Ferdinando Nicola Sacco (April 22, 1891-August 23, 1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (June 11, 1888-August 23, 1927) were anarchists who were convicted of murdering two men during a 1920 armed robbery in Massachusetts. After a controversial trial and a series of appeals, the two Italian immigrants were executed on August 23, 1927.
There is highly politicized dispute over their guilt or innocence, and regardless guilt or innocence, whether or not the trials were fair. The dispute focuses on small details and contradictory evidence, and historians have not, as of 2010, reached consensus.
Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of the murders of Frederick Parmenter, a paymaster, and Alessandro Berardelli, a security guard, at the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company, on Pearl Street in Braintree, Massachusetts during the afternoon of April 15, 1920. Vanzetti was further charged with the theft of $15,776.51 from the company. 
Police suspicions regarding the Braintree robbery-murder and an earlier attempted robbery in Bridgewater, Massachusetts centered on local Italian anarchists. While neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had a criminal record, the authorities knew them as radical militants and adherents of Luigi Galleani. Police speculated about a connection between the crimes and the recent activities of the Galleanist anarchist movement, thinking that the robberies were made to gain funds for a bombing campaign.
The two men were arrested in Brockton, Massachusetts on May 5, 1920, after appearing at a garage to pick up a car that police believed was used in the robberies. Both had pistols on them, along with anarchist literature, and Vanzetti was carrying shotgun shells similar to those used in the holdups.
Vanzetti was first tried for the armed robbery in Bridgewater and convicted. Both men were then tried for the Braintree crimes and convicted. After several failed appeals over six years, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in the electric chair on August 23, 1927. Celestine Madeiros, who had confessed to the murders, was executed the same day.
Sacco was a shoe-maker born in Torremaggiore, Foggia, who emigrated to the United States at the age of seventeen. Vanzetti was a fishmonger born in Villafalletto, Cuneo, who arrived in the United States at age twenty. Both men arrived in the U.S. in 1908, although they did not meet until the middle of 1917.
The men were followers of Luigi Galleani, an Italian anarchist who advocated revolutionary violence, including bombing and assassination. Galleani published Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicle), a periodical that advocated violent revolution, and an explicit bomb-making manual called La Salute è in voi!. At the time, Italian anarchists ranked at the top of the United States government's list of dangerous enemies. Since 1914, they had been identified as suspects in several violent bombings and assassination attempts, including an attempted mass poisoning. Publication of Cronaca Sovversiva was suppressed in July 1918, and the government deported Galleani and eight of his closest associates on June 24, 1919.
Remaining Galleanists either sought to avoid arrest by becoming inactive or going underground, or remained active. For three years, perhaps 60 Galleanists waged an intermittent campaign of violence against US politicians, judges, and other federal and local officials, especially those who had supported deportation of alien radicals. Among the dozen or more violent acts was the bombing of US Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer's home on June 2, 1919. In that incident, one Galleanist, Carlo Valdonoci, a former editor of Cronaca Sovversiva and an associate of Sacco and Vanzetti, was killed. The bomb intended for Attorney General Palmer exploded in Valdonoci's hands. Radical pamphlets entitled "Plain Words" signed "The Anarchist Fighters" were found at the scene of this and several other midnight bombings that night.
Several Galleanist associates were suspected or interrogated about their roles in the bombing incidents. Two days before Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested, a Galleanist named Andrea Salsedo fell to his death from the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation offices on 15 Park Row in New York City. People speculated that Salsedo may have been pushed out the window or dropped as he was held by his ankles during interrogation, a well-known "third-degree" technique. Roberto Elia, another Galleanist under arrest, was later deposed in the inquiry. He testified that Salsedo had committed suicide for fear of betraying the others. Salsedo worked in the Canzani Printshop in Brooklyn, where federal agents traced the "Plain Words" leaflet.
The Galleanists knew that Salsedo had been held, and reportedly beaten, for two months, which led to rumors that Salsedo and his comrade Roberto Elia had made important disclosures concerning the bomb plot of June 2. The rumors about the confessions were later confirmed by Attorney General Palmer to encourage fear. The Galleanist plotters realized that they would have to go underground and dispose of any incriminating evidence. Sacco and Vanzetti were found to have correspondence with several Galleanists; one letter warned Sacco to destroy all mail after reading.
On April 16, one day after the robbery-murders, the Federal Immigration Service called local police chief Michael E. Stewart to discuss Galleanist anarchist Ferruccio Coacci, whom he had arrested on their behalf two years earlier. Coacci had succeeded in postponing his deportation until April 15, 1920, the day of the Braintree holdup. The FIS asked Stewart to investigate Coacci's excuse that he had failed to report for deportation because his wife had fallen ill. Stewart sent two policemen to Coacci's house on April 16.
They found Coacci's wife in good health. Coacci insisted on being arrested for immediate deportation. As he had an alibi for the robbery: his timecard showed he was at work on April 15, he was deported on April 18. Suspicious, Stewart returned to the Coacci residence on April 20, where he found "Mike Boda" (an alias of Mario Buda, the chief Galleanist bombmaker) renting the house. Buda volunteered that Coacci's wife had left in a hurry. Under questioning, Buda admitted owning a .32 caliber Spanish automatic pistol and possessing a diagram of a Savage automatic, such as the one used in the murders. Buda said he owned a 1914 Oakland, which was being repaired. Police thought two cars had been kept at the now empty Coacci garage, and believed a Buick and smaller car were used during the holdup.
When Stewart discovered that Coacci had worked for both the plants that had been robbed, he returned with the Bridgewater police, but Buda had disappeared, along with his possessions and furniture.
The police had instructed the Johnson garage, where the impounded cars were held, to notify them when the owners came to collect the 1914 Oakland. On May 5, 1920 Buda arrived at the garage with three other men, later identified as Sacco, Vanzetti and Riccardo Orciani. Police were alerted but the men sensed a trap and fled. Buda escaped on a motorcycle with Orciani. He later resurfaced in Italy in 1928. Tracked onto a streetcar, Sacco and Vanzetti were soon arrested. Vanzetti claimed that the revolver he was carrying was for protection. To avoid deportation, the pair denied being allied with anarchists.
