal Moves and Demonstrations: Fuller Hears Petitioners: Governor Is Under Steady Pressure Until the Final Hour: Women Last to Appeal: Mrs. Sacco and Miss Vanzetti Leave Him and at 11:03 P.M. He Gives Decision: Defense Tried Every Plea: Stone, Taft, Holmes and Other Federal as Well as State Judges Refused to Act
Coolidge Perches Government's Seat on Peak in Rockies: He Reaches Yellowstone Park and Begins at Once His Sight-Seeing Trips: Visits Camp Roosevelt: President Passes First Night in a Cottage Surrounded by Snow-Clad Mountains: Crowds Extend Greetings: Mrs. Coolidge and John Share in Ovations at Stations Where Special Train Halted
Wilbur Predicts Stunt Flight Curb: Naval Secretary Says Federal Law Must Stop Loss of Life as in Pacific Race: Takes Stand With Eberle: Navy Extends Search for Dole Fliers by Two Days, but Has No Clues
Coins Word 'Avigation' for Directing of Aircraft
Wilbur Predicts Stunt Flight Curb: Naval Secretary Says Federal Law Must Stop Loss of Life as in Pacific Race: Takes Stand With Eberle: Navy Extends Search for Dole Fliers by Two Days, but Has No Clues
Society Gets Old Irving Home for Centre of Patriotic Work
Mrs. Chaplin Wins Divorce and $825,000: She Gets $625,000 for Herself and $200,000 in Trust for the Two Children: Suit Based on Cruelty: Actor Is Not in Los Angeles Court to Hear Her and Friends Tell of Alleged Neglect
Dawes Declares He Is Not a Candidate, Declining Young America Union's Support Charlestown State Prison, Mass., Tuesday, Aug. 23 -- Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti died in the electric chair early this morning, carrying out the sentence imposed on them for the South Braintree murders of April 15, 1920.
Sacco marched to the death chair at 12:11 and was pronounced lifeless at 12:19.
Vanzetti entered the execution room at 12:20 and was declared dead at 12:26.
To the last they protested their innocence, and the efforts of many who believed them guiltless proved futile, although they fought a legal and extra legal battle unprecedented in the history of American jurisprudence.
With them died Celestino f. Madeiros, the young Portuguese, who won seven respites when he "confessed" that he was present at the time of the South Braintree murder and that Sacco and Vanzetti were not with him. He died for the murder of a bank cashier.
Defense Works as They Die
The six years of legal battle on behalf of the condemned men was still on as they were walking to the chair and after the current had been applied, for a lawyer was on the way by airplane to ask Federal Judge George W. Anderson in Williamstown for a writ of habeas corpus.
The men walked to the chair without company of clergy, father Michael Murphy, prison chaplain, waited until a minute before twelve and then left the prison.
Sacco cried, "Long live anarchy," as the prison guards strapped him into the chair and applied the electrodes. He added a plea that his family be cared for.
Vanzetti at the last made a short address, declaring his innocence.
Madeiros walked to the chair in a semi-stupor caused by overeating. He shrugged his shoulders and made no farewell statement.
Warden William Hendry was almost overcome by the execution of the men, especially that of Vanzetti, who shook his hand warmly and thanked him for all his kindness.
The Warden was barely able to pronounce above a whisper the solemn formula required by law:
"Under the law I now pronounce you dead, the sentence of the court having been legally carried out."
The words were not heard by the official witnesses.
After Governor Fuller had informed counsel for the two condemned radicals that he could take no action, their attorney, Michael A. Musmanno, made a dash to the prison in an automobile and tried to make another call on Sacco and Vanzetti, but Warden Hendry refused, as the legal witnesses were just about to pass into the execution chamber.
The Witnesses Gather
The witnesses gathered in the Warden's office an hour before midnight. They were instructed as to the part they would take.
W. E. Playfair of the Associated Press was the only reporter permitted to attend the execution, as the State law designated one representative of the press as a witness. The assignment was handed to him six years ago after Sacco and Vanzetti had been convicted in Dedham for the murder of William Parmenter and Alexander Berardelli.
At 11:38 all but the official witnesses were asked to leave the Warden's office. Led by Warden Hendry the official witnesses walked toward the rotunda of the prison. He rapped three times on the inner door. A key grated in the lock. Just then Mr. Musmanno dashed in breathlessly.
