Walking up State Street a third of a century after the executions, on another August afternoon, I wondered again about the enigma of the case. The whole drama had been played out within twenty miles of here: in South Braintree, in Bridgewater, in sedate Dedham, in the gilt-domed State House beyond the Common, and finally just across Prison Point Bridge in the granite fortress of the now-demolished state prison. Would it ever become as clear-cut as the Dreyfus affair, where everyone was at last satisfied of the grossness of the injustice done? That still seemed unlikely. In 1950 the seven surviving jury members were interviewed as to their later opinions. The decades had only confirmed their belief in the rightness of their verdict. In 1959 a judiciary committee of the Massachusetts legislature had refused to consider granting Sacco and Vanzetti a posthumous pardon.
Where the past is reduced to shelves of documents in a library it becomes manageable enough for the scholar or historian to make his evaluation. But where it is still an actual present in the contradictory minds of living men, what yardstick can one use except that of preconceptions? Was the chief of police who arrested Sacco and Vanzetti a forger of evidence? Did their first lawyers betray them? Was the district attorney a barrator with his hand out under the table? Was the judge mad? Was President Lowell of Harvard a Yankee bigot? Many upright men had maintained these things. Were Sacco and Vanzetti quietistic anarchists, or did they believe in the politics of the deed?
Boston seemed downcast, heatstruck. The Old State House at the