A postcript to the arrests occurred in 1926, when a bomb destroyed the house of Samuel Johnson, the brother of the Simon Johnson who had called police the night of Sacco and Vanzetti's arrest.
Following the indictment of Sacco and Vanzetti, anarchists in other countries began violent retaliation. In 1921, a booby trap bomb mailed to the American ambassador in Paris exploded, wounding his valet. Other bombs sent to American embassies were defused.
Only Vanzetti was tried for the attempted robbery and attempted murder in Bridgewater. Others arrested produced ironclad alibis, like Sacco's time-card proving he was at work. In 1927, advocates for Sacco and Vanzetti charged that this case was brought first because evidence against Vanzetti in the Braintree robbery was weak and a conviction for the Bridgewater crimes would help convict him for the Braintree crimes. The prosecution countered that the timing was driven by the schedules of different courts that handled the cases.
On the recommendation of supporters, Vanzetti chose to be represented by John P. Vahey, an experienced defense attorney, rather than accept counsel appointed by the court. Frederick Katzmann, Norfolk and Plymouth County District Attorney, prosecuted the case. The presiding judge was Webster Thayer, who was already assigned to the court before this case was scheduled. A few weeks earlier he had given a speech to new American citizens decrying Bolshevism and anarchism's threat to American institutions. He supported the suppression of radical speech.
The trial began on June 22, 1920. The prosecution presented several witnesses who put Vanzetti at the scene of the attempted robbery. Their descriptions varied, especially with respect to the shape and length of Vanzetti’s mustache. Physical evidence included a shotgun shell retrieved at the scene of the crime and several shells found on Vanzetti when he was arrested.
The defense produced sixteen witnesses—all Italians from Plymouth who claimed they had bought eels for the Christmas holiday from him in accordance with their Christmas traditions. Such details reinforced the difference between the Italians and the Yankee jurors. Some testified in imperfect English, others through an interpreter whose failure to speak the same dialect of Italian as the witnesses hampered their effectiveness. On cross examination, the prosecution found it easy to make the witnesses appear confused about dates. A boy who testified admitted rehearsing his testimony. "You learned it just like a piece at school?," the prosecutor asked. "Sure," he replied. The defense tried to rebut the eyewitnesses with testimony that Vanzetti always wore his mustache in a distinctive long style, but the prosecution rebutted their testimony.
Though the defense case went badly, Vanzetti did not testify in his own defense. Vanzetti, in 1927, said his lawyers opposed putting him on the stand. That same year, Vahey told the governor that Vanzetti had refused his advice to testify. A lawyer who assisted Vahey in the defense, decades later, said that the defense attorneys left the choice to Vanzetti but warned that it would be difficult to prevent the prosecution from using cross examination to impeach his character based on his political beliefs and that Vanzetti chose not to testify after consulting with Sacco. Herbert Ehrmann, who later joined the defense team, wrote many years later that the dangers of putting Vanzetti on the stand were very real. Another legal analysis of the case concluded that the defense would have little to lose from Vanzetti's testimony, since his conviction looked certain given how poorly his alibi witnesses had performed under cross. That analysis deemed the defense overall "unconvincing" and "not closely argued or vigorously fought."
On July 1, 1920, the jury deliberated for five hours and returned guilty verdicts on both counts, attempted robbery and attempted murder. Before sentencing, Thayer learned that during deliberations the jury had tampered with the shells found on Vanzetti at the time of his arrest to determine if the shot they contained was of sufficient size to kill a man. Since that prejudiced the jury's verdict on the attempted murder charge, Thayer ignored that conviction. On August 16, 1920, he sentenced Vanzetti for attempted robbery to a term of 12 to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence allowed. An assessment of Thayer’s conduct of the trial, while critical—"his stupid rulings as to the admissibility of conversations are about equally divided"—found little in the record to demonstrate partiality.
The defense raised only minor objections in an appeal that was not accepted. A few years later, Fahey joined Katzmann’s law firm.
Later Sacco and Vanzetti both stood trial for murder in Dedham, Massachusetts for the South Braintree killings, with Webster Thayer again presiding. He had asked to be assigned the trial. Well aware of the Galleanists' reputation for constructing dynamite bombs of extraordinary power, Massachusetts authorities took great pains to defend against a possible bombing attack. Workers outfitted the Dedham courtroom where the trial was to be held with cast-iron bomb shutters (painted to match the wooden ones fitted elsewhere in the building) and heavy, sliding steel doors that could protect that section of the courthouse from blast effect in the event of a bomb attack. Each day during the trial, Sacco and Vanzetti were escorted in and out of the courtroom under a heavy armed guard.
Vanzetti again claimed that he had been selling fish at the time of the Braintree robbery. Sacco claimed that he had been in Boston in order to gain a passport from the Italian consulate. He had claimed to have had lunch in Boston's North end with several friends, each of whom testified on his behalf. Prior to the trial, Sacco's lawyer, Fred Moore, went to great lengths to contact the consulate employee Sacco said he had talked with on the afternoon of the crime. Moore's friend found the man back in Italy. The clerk said he remembered Sacco because of the unusually large passport photo he presented. The clerk also remembered the date — April 15, 1920. Moore's friend tried to get the clerk to return to America to testify but the clerk, in ill health, refused. What could have been key alibi testimony by a reputable clerk was reduced to a sworn deposition read aloud in court and quickly questioned by the prosecution, which claimed Sacco's visit to the consulate could not be established with certainty. The prosecution also pointed out that Sacco's dinner companions were fellow anarchists.