"Please, Warden," he said, touching Mr. Hendry on the arm. "A last request."
His voice was faint and broken.
"No, no," the Warden said, sternly, slightly unnerved at the last-minute interruption. Mr. Musmanno turned away, weeping. He had refused to accept as a farewell gift a book from Vanzetti because he felt that the men would be saved.
"I only tried to see them the last time and he refused me," said Musmanno through tears.
The witnesses walked through the prison and entered the death house with the Warden. They took their places and then Madeiros was escorted into the chamber. He walked without support, attended by two guards, one at each side. He was strapped in the chair at 12:03 and at 12:09 he was pronounced dead.
He was officially pronounced dead by Dr. George Burgess MacGrath, Medical Examiner of Norfolk County, and Dr. Howard A. Lothrop, Surgeon-in-Chief of the Boston City Hospital. Stethoscopes were also applied to Madeiros's chest by Dr. Joseph J. MacLaughlin, the prison physician, and Colonel Frank P. Williams, Surgeon-General of the Massachusetts National Guard. The same procedure was followed in the case of Sacco and Vanzetti.
Sacco, whose cell was next to that of Madeiros, was the next. A guard opened his door. Sacco was ready. His face was pale from his long confinement. Without a word he took his place between the guards. Walking slowly but steadily, he traversed the seventeen steps into the death chamber. He required no support and sat down in the chair. As the guards were finishing their work Sacco cried out in Italian:
"Long live anarchy."
In English he shouted: "Farewell, my wife and child, and all my friends!"
He has two children, Dante, 14, and Inez, 6, but his difficulty in speaking English and the excitement of the occasion were responsible for the slip.
"Good evening, gentlemen," he said, jerkily. Then came his last words: "Farewell, mother."
Warden Hendry waited until Sacco apparently was satisfied that there was no more to say. Then he gave the signal. Sacco was pronounced dead at 12:19:02.
Vanzetti's cell door was opened. He, too, was calm. He shook hands with the two guards and kept step with them. He had four more steps to the death chair than Sacco. On entering the chamber he spoke to the Warden, shaking his hand and saying:
"I want to thank you for everything you have done for me, Warden."
Vanzetti spoke in English. His voice was calm throughout. There was not the slightest tremor or quaver.
Then, addressing the witnesses, he said:
"I wish to tell you that I am innocent, and that I never committed any crime but sometimes some sin."
They were almost the same words he addressed to Judge Webster Thayer in the Dedham courtroom last April when he was sentenced to die during the week of April 10, the sentence having been deferred because the Governor's advisory committee was working in the case.
"I thank you for everything you have done for me," he went on calmly and slowly. "I am innocent of all crime, not only of this, but all. I am an innocent man."
Then he spoke his last words:
"I wish to forgive some people for what they are now doing to me."
Vanzetti stepped into the chamber at 12:20:30. At 12:26:55 he was declared dead.
Warden Broke News to Them
Before midnight Warden Hendry told reporters how he broke the news to Sacco and Vanzetti.
"I simply told them that it was my painful duty to convey to them the information that they were to die shortly after midnight," he said. "I told them that their lawyers had informed me that they had done all they could and failed."
Father Michael J. Murphy, Prison Chaplain, again offered the men his services, but they refused his offer of the last rites. Earlier in the day, the Chaplain visited the men, and on coming from the death house said:
"I offered them consolation of religion, but all three preferred to die as they had lived, outside the pale. They can call on me at any time before the execution, and I will hear their confessions and give them communion."
Warden Hendry received two telegrams, one addressed to himself, which he did not make public, and another addressed to Sacco. After reading the Sacco telegram, the Warden refused to make known its contents to the prisoner, explaining that he did not know the writer.
The telegram read:
"Take heart, men. It is justice that dies. Sacco and Vanzetti will live in history." It was signed Epstein and sent from New York.
The police, despite their elaborate precautions, had a surprise about an hour before midnight, when it was discovered that some one had penetrated the lines thrown around the prison for blocks and made his way to the very entrance of the Warden's office, where he had passed an envelope to one of the regular guards and strolled off.
The envelope contained a two-page letter, the contents of which the Warden withheld. An investigation was begun at once to learn how the mysterious messenger had gained entrance to the guarded area.
The first of the legal witnesses to arrive at the prison were Dr. Joseph I. McLaughlin, the prison physician, and Dr. Edward A. Lathrop, a surgeon of the Boston City Hospital. They reached the prison at 9:40 P.M.
