Who is this man? Where in Dedham is he sitting? Why did he come here? Answers coming soon…
Categories: ...all the old familiar places, Dedham Then and Now, History/Mystery
85 tears ago today, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in the electric chair at Charlestown State Prison. The following excerpt from my book Dedham:Historic and Heroic Tales from Shiretown gives a good summary for those who are not familiar with the case, and features some interesting and little-known facts for those who are.
With the exception of Jason Fairbanks’s brief journey to the shores of Lake Champlain after his escape attempt, the affair was strictly a local one: Jason’s crime, trial, imprisonment, execution and burial all happened within a few miles of his birthplace. The county’s most well-known trial and one of the most controversial criminal cases of the twentieth century, on the other hand, featured international players and a worldwide audience. The defendants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were immigrants from Italy. The defense attorney was from California. The judge lived in Worcester. Supporters of the defendants ranged from poor immigrants in working-class cities across the globe to wealthy and prominent writers, poets and celebrities.
Sacco and Vanzetti were self-professed anarchists who were arrested in May 1920 for the murder of two South Braintree shoe company employees during the robbery of the company’s payroll. After a six-week trial in the Norfolk Superior Court in the summer of 1921, the men were found guilty and sentenced to death. Those in agreement with the verdict cite ballistics evidence, eyewitness testimony, the behavior of the defendants at the time of their arrest (both men were carrying weapons and lied to police about their recent activities) and the lack of credibility of the alibi witnesses.
Critics of the verdict contend that anti-immigrant bias led to a conviction based on the defendants’ nationality and political views. The comments made by trial judge Webster Thayer outside the courtroom where seen as especially prejudiced. Worldwide demonstrations and protests supporting the men and decrying the legal process followed the convictions and intensified as their execution date approached. After an appeals process that lasted for five years, Sacco and Vanzetti went to the electric chair in the state prison at Charlestown on August 23, 1927. The case remains as controversial today as it was over eighty years ago, with historians and legal experts still debating the evidence, the behavior of the judge and jury, and the verdict. Dozens of books have been written on the topic, some concluding that the verdict was correct, others that neither of the men was guilty and still others that only one of the pair was guilty.
While the protestors could not save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti, their efforts did bring about important changes in Massachusetts legal procedure. Legislation was passed that gave the Supreme Judicial Court more power to review cases and reverse death sentences. Other procedural changes allowed judges a wider range of questions to use in determining the potential prejudices of a juror. Governor Michael Dukakis observed the fiftieth anniversary of the executions by issuing a proclamation declaring a Sacco and Vanzetti Memorial Day. While the governor’s remarks acknowledged that prejudice during the trial had failed the men, he neither pardoned them nor declared their innocence.
While many people have a basic knowledge of the case, the facts that follow will shed more light on the episode and its connection to Dedham:
*Although the names Sacco and Vanzetti are forever linked in history, they spent much of the seven years following their arrests in separate jails.Vanzetti had been tried and convicted of attempted robbery in Bridgewater in 1920, and was sentenced to seven years in the state prison in Charlestown, where he was held until his 1927 execution, with the exception of his stay at the Dedham Jail during the trial, sentencing and appeals. Sacco spent the entirety of his time in Dedham, save for a short trip to Bridgewater for observation after a hunger strike and two weeks in the Death House in Charlestown prior to his execution.
*Residents living near the jail sometimes saw Sacco’s seven-year-old son Dante standing on the sidewalk outside the jail grounds, playing a game of catch with his father, who was exercising in the prison yard behind the wall.
*The all-male jury (women were not allowed to serve on juries in Massachusetts until 1950) was sequestered for the six-week trial in the courthouse. They slept on cots in the grand jury room and bathed in the basement of the same jail where Sacco and Vanzetti were being held. On the Fourth of July 1921, the members of the jury were taken on an outing to the Scituate shore, where they enjoyed a lobster dinner.
*Part of the testimony in the trial was given outside, on Norfolk Street behind the courthouse. The alleged getaway car had been parked there, and jurors, attorneys and witnesses gathered on the street and sidewalk to view the auto and listen to testimony.
*Mrs. Sacco stayed at the home of Supreme Court justice Louis D. Brandeis on Village Avenue for a time during her husband’s imprisonment, as a guest of Mrs. Brandeis.