Much of the trial focused on material evidence, notably bullets, guns, and a cap. Prosecution witnesses testified that the .32-caliber bullet that had killed Berardelli was of a brand so obsolete that the only bullets similar to it that anyone could locate to make comparisons were those in Sacco's pockets. Yet ballistics evidence, which was presented in exhaustive detail, was equivocal. Prosecutor Frederick Katzmann, after initially promising he would not try to link any fatal bullet with Sacco's gun, changed his mind after the defense arranged test firings of the gun. Sacco, claiming he had nothing to hide, had allowed his gun to be test-fired, with experts for both sides present, during the trial's second week. The prosecution then matched bullets fired through the gun to those taken from one of the slain guards. In court, two prosecution experts swore that one of the fatal bullets, quickly labeled Bullet III, matched one of those test-fired. Two defense experts said the bullet did not match. Years later, defense lawyers would suggest that the fatal bullet had been substituted by the prosecution. Noting that witnesses swore to seeing one gunman pump bullets into Berardelli, they asked how only one of four bullets found in the deceased could have come from Sacco's gun.
Even more doubt surrounded Vanzetti's gun. Since all of the bullets found at the scene were .32 caliber and Vanzetti's gun was .38 caliber, there was no direct evidence tying Vanzetti's gun to the crime scene. The prosecution claimed it had originally belonged to the slain guard and that it had been stolen during the robbery. No one testified to seeing anyone take the gun, but the guard, while carrying $15,776.51 in cash through the street, had no gun on him when found dead. The prosecution traced the gun to a Boston repair shop where the guard had dropped it off a few weeks before the murder. The defense, however, was able to raise doubts, noting that the repair shop had no record of the gun ever being picked up and that the guard's widow had told a friend that he might not have been killed had he claimed his gun. Still, the jury believed this link as well.
The prosecution's final piece of material evidence was a flop-eared cap claimed to have been Sacco's. Sacco tried the cap on in court and, according to two newspaper sketch artists who ran cartoons the next day, it was too small, sitting high on his head. But Katzmann insisted the cap fitted Sacco and continued to refer to it as his.
Further controversy clouded the prosecution witnesses who identified Sacco at the scene of the crime. One, a bookkeeper named Mary Splaine, precisely described Sacco as the man she saw firing from the getaway car. Yet cross examination revealed that Splaine had refused to identify Sacco at the inquest and had seen the getaway car for only a second and from nearly a half-block away. While a few others singled out Sacco or Vanzetti as the men they had seen at the scene of the crime, far more witnesses, both prosecution and defense, refused to identify them.
After deliberating for only three hours, then breaking for dinner, the jury returned with a guilty verdict. Supporters later insisted Sacco and Vanzetti had been convicted for their anarchist views, yet every juror insisted anarchism had played no part in their decision. First degree murder in Massachusetts was a capital crime. Sacco and Vanzetti were therefore bound for the electric chair unless the defense could find new evidence.
Motions and appeals
Appeals and protests continued for the next six years. While the prosecution staunchly defended the verdict, the defense, led by radical attorney Fred Moore, continued to develop evidence that raised doubts. Three key prosecution witnesses stated that they had been coerced into identifying Sacco at the scene of the crime, but when confronted by District Attorney Katzmann they denied any coercion. One of them, Lola Andrews, a nurse, told authorities that she was forced to sign an affidavit stating she had wrongfully identified Sacco and Vanzetti. She signed a counter-affidavit the following day. Another, Lewis Pelser, described how he had submitted to alleged prosecutorial coercion while drunk and signed a counter-affidavit shortly thereafter.
In 1924, controversy continued when it was discovered that someone had switched the barrel of Sacco's gun with that of another Colt automatic used for comparison. Other appeals focused on the jury foreman and a prosecution ballistics expert. In 1923, the defense filed an affidavit from a friend of the jury foreman who swore that prior to the trial, the man had said of Sacco and Vanzetti, "Damn them, they ought to hang them anyway!" That same year, a state police captain retracted his trial testimony linking Sacco's gun to the fatal bullet. Captain William Proctor claimed that he never meant to imply the connection and had repeatedly told Katzmann there was no such connection, but that the prosecution had crafted its trial questioning to disguise his true assessment.
The conduct of trial judge Webster Thayer also buttressed calls for a new trial. During the trial, many had noted how Thayer seemed to loathe defense attorney Fred Moore. Thayer frequently denied Moore's motions, lecturing the California-based lawyer on how law was conducted in Massachusetts. Once Thayer told astonished reporters that "No long-haired anarchist from California can run this court!" According to the sworn affidavits of eyewitnesses, Thayer also lectured members of his clubs, calling Sacco and Vanzetti "Bolsheviki!" and saying he would "get them good and proper." Following the verdict, Boston Globe reporter Frank Sibley, who had covered the trial, wrote a scathing protest to the Massachusetts attorney general condemning Thayer's blatant bias. The New York World attacked Thayer as "an agitated little man looking for publicity and utterly impervious to the ethical standards one has the right to expect of a man presiding in a capital case."
In 1924, after denying all five motions for a new trial, Thayer confronted a Massachusetts lawyer at his alma mater of Dartmouth. "Did you see what I did with those anarchistic bastards the other day?" the judge said. "I guess that will hold them for a while! Let them go to the Supreme Court now and see what they can get out of them!" The outburst was not disclosed until 1927.
For their part, Sacco and Vanzetti seemed to alternate between moods of defiance, vengeance, resignation, and despair. The June 1926 issue of Protesta Umana published by their Defense Committee carried an article signed by Sacco and Vanzetti that appealed for retaliation by their colleagues. In the article, Vanzetti stated "I will try to see Thayer death [sic] before his pronunciation of our sentence" and asked fellow anarchists for "revenge, revenge in our names and the names of our living and dead." In a reference to Luigi Galleani's bomb-making manual (covertly titled La Salute è in voi!), the article concluded "Remember, La Salute è in voi!". Both Sacco and Vanzetti wrote dozens of letters sincerely expressing their innocence. Sacco, in his awkward prose, and Vanzetti in his eloquent but flawed English, insisted they had been framed because they were anarchists.
While in Dedham prison, Sacco met a Portuguese convict named Celestino Madeiros. Late in 1925, Madeiros claimed to have committed the crime of which Sacco was accused. Medeiros, whose vague confession contained many anomalies, provided the defense with an alternative theory, that the Braintree murders were the work of a gang.