Electricians Test Chair
Warden Hendry at 9 P. M. made his second visit to the death house. He informed newspaper men on his return to his office that he had found the trio resigned to their fate. Sacco requested him to have his body sent to his home in Italy. The Warden declared that they showed no change regarding their religious viewpoint and entertained the belief that they would go to the chair without spiritual aid.
At 10 P.M. Granville Greenough, chief electrician, and John Mullaney, assistant electrician made a final test of the electric chair and found it to be in good working order.
Police Break Up Crowds
Superintendent Crowley's men broke up a meeting of nearly 500 Italians in Salem Street, in the North End, as midnight approached. They threatened to hold a demonstration in front of the Bunker Hill Monument, and also threatened to hold a protest meeting before the State House and on the Common.
Mounted policemen charged a crowd of several thousand that gathered just outside the roped-off area surrounding the jail at the hour of execution. Two hundred Sacco and Vanzetti sympathizers had congregated in Thompson Square to join a parade out to Bunker Hill. Police men afoot were unable to control the excited crowd. The charge of the mounted police drove men, women and children back in a wave. Several persons were crushed. Two women were arrested, charge with sauntering and loitering.
More than 1,000 cars were blocked in a traffic jam along Main Street, obstructing the passage of pedestrians and police. The street became a tangled mass of automobiles and other vehicles. There was a terrific din as policemen shouted orders, the iron-shod hoofs of their mounts clattered over pavements and hundreds of automobilists sounded their sirens continuously.
Charlestown prison was armed and garrisoned as if to withstand a siege. Machine guns, gas and tear bombs, not to mention pistols and riot guns, constituted the armament and to man it were 500 patrolmen, detectives and State constables besides the usual prison guard.
They took their posts at 7 o'clock, cutting off Rutheford Avenue and other streets approaching the long, gloomy brick walls of the prison. No one was allowed to pass either on foot or in vehicles unless on official business.
A truck filled with State police jangled and clanged along the cobblestones and into the glare of light, about the entrance to the prison. Forty mounted policemen clamped over the Prison Point Bridge. All reported to Captain Goff, then deployed down streets and alleys.
Barricade Prison Entrance
The south and west walls of the death house and cell blocks facing on the Boston & Maine Railroad yards were lined with machine guns and searchlights in clusters of three at twenty-yard intervals. The powerful lights flooded the railroad yards in a brilliant glare that accentuated the pitchy blackness of shadows. Across the tracks marine patrol boats could be seen moving slowly up and down the river in the region of the prison. Each of the police vessels was equipped with flares and searchlights that played along the gloomy prison walls.
From the comparative gloom of the cement walk along the siding came the click, click of horses’ hoofs as mounted patrolmen rode up and down. A prison entrance facing on the railroad yards was heavily barricaded with ladders, doors and other lumber. At 11 P. M. searchlights installed by the police on the roof of the State House were turned on. Their brilliant rays were kept sweeping up and down the adjacent streets. Twenty policemen armed with riot guns were stationed at intervals between the searchlights. It was the first time in Massachusetts's history that such a scene had been enacted.
Chapman Street, Austin Street, Miller Street, as well as Rutherford Avenue were completely cut off as far as automobile or pedestrian traffic was concerned, but those living in houses in the district, warned by the police not to leave them, leaned out of windows. On other houses occasional sweeps of searchlights revealed entire families, including babies in arms, perched on roof tops.
In Main Street, the street nearest the prison on which traffic was permitted, a throng circulated. At a late hour adherents of Sacco and Vanzetti were not in evidence. Most of the men and women chattered excitedly, but without attempting to make any sort of demonstration. Rather, they were merely curious and interested in the display of martial power. Passengers of elevated trains crowded to windows on the side near the prison. Some who tried to alight were urged not to by the police.
All Streets Are Cut Off
All streets leading toward the sprawling collection of steel barred brick and cement buildings were closed off at 8 P. M. and no one could get within blocks of the entrance. Police stood in little knots. Inside the area of restriction was an entire platoon of mounted policemen, their horses stamping restlessly in the yellow glare of street, lights. For the first time in the records of the police department, roll call was taken on post instead of in station houses.