*Over 600 men were questioned as potential jurors before a full panel could be seated. The most common reason for being excused from the jury was opposition to the death penalty. One sugar dealer attempted to get out of duty by feigning deafness, and was caught after he casually answered the judge’s questions, sending Sacco and Vanzetti into fits of laughter.After five hundred interviews yielded only seven jurors, Norfolk County deputies scoured the area, finding potential jurors at club meetings, band concerts, and on the job. One juror from Quincy was taken from his wedding dinner and forced to postpone his honeymoon until the trial was over.
*A cap found at the crime scene was claimed by the prosecution to be Sacco’s. In a scene similar to that of the famous ill-fitting gloves in the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson, defense lawyers had Sacco try to put the cap on, with comic results, as the ill-fitting cap rested on top of his head like a child’s party hat.
*A convicted murderer jailed alongside Sacco in Dedham confessed to the murders in November 1925. While awaiting a retrial in a separate murder case, Celestino Medeiros slipped a note into Sacco’s cell alleging his own involvement with a group of Italians in the South Braintree robbery and murder and declaring Sacco and Vanzetti innocent. Trial judge Webster Thayer dismissed the confession as a poorly crafted fabrication told by “a robber, a liar, a rum-runner,” among other things. Medeiros was found guilty in his retrial and was executed at Charlestown just minutes before Sacco and Vanzetti.
*During the trial, Sacco and Vanzetti sat in a wrought-iron “cage” used for defendants in capital cases throughout the commonwealth. The structure was more like a fancy Ferris wheel car than an actual cage, with tall sides and an open top and front. The cages were removed from all Massachusetts courthouses in 1960 as part of a civil rights initiative by state attorney general Edward McCormack. The cage was also used in the 1934 trial of bank robbers Murton and Irving Millen and Abraham Faber.
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has an excellent exhibit on the Sacco & Vanzetti case at The John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston. You can also view the very informative “virtual exhibit” at their website by clicking on the link to the right.
You should also check out my previous posts for related stories:
May 18, 2010
May 19, 2010
May 23, 2010
June 7, 2010
June 18, 2010
Categories: History/Mystery, JP's Dedham
Here is the inspiration for Catherine Gruetzke-Blais’s design for her “Regal Rabbit.”
His name is Trooper and he is 4 months old. The Blais family had been looking for a Dalmatian puppy for several months at the time Catherine first heard about the Dedham Public Art Project, and you could say she was “seeing spots.”
The following photos show the transformation from plain white rabbit to Regal Rabbit. Thanks to Catherine and her daughter Isabelle for the photos.
August 8, 2012
Regal Rabbit is installed at the East Dedham shopping plaza on the corner of High and Bussey Streets, not far from Pottery Lane where the original Dedham Pottery was made. He is sponsored by Delapa Properties. He’ll be there for a while crouching in the garden; go visit him and all of the other bunnies around town. They have certainly added a lot of color, creativity and history to our lives as we drive around doing our everyday chores and routines.
Thanks to Dedham Shines for sponsoring this project, to all the artists who participated, and a special thank yu to Catherine Gruetzke-Blais for letting me tag along on her creative journey.
Categories: History/Mystery, JP's Dedham
Dedham has been overrun with bunnies over the past few months; giant, multicolored, whimsical fiberglass bunnies peacefully crouching in parks, on sidewalks and by roadsides around town. The bunnies are part of the Dedham Public Art Project, sponsored by the non-profit organization Dedham Shines, whose mission is to promote “a vibrant community through programs that cultivate civic engagement and support for art, education, and culture.” The bunny form is modeled after the familiar “crouching rabbit” figure featured on Dedham Pottery original and reproduction pieces.
Fifteen artists in all were selected by jury to paint the bunnies, which will be auctioned off with proceeds going to Dedham Shines in support of the arts in town. As of today, almost all of the bunnies have been installed all across town. This is the tale of one of those bunnies, “Regal Rabbit,” designed and painted by Catherine Gruetzke-Blais of Framingham.
For more information about the Dedham Public Art Project, and to see photos of all the bunnies that have been placed so far, click on the link to the Dedham Shines website at right.
June 25, 2012 The bunny who will become known as “Regal Rabbit” sits in the garage of Dedham Shines Co-President Jennifer Barsamian after traveling from Chicago where he was custom-designed and manufactured by Cowpainters, an art studio that specializes in producing fiberglass forms for public art displays.
Artist Catherine Gruetzke-Blais and Dedham Shines Co-President Monika Wilkinson lift the bunny (he’s actually hollow and not too heavy) and head for Catherine’s mini-van.
With the bunny safely tucked in, Catherine gets ready for the ride home to Framingham, where her artistic vision will transform this plain white rabbit into something magical.