Prior to April 1920, gang leader Joe Morelli and his men had been robbing shoes from factories in Massachusetts, including the two in Braintree where the murders occurred. Investigators discovered that Morelli bore a striking resemblance to Sacco. Several witnesses for both the prosecution and defense mistook his mug shot for Sacco's. When questioned in prison in 1925, Morelli denied any involvement, but six years later he allegedly confessed to a New York lawyer. Judge Thayer denied the appeal for a new trial based on the Madeiros confession; further appeals to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court were also denied.
Vanzetti said in his last speech to Judge Thayer on April 19, 1927:
"I would not wish to a dog or a snake, to the most low and misfortunate creature of the earth–I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not guilty of. But my conviction is that I have suffered for things that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical, and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I am an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian... If you could execute me two times, and if I could be reborn two other times, I would live again to do what I have done already."
Many famous socialists and intellectuals, including Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bertrand Russell, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, campaigned for a retrial, without success. Harvard law professor and future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter also argued for a retrial for the two men, writing a scathing criticism of Thayer and the trial in the Atlantic Monthly in 1927. Chief Justice of the United States William Howard Taft and some others who believed the pair guilty considered Frankfurter’s article to be the foundation of most intellectuals' criticism of the Sacco and Vanzetti case.
On April 8, 1927, their appeals exhausted, Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death in the electric chair.
Governor’s Advisory Committee
In response to public protests that greeted the execution order, Massachusetts Governor Alvin T. Fuller faced last minute appeals to grant clemency to Sacco and Vanzetti. On June 1, 1927, he appointed an Advisory Committee of three: President Abbott Lawrence Lowell of Harvard, President Samuel Wesley Stratton of MIT, and Probate Judge Robert Grant. They were tasked with reviewing the trial to determine whether it had been fair. Lowell's appointment was generally well received, for though he had controversy in his past he had also at times demonstrated an independent streak. The defense attorneys considered resigning when they determined that the Committee was biased against the defendants, but some of the defendants' most prominent supporters, including Harvard Law Professor Felix Frankfurter and Judge Julian W. Mack of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, persuaded them to stay because Lowell "was not entirely hopeless."
One of the defense attorneys, though ultimately very critical of the Committee's work, thought the Committee members were not really capable of the task the Governor set for them: "No member of the Committee had the essential sophistication that comes with experience in the trial of criminal cases....The high positions in the community held by the members of the Committee obscured the fact that they were not really qualified to perform the difficult task assigned to them." He also thought that the Committee, particularly Lowell, imagined it could use its fresh and more powerful analytical abilities to outperform the works of those who had worked on the case for years, even finding evidence of guilt that professional prosecutors had discarded.
Grant was another establishment figure, a probate court judge from 1893 to 1923 and an Overseer of Harvard University from 1896 to 1921, and the author of a dozen popular novels. Some criticized Grant's appointment to the Committee, with one defense lawyer saying he "had a black-tie class concept of life around him," but Harold Laski in a conversation at the time found him "moderate." Others cited evidence of xenophobia in some of his novels, references to "riff-raff" and a variety of racial slurs. His biographer allows that he was "not a good choice," not a legal scholar, and handicapped by age. Stratton, the one member who was not a Boston Brahmin, maintained the lowest public profile of the three and hardly spoke during its hearings.
After two weeks of hearing witnesses and reviewing evidence, the trio determined that the trial had been fair and a new trial was not warranted. They assessed the charges against Thayer as well. Their criticism, using words provided by Judge Grant, would hardly sound harsh to those outside the legal profession: "He ought not to have talked about the case off the bench, and doing so was a grave breach of judicial decorum." But they also found some of the charges about his statements unbelievable or exaggerated, and they determined that anything he might have said had no impact on the trial. The panel's reading of the trial transcript convinced them that Thayer "tried to be scrupulously fair." The Committee also reported that the trial jurors were almost unanimous in praising Thayer’s conduct of the trial.
A defense attorney later noted ruefully that the release of the Committee's report "abruptly stilled the burgeoning doubts among the leaders of opinion in New England." Supporters of the convicted men denounced the Committee. Harold Laski said the decision represented Lowell's "loyalty to his class."
Execution and aftermath
Both Sacco and Vanzetti refused a priest but both men went peacefully and proudly to their deaths. Sacco's final words were "Viva l'anarchia!" and "Farewell, mia madre." Vanzetti, in his final moments, gently shook hands with guards and thanked them for their kind treatment, read a statement proclaiming his innocence, and finally said, "I wish to forgive some people for what they are now doing to me." Their bodies were cremated. Sacco's ashes are in Torremaggiore, the town of his birth. The location of Vanzetti's ashes is unknown. Fellow Galleanists did not take news of the executions with equanimity. At the funeral parlor in Hanover Street, a wreath announced Aspettando l'ora di vendetta (Awaiting the hour of vengeance).
A few days after the executions, Sacco's widow thanked Italian anarchist Severino Di Giovanni by letter for his support and added that the director of the tobacco firm Combinados had offered to produce a cigarette brand named "Sacco and Vanzetti." On November 26, 1927, Di Giovanni and his comrades bombed a Combinados tobacco shop shortly afterwards.
Di Giovanni, one of the most vocal supporters of Sacco and Vanzetti in Argentina, bombed the American embassy in Buenos Aires a few hours after Sacco and Vanzetti were condemned to death. On December 24, 1927, Di Giovanni blew up the headquarters of the Citibank and of the Bank of Boston in Buenos Aires in apparent protest of the execution. In December 1928, Di Giovanni and his comrades failed in an attempt to bomb the train in which President Herbert Hoover traveled during his visit to Argentina.
Following the sentencing of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, a package bomb addressed to Governor Fuller was intercepted in the Boston post office. Three months later, bombs exploded in the New York subway, in a Philadelphia church, and at the home of the mayor of Baltimore. One of the jurors in the Dedham trial had his house bombed, throwing him and his family from their beds. Less than a year after the executions, a bomb destroyed the front porch of the home of executioner Robert Elliott. As late as 1932, Judge Thayer's home was wrecked and his wife and housekeeper injured in a bomb blast. Afterward, Thayer lived permanently at his club in Boston, guarded 24 hours a day until his death.