Persons living within the restricted area were kept as closely to their houses as during an air raid. When they ventured to their doors they were told to stay inside unless their business was extremely urgent and were warned that they might have difficulty getting back. Gasoline filling stations and small shops were ordered to close and stay closed until tomorrow.
Captain N. J. Goff of the Charlsestown Station was in charge of police arrangements at the prison. All Boston police, State Constabulary and special detectives assigned to duty there reported to him for instructions. Despite the elaborate police precautions, windows of the officers room of the prison, which was given over to newspaper men, were nailed down and blinds drawn as a precaution in case some one should "try to throw something in," according to Captain Goss.
A weird and martial picture was presented when motion picture photographers held aloft flaming calcium torches, lighting up a passing detail of mounted State police with a ghastly flicker and silhouetting their silent figures against the grim gray of the prison walls.
Last Visit to the Men
Mrs. Rose Sacco and Miss Luigia Vanzetti called three times at the death house during the day. Their last visit was at 7 o'clock in the evening, when they remained five minutes and departed weeping. Gardiner Jackson and Aldini Felicani of the Defense Committee, who accompanied the women, arranged with Warden Hendry for the transfer of the bodies to the relatives.
Mrs. Consuelo Aruda of New Bedford, sister of Madeiros, was the first of the relations of the condemned men to go to the prison. Madeiros was worried because his mother did not visit him Sunday. His sister told him that his mother had had a breakdown and could not come to Boston. Madeiros was much affected by the news of his mother's condition. The two spoke for an hour in Portuguese and the young woman left in tears with a last message for her mother.
Mrs. Sacco and Miss Vanzetti arrived at the prison for the first time in the day at 11 A. M. Dr. Joseph I. McLaughlin, the prison physician was in the death house at the time and Vanzetti introduced his sister to him. The two women were downcast. They pressed their faces close to the heavily barred cell doors under the eyes of the guards.
An hour passed and the interview ended with tearful farewells. Farewell embraces were not permitted. There were handclasps and faces were pressed to the cell doors. The bars are an inch thick and an inch apart and heavily meshed.
Madeiros at noon seemed quite and smoked many cigarettes. Vanzetti worked on a letter to his father. Sacco paced up and down his cell. But when Michael A. Musmanno of defense counsel called on Sacco and Vanzetti at 2:30 P. M. he found them depressed and ready for death. They depressed and ready for death. They told him they were convinced that no power on earth would save them. Sacco begged to see his wife again. Vanzetti regretted that his sister had come from Italy to be with him in his last moments of agony. He was sorry that her last memories of him would be clouded with knowledge of the gray prison, the death cell and the electric chair.
At 3:10 P. M. the two women returned to the death house in an automobile driven by Miss Edith Jackson of New Haven. Mrs. Sacco, who has always presented a tearless and composed face to the public, wept for the first time as she approached the gate. Miss Vanzetti's arm supported her as the two passed into the death house for the second time in the day. They greeted the men again through the wire mesh and remained an hour. Sacco spoke of his children and Vanzetti of his old home in Italy. The women remained an hour and they were weeping when they stepped into the automobile.
Joseph F. Linharen, a lawyer, of Somerville, called at the prison on behalf of Madeiros and asked permission to see him. The warden refused, after calling up the State House on the telephone.
Thompson Calls on Men
William G. Thompson, former counsel for Sacco and Vanzetti, called on them late in the day. Mr. Thompson had returned from the Summer home at South Tamworth, N. H., at the request of Vanzetti and visited both men at the death house. He spent nearly an hour there. Then he left he said that Sacco and Vanzetti had reasserted that they were absolutely innocent of the South Braintree murders. He declared also that there was no truth in the report that he had been offered an opportunity to inspect the files of the Department of Justice and had refused.
The conversation with Vanzetti, said Mr. Thompson, was partly on the man's political and philosophical beliefs. He declined to discuss the report of Governor Fuller or that of the Advisory Committee other than to say that, having read both documents with care, he found nothing in them which altered his opinion "that these two men are innocent and that their trial was in a very real sense unfair."
Mr. Thompson left, and half and hour later Mrs. Sacco and Miss Vanzetti arrived for their third and final visit to the condemned men. They were in an automobile with Gardner Jackson and Felicani asked Warden Hendry for permission to have the women to see their unfortunate relatives for the last time. The request was granted. During the final visit, which lasted five minutes, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Felicani arranged for the bodies of the two men to be turned over to Mrs. Sacco and Miss Vanzetti.