The news media often use the celebrities and prominent public figures attracted to a courtroom spectator’s section to measure a trial’s popularity and importance. By this crude yardstick, the Sacco and Vanzetti trial was, at best, a modest success. Present were Elizabeth Glendower Evans; Mrs. Lois Rantoul (representing a Boston-based church organization); Mrs. Cerise Jack, wife of a prominent Harvard University professor; and a lone international figure (a minor one at that), the Marquis Agostino Ferrante, a monocle-wearing Italian counsel in Boston.
Presiding over this esoteric assemblage was Judge Webster Thayer. Graduated from Dartmouth University in the 1880s, he had been a reasonably successful lawyer and then served many years as a judge. In his early sixties, Thayer was gaunt with a clipped white mustache and dark sepulchral eyes behind pince-nez glasses; he wore the stiff, white collars and ties that recalled small-town judges of an earlier age. An unabashed patriot given to hackneyed speeches from the bench that sometimes sounded as if they were American Legion editorials, Thayer was disgusted with the “radical” international publicity the case had attracted. (In fact, as noted, he had already received several death threats.) Thayer enjoyed talking about the case outside the courtroom. The judge was fond of expressing off-the-record opinions to reporters during lunch breaks, a habit that would return to haunt him with a vengeance in this case.
For newspaper reporters, the heart of the trial began with identification of the physical evidence. This included an extensive cataloguing of the