Intellectual and literary supporters of Sacco and Vanzetti continued to speak out. In 1936, on the day when Harvard celebrated its 300th anniversary, 28 Harvard alumni issued a statement attacking the University's retired President Lowell for his role on the Governor's Advisory Committee in 1927. They included Heywood Broun, Malcolm Cowley, Granville Hicks, and John Dos Passos.
Many historians, especially legal historians, have concluded the Sacco and Vanzetti prosecution, trial, and aftermath constituted a blatant disregard for political civil liberties, especially Thayer's decision to deny a retrial. Judge Webster Thayer, who heard the case, allegedly described the two as "anarchist bastards."
Both men had previously fled to Mexico, changing their names in order to evade draft registration required for citizenship application, a fact used against them by the prosecutor in their trial for murder. This implication of guilt by the commission of unrelated acts is one of the most persistent criticisms leveled against the trial. Sacco and Vanzetti's supporters would later argue that the men merely fled the country to avoid persecution and conscription, their critics, to escape detection and arrest for militant and seditious activities in the United States. But other anarchists who fled with them revealed the probable reason in a 1953 Book:
Several score Italian anarchists left the United States for Mexico. Some have suggested they did so because of cowardice. Nothing could be more false. The idea to go to Mexico arose in the minds of several comrades who were alarmed by the idea that, remaining in the United States, they would be forcibly restrained from leaving for Europe, where the revolution that had burst out in Russia that February promised to spread all over the continent.
Some critics felt that the authorities and jurors were influenced by strong anti-Italian prejudice and prejudice against immigrants widely held at the time, especially in New England. Fred Moore compared the chances of an Italian getting a fair trial in Boston to a black person getting one in the American South. Against charges of racism and racial prejudice, others pointed out that both men were known anarchist members of a militant organization, members of which had been conducting a violent campaign of bombing and attempted assassinations, acts condemned by the Italian-American community and Americans of all backgrounds. Though in general anarchist groups did not finance their militant activities through bank robberies, a fact noted by the investigators of the Bureau of Investigation, this was not true of the Galleanist group, as Mario Buda readily admitted to an interviewer: "Andavamo a prenderli dove c'erano" ("We used to go and get it [money] where it was") — meaning factories and banks.
Others believe that the government was really prosecuting Sacco and Vanzetti for the robbery-murders as a convenient excuse to put a stop to their militant activities as Galleanists, whose bombing campaign at the time posed a lethal threat, both to the government and to many Americans. Faced with a secretive underground group whose members resisted interrogation and believed in their cause, Federal and local officials using conventional law enforcement tactics had been repeatedly stymied in their efforts to identify all members of the group or to collect enough evidence for a prosecution.
Most historians believe that Sacco and Vanzetti were involved at some level in the Galleanist bombing campaign, although their precise roles have not been determined. The Galleanists' bombmaker, Mario Buda, reportedly told a friend in 1955, "Sacco c'era" (Sacco was there). Today, their case is seen as one of the earliest examples of using widespread protests and mass movements to try to win the release of convicted persons. The Sacco-Vanzetti case also exposed the inadequacies of both the legal and law enforcement system in investigating and prosecuting members and alleged members of secret societies and terrorist groups, and contributed to calls for the organization of national data collection and counterintelligence services.
When the letters Sacco and Vanzetti wrote appeared in print in 1929, journalist Walter Lippmann commented: "If Sacco and Vanzetti were professional bandits, then historians and biographers who attempt to deduce character from personal documents might as well shut up shop. By every test that I know of for judging character, these are the letters of innocent men."
One additional piece of evidence supporting the possibility of Sacco's guilt arose in 1941 when anarchist leader Carlo Tresca, a member of the Sacco and Vanzetti Defense Committee, told Max Eastman, "Sacco was guilty but Vanzetti was innocent.." Eastman published an article recounting his conversation with Tresca in National Review in 1961. Later, others would confirm being told the same information by Tresca. Others pointed to an ongoing feud between Tresca and the Galleanisti, claiming the famous anarchist was just trying to get even.
In 1952, labor organizer Anthony Ramuglia admitted that a Boston anarchist group had asked him to be a false alibi witness for Sacco." Though he had agreed, he had then remembered that he had been in jail at that time, and his perjury could therefore be proven, so he was removed from the alibi list.
In addition, in October 1961, ballistics tests were run with improved technology using Sacco's Colt automatic. The results confirmed that the bullet that killed Berardelli in 1920 was fired from Sacco's pistol. Subsequent investigations in 1983 also supported this finding. This resulted in some scholars of the case to conclude that Sacco may in fact be guilty.
The relevance of this evidence was challenged in 1988, when Charlie Whipple, a former Boston Globe editorial page editor, revealed a conversation that he had when he worked as a reporter with Sergeant Edward J. Seibolt in 1937. According to Whipple, Seibolt admitted that the police ballistics experts had switched the murder weapon, but Seibolt indicated that he would deny this if Whipple ever printed it. At the time, Whipple was unfamiliar with the specific facts of the case, and it is not known if Seibolt was actually recalling Albert Hamilton's testimony and behavior on the stand when Hamilton apparently switched Sacco's gun barrel with that of another Colt automatic.
Sacco's .32 Colt pistol is also claimed to have passed in and out of police custody, and to have been dismantled several times, both in 1924 prior to the gun barrel switch, and again between 1927 and 1961. The central problem with these charges is that the match to Sacco's gun was based not only on the 0.32 Colt pistol but also on the same-caliber bullet that killed Berardelli as well as spent casings found at the scene.
In addition to tampering with the pistol, the gun switcher/dismantler would have had also to access police evidence lockers and exchange the bullet from Berardelli's body and all spent casings retrieved by police, or else locate the actual murder weapon, then switch barrel, firing pin, ejector, and extractor, all before Goddard's examination in 1927 when the first match was made to Sacco's gun. However, doubters of Sacco's guilt have repeatedly pointed to a single anomaly — that several witnesses to the crime insisted the gunman, alleged to be Sacco, fired four bullets into Berardelli. "He shot at Berardelli probably four or five times," one witness said. "He stood guard over him." If this was true, many ask, how could only one of the fatal bullets be linked to Sacco's gun? In 1927, the defense raised the suggestion that the fatal bullet had been planted, calling attention to the awkward scratches on the base of the bullet that differed from those on other bullets. The Lowell Commission dismissed this claim as desperate but in 1985, historians William Kaiser and David Young made a compelling case for a switch in their book Postmortem: New Evidence in the Case of Sacco and Vanzetti.
Further evidence concerning the Morelli gang came to light in 1973 when a former mobster published a confession by Frank "Butsy" Morelli, Joe's brother. "We whacked them out, we killed those guys in the robbery," Butsy Morelli told Vincent Teresa. "These two greaseballs Sacco and Vanzetti took it on the chin."
Yet there are others who revealed different opinions, further muddling the case. In November, 1982 Francis Russell, author of a book on the case, received a letter from Ideale Gambera. Gambera revealed that his father, Giovanni Gambera, who had died in June 1982, was a member of the four-person team of anarchist leaders that met shortly after the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti to plan for their defense. In his letter to Russell, Gambera claimed, "everyone [in the anarchist inner circle] knew that Sacco was guilty and that Vanzetti was innocent as far as the actual participation in killing."
Russell had originally written about the case, arguing that Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent, but further research led him to write a 1975 book, asserting that Sacco was, in fact, guilty. Russell used the Gambera revelation as the basis of a new book in 1986, in which he claims that the case is "solved," and presents his view that Sacco was one of the shooters, while Vanzetti was an accessory after the fact. While Russell's 1975 book was praised, even by those who disagreed with his conclusion, for being balanced and well-reasoned, his 1986 book was much more negatively received.
Months before he died, the distinguished jurist Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr., who had presided for 45 years on the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, wrote to Russell stating "I myself am persuaded by your writings that Sacco was guilty." The judge's assessment was significant, because he was one of Felix Frankfurter's "Hot Dogs," and Justice Frankfurter had advocated his appointment to the federal bench.
In 1977, as the 50th anniversary of the executions approached, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis asked the Office of the Governor's Legal Counsel to report on "whether there are substantial grounds for believing–at least in the light of the legal standards of today–that Sacco and Vanzetti were unfairly convicted and executed" and to recommend appropriate action. The resulting "Report to the Governor in the Matter of Sacco and Vanzetti" detailed grounds for doubting that the trial was conducted fairly in the first instance and argued as well that such doubts were only reinforced by "later-discovered or later-disclosed evidence." The Report questioned prejudicial cross-examination that the trial judge allowed, the judge's hostility, the fragmentary nature of the evidence, and eyewitness testimony that came to light after the trial. It found the judge's charge to the jury troubling for the way it emphasized the defendants behavior at the time of their arrest and highlighted certain physical evidence that was later called into question. The Report also dismissed the argument that the trial had been subject to judicial review, noting that "the system for reviewing murder cases at the time...failed to provide the safeguards now present."
Based on recommendations of the Office of Legal Counsel, Dukakis declared August 23, 1977, the 50th anniversary of their execution, Nicola Sacco and Bartomomeo Vanzetti Memorial Day. "Report to the Governor in the Matter of Sacco and Vanzetti," July 13, 1977, in Upton Sinclair, Boston: A Documentary Novel (Cambridge, MA: Robert Bentley, Inc., 1978), 757-90 His proclamation, issued in English and Italian, stated that Sacco and Vanzetti had been unfairly tried and convicted and that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names." He did not pardon them, because that would imply they were guilty. Neither did he assert their innocence. A resolution to censure the Governor failed in the Massachusetts Senate by a vote of 23 to 12. Dukakis later expressed regret only for not reaching out to the families of the victims of the crime.
The involvement of Upton Sinclair
Upton Sinclair maintained a consistent position in asserting the innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti. In 2005, a letter from Upton Sinclair to his attorney John Beardsley, Esq., became public. Some claimed[who?] that the contents of the letter were a new or "original" development, though everything in the letter was mentioned in a 1975 biography of Upton Sinclair.
Writing the letter in 1929, Sinclair revealed that he had talked to Fred Moore, one of Sacco and Vanzetti's attorneys, after the executions. "Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the full truth....He then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them....I faced the most difficult ethical problem of my life at that point; I had come to Boston with the announcement that I was going to write the truth about the case." Sinclair also said he was "completely naïve about the case, having accepted the defense propaganda completely."
In January 2006, more of the Sinclair-Beardsley letter became public. It showed that Sinclair doubted Moore: "I realized certain facts about Fred Moore. I had heard that he was using drugs. I knew that he had parted from the defense committee after the bitterest of quarrels....Moore admitted to me that the men themselves had never admitted their guilt to him, and I began to wonder whether his present attitude and conclusions might not be the result of his brooding on his wrongs." Sinclair also spoke with Moore's former wife who assured him that her husband had never expressed doubts about his clients' innocence either during or after the trial.
A memorial committee attempted to present a plaster cast executed in the 1937 by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor Mount Rushmore, to Massachusetts governors and Boston mayors in 1937, 1947, and 1957 without success. On August 23, 1997, on the 70th anniversary of the Sacco and Vanzetti executions, Boston's first Italian-American Mayor Thomas Menino and the Italian-American Acting Governor of Massachusetts Paul Cellucci unveiled the work at the Boston Public Library, where it remains on display. "The city's acceptance of this piece of artwork is not intended to reopen debate about the guilt or innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti," Menino said. "It is intended to remind us of the dangers of miscarried justice, and the right we all have to a fair trial." The event occasioned a renewed debate about the fairness of the trial in the editorial pages of the Boston Herald. There is also a mosaic mural of the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti on the main campus of Syracuse University.
The "Sacco and Vanzetti Century" was an American anarchist military unit in the Durruti Column that fought in the Spanish Civil War.
There are many objects in the former USSR named after "Sacco and Vanzetti", for example a factory producing pencils in Moscow, a kolkhoz in Donetsk region, Ukraine, and a street in Yekaterinburg. There are also numerous towns that have streets named after Sacco and Vanzetti.
References in creative works
The scenario of Maxwell Anderson's 1935 play Winterset was inspired by the case.
James Thurber and Elliot Nugent used Vanzetti's jailhouse letter their 1940 play The Male Animal. It was later a film.
In 1963, a play about the case, The Advocate, premiered on Broadway and was televised in the U.S.
In 1936, the third novel in John Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy, The Big Money, featured the character of Mary French working on the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, culminating with the mass demonstration on the night of the executions.
Sacco e Vanzetti, a 1971 film by Italian director Giuliano Montaldo covers the case.
In 2000, the play Voices on the Wind by Eric Paul Erickson centered around the final hours of the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti. Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis recorded an audio clip of his pardon for the production.
Sacco and Vanzetti (2007) was an award-winning documentary film.
The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti is the subject of the eponymous play by Argentine playwright Mauricio Kartún.
Sacco and Vanzetti are characters in the feature film No God No Master.
In 1932, composer Ruth Crawford Seeger wrote the song "Sacco, Vanzetti" on commission from the Society of Contemporary Music in Philadelphia.
In 1960, Folkways Records released an LP titled The Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti, which had eleven songs composed and sung by folksinger Woody Guthrie in 1946-1947 and one song sung by folksinger Pete Seeger using words by Nicola Sacco.
At the time of his murder in 1964, American composer Marc Blitzstein was working on an opera on Sacco and Vanzetti.
In 1971, Joan Baez performed the song "Here's To You" (music by Ennio Morricone, lyrics by Baez) for an Italian film Sacco e Vanzetti.
In 1972, Israeli actress and singer Daliah Lavi published a tri-lingual version of Baez's "Here's to you" in English, French and German.
In 1974, the French version of "The Ballad of Sacco E Vanzetti" appeared on Mireille Mathieu's album "Mireille Mathieu chante Ennio Morricone."
In 1977, folksinger Charlie King wrote a protest song called Two Good Arms that was based on Vanzetti's final speech.
In 1988, the folk group Patrick Street's included the song "Facing the Chair" on their album, No. 2 Patrick Street.
In 2001, Anton Coppola, uncle of Francis Ford Coppola, premiered his opera Sacco and Vanzetti.
In 2001, the ska punk band Against All Authority wrote a song titled Sacco and Vanzetti, which appears on their album Nothing New for Trash Like You.
In 2003, the album Focus, a collaboration of Ennio Morricone and Portuguese Fado singer Dulce Pontes, included a performance of "The Ballad of Sacco e Vanzetti."
Georges Moustaki, a Francophone singer and songwriter, translated Joan Baez's "Here's To You" into French and called it "Marche de Sacco et Vanzetti."
Written works, paintings
Sacco and Vanzetti mosaic by Ben Shahn at Syracuse University
Detail of mosaicIn 1927, editorial cartoonist Fred Ellis published The case of Sacco and Vanzetti in cartoons from the "Daily Worker."
Upton Sinclair's 1928 book, Boston: A Novel, is a fictional interpretation of the affair.
In 1935, Maxwell Anderson's award-winning drama Winterset presented the story of a man who attempts to clear the name of his Italian immigrant father who has been executed for robbery and murder. It became a feature film a year later.
James T. Farrell's 1946 novel Bernard Clare uses the anti-Italian sentiment provoked by coverage of the case and the crowd scene in New York City's Union Square awaiting news of the executions as critical plot elements.
Howard Fast published his novel The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, based on the case, in 1954.
Mark Binelli presented the two as a Laurel-and-Hardy-like comedy team in the 2006 novel Sacco And Vanzetti Must Die!
Ben Shahn's produced a series of works related to the case. The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, for example, consists of 3 panels. One depicts protesters. Another shows Sacco and Vanzetti as large figures dwarfing that of Governor Fuller. A third shows the members of the Governor's Advisory Commission standing over Sacco and Vanzetti in their coffins. It is owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. A similar sixty-by-twelve-foot mural by Shahn executed in marble and enamel is found on the east wall of Crouse-Hinds Hall at Syracuse University.
In his poem "America," Allen Ginsberg presents a catalog of slogans that includes the line: "Sacco and Vanzetti must not die."
Carl Sandburg described the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in his poem "Legal Midnight Hour."
Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a poem after the executions titled "Justice Denied In Massachusetts."
William Carlos Williams wrote a poem entitled "Impromptu: The Suckers" in response to the trial.
Turkish poet Nazım Hikmet's poem "Sacco ile Vanzetti" (Sacco and Vanzetti) hails the two as revolutionaries.
2.^ New York Times, 1927-08-23
3.^ Montgomery 1960 p. v.
4.^ Young and Kaiser 1985 preface.
5.^ D'Attilio, Robert. "The Sacco-Vanzetti Case (overview)". www.writing.upenn.edu. http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/sacvan.html. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
6.^ Avrich, Paul, Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America, Princeton: Princeton University Press (1996), Interview of Charles Poggi, 132-133
7.^ The New York Times, March 5, 1922
8.^ University of Pennsylvania
9.^ David Felix supported this idea. David Felix, Protest: Sacco-Vanzetti and the Intellectuals (1965), 75-76, 80.
10.^ Watson, 271
11.^ New York Times. "Bomb For Herrick Wounds His Valet In His Paris Home." October 19, 1921. Years later, the sender of the bomb was revealed to be May Picqueray (1893-1983), a militant anarchist and editor of Le Réfractaire.
12.^ Watson, 65-6
13.^ Joughin, 9
14.^ Watson, 66; Ehrmann, 73-4
15.^ Watson, 59-60; Sacco and Vanzetti, Letters, 225n
16.^ Watson 116-8; Ehrmann, 460; Young and Kaiser, 21-3
17.^ Joughin, 34-8
18.^ Joughin, 39
19.^ Joughin, 42-3, 45-6; Ehrmann, 115ff.
20.^ Joughin, 43, 46
21.^ Joughin, 46
22.^ Watson, 74
23.^ Joughin, 300, 304
24.^ Watson, 74
25.^ Ehrmann, 114-5
26.^ Joughin, 10, 47
27.^ Vanzetti complained during his sentencing on April 9, 1927, for the Braintree crimes that Fahey "sold me for thirty golden money like Judas sold Jesus Christ" and charged that Vahey conspired with the prosecutor "to agitate still more the passion of the juror, the prejudice of the juror" towards "people of our principles, against the foreigner, against slackers." Quoted in part, Watson, 74, 292; quoted in full Amerika-Institut: Last Statements (1927), Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, accessed June 22, 2010. "Slacker" was the contemporary term for "draft dodger."
28.^ Watson, 74-5
29.^ Watson, 75; Joughin, 56
30.^ Watson, 76; Joughin, 56; Ehrmann, 114-5
31.^ Joughin, 47
32.^ Joughin, 47-8
33.^ Ehrmann, 151; Sacco and Vanzetti, Letters, 225n
34.^ Russell, Francis (June 1962). "Sacco Guilty, Vanzetti Innocent?". American Heritage 13 (4): 111. "About the gun found on Vanzetti there is too much uncertainty to come to any conclusion. Being of .38 caliber, it was obviously not used at South Braintree, where all the bullets fired were .32's".
35.^ Russell, Francis (June 1962). "Sacco Guilty, Vanzetti Innocent?". American Heritage 13 (4): 107. "At the conclusion of the investigation Thayer passed no judgment as to who had switched the barrels but merely noted that the rusty barrel in the new pistol had come from Sacco's Colt.".
36.^ New York Times: "Judge Thayer Dies in Boston at 75," April 19, 1933, accessed Dec 20, 2009
37.^ Watson, Bruce. Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind (NY: Viking Press, 2007, ISBN 0670063533, 9780670063536, p. 264
38.^ In 1973, further evidence against the Morelli gang emerged. A mobster's memoir quoted Morelli's brother Frank as confessing to the Braintree murders.
39.^ Robert Grant, Fourscore: An Autobiography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934), 366-74
40.^ Herbert B. Ehrmann, The Case That Will Not Die: Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969), 485
41.^ Ehrmann, 255-6, 375, 512, 525ff.
42.^ New York Times: "Ex-Judge Grant, Boston Novelist," May 20, 1940, accessed Dec. 20, 2009
43.^ Bruce Watson, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind (NY: Viking, 2007), 311-3
44.^ Robert Grant, Fourscore: An Autobiography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934), 372
45.^ New York Times: "Advisers Hold Guilt Shown," Aug. 7, 1927, accessed Dec. 20, 2009; Later Grant allowed that he was "amazed and incensed" at the biased comments Judge Thayer made outside the courtroom.
46.^ Ehrmann, 539;
47.^ Findagrave: Nicola Sacco, accessed June 2, 2010; Bartolomeo Vanzetti, accessed June 2, 2010
48.^ Felipe Pigna, Los Mitos de la historia argentina, ed. Planeta, 2006, chapter IV "Expropriando al Capital", esp. 105-114
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50.^ Bruce Watson, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind (NY: Viking, 2007), 311-5, 325-7, 356; New York Times: "Lowell's Papers on Sacco and Vanzetti Are Released," Feb. 1, 1978, accessed Dec. 28, 2009; New York Times: "Assail Dr. Lowell on Sacco Decision," Sept. 19, 1936, accessed Dec. 28, 2009
51.^ Joe Nickell, John F. Fischer. Crime Science: Methods of Forensic Detection. University Press of Kentucky (December 17, 1998), ISBN 0813120918, ISBN 978-0813120911, p. 103. google books
52.^ Un Trentennio di Attivita Anarchica (1914-1945) (Thirty Years of Anarchist Activities) Cesena, Italy, 1953
53.^ Avrich, Paul. Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1996), Interview of Charles Poggi, pp. 132-133
54.^ Avrich, Paul. Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1996)
55.^ Avrich, Paul. Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1996), pp. 132-133 ("Interview of Charles Poggi")
56.^ Marion Denman Frankfurter and Gardner Jackson, eds., The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti (NY: Vanguard Press, 1929), xi
57.^ Russell, Francis (June 1962). "Sacco Guilty, Vanzetti Innocent?" American Heritage 13 (4): 110. "Making independent examinations, Jury and Weller both concluded that 'the bullet marked III was fired in Sacco's pistol and in no other.'"
58.^ Newby, Richard. "Judge Wyzanski Makes History: Sacco and Vanzetti Reconvicted." August 29, 1999. Accessed July 31, 2008.
59.^ "Report to the Governor" (1977), 757
60.^ "Report to the Governor" (1977), 761
61.^ "Report to the Governor" (1977), 761-9
62.^ "Report to the Governor" (1977), 768-73
63.^ "Proclamation by the Governor" (1977), 797-9
64.^ New York Times: "Massachusetts Admits Sacco-Vanzetti Injustice," July 19, 1977, accessed June 2, 2010
65.^ iCue: "Governor Dukakis Discusses Impending Exoneration of Sacco and Vanzetti," interview transcript, August 23, 1977, accessed June 2, 2010
66.^ New York Times: "Editorial: The Case That Will Not Die," May 22, 1977, accessed June 2, 2010, an editorial on the occasion of the publication of Katherine Anne Porter's The Never-Ending Wrong, urging Dukakis "to concede that Massachusetts justice did not acquit itself well in this case and to acknowledge the enduring doubts about it."
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68.^ Patriot Ledger: Rick Collins, "Forgotten victims: Descendants say both were hard-working family men," June 2, 2010, accessed July 31, 2008
69.^ "Upton Sinclair at Boston", CBC January 28, 2006. Additional papers in Sinclair's archives at Indiana University show the ethical quandary he confronted. Pasco, Jean (2005-12-24). "Sinclair Letter Turns Out to Be Another Exposé: Note found by an O.C. man says The Jungle author got the lowdown on Sacco and Vanzetti". Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2005/dec/24/local/me-sinclair24.
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