Next: The artist at work
Categories: ...all the old familiar places, Dedham Then and Now
Some screen shots from Bing maps. Looks like their photos need to be updated!
“And I’m never going back to my old school…”
St. Mary’s was closed for nearly as long as it was open. I graduated from there in 1973, the year it was announced that the school would close in 2 years. It was torn down in the fall of 2010.
“Everyone’s gone to the movies…”
The Showcase Cinemas stood at the corner of Elm St. and Route 1 for 35 years, yet the Frosty’s ice cream stand that occupied this spot for 10 years seems to be more fondly remembered, at least with Dedhamites of my generation.
“Bad sneakers and a Piña Colada my friend…”
The bad sneakers were issued to me during my unexceptional stint on the Dedham High track team. They were black canvas with white stripes, a big white rubber toe and crepe-like soles. We called them bobos.
The Piña Colada (my friend) is a reference to the drinking that went on at the Practice Field (upper right in photo) back in my high school days, although it’s more likely they were drinking Schlitz. Today a renovated Stone Park and new Avery School can be seen in this view. 35 years ago this month, I received my DHS diploma here.
Categories: JP's Dedham
Thirty-five years ago today I became a minor celebrity when this article appeared in The Patriot Ledger:
I had been collecting for two years, after my good friend Jim Horrigan introduced me to the hobby and gave me quite a few cans to start me off. Everyone in high school seemed to know us as “The Beer Can Collectors,” and friends and relatives would bring back empties from all over the country for us. We’d often go “dumping” around town; looking for cans in various teenage drinking spots around Dedham. One memorable cache of Narragansett cans from 1964 was found in the woods along the bottom of Sprague Street in the Manor. Another good spot to look was on Rte 135 at Wilson’s Mountain.
The newspaper article came about as a result of an exhibition of my collection in the Dedham Public Library. I’m still a little amazed that my teenaged self had the audicity to suggest displaying the cans, and even more amazed that library officials agreed to do it!
My “museum” was located in the basement of my parents’ house on Tower St., stacked up on two metal bookcases. I kept the stacks in alphabetical order, and whenever I got a new can I would try to insert it into the stack without having to take the whole thing down. This almost always resulted in an avalanche of several hundred metal cans crashing down on me followed by startled shouts from upstarirs.
I would have to say that the most common question I’ve been asked at each of my Dedham High reunions has been “Do you still have your beer cans?” I’ll tell you all about that, and more, in:
I WAS A TEENAGE BEER CAN COLLECTOR- PART TWO!
Categories: History/Mystery, JP's Dedham
Last night at the 201st Annual Meeting of The Society in Dedham for Apprehending Horse Thieves, I ended my term as president. It was a rather uneventful year, which is a good thing because it means that no horses were stolen on my watch. What follows is my farewell address, given to the 180 men and 5 women in attendance:
Whenever I mention to people that I am a member of this esteemed organization, the first words out of their mouths are almost always “Are there even any horses in Dedham?” So I explain to them that about a hundred years ago the society shifted its focus from the apprehension of horse thieves to the consumption of a roast beef dinner and enjoyment of a clever entertainment at its annual meeting, although in the hundred years previous to that horse pilferers were pursued vigorously , not just in Dedham but in Norfolk County and beyond, besides which, the important fact is that this organization which is a remnant from our pre-law enforcement past has remained in existence for over two centuries and isn’t that an incredible achievement to which they respond. “Yeah, but are there even any horses in Dedham?” And thus my quest began.
I know there used to be horses in Dedham; I’ve seen them myself. The last time I remember seeing a horse that wasn’t part of a parade was at the Animal Rescue League on Pine Street. I know that the original purpose of that facility when it was founded was to rescue worn out and abused horses and give them a peaceful last few days here on earth. When the end was near, the horse would quietly walk into an inviting stall filled with hay, which was actually electrified and called “The Blessed House of Release.” In the 1980′s the Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation program was reestablished at Pine Ridge and that’s where I saw a horse happily cantering just a few years ago. But alas, due to construction at the site, all the horses have been moved to their Brewster facility.
The other time I recall seeing horses in town was right in my own neighborhood of Tower Street, between Paul Park and the Capen School. At at the end of my street there lived two horses, Big John and Jodie. Jodie was a Shetland pony, and Big John was a …big horse. I’d often see them being ridden and every so often being chased by their owners down my street. But that was over 30 years ago.
Then I thought of The Dedham Country and Polo Club on Westfield Street. I know that it was founded in 1910 and that polo was once played along the banks of the Charles at Samuel Warren’s estate called Karlstein. A quick look at their website however showed me that the main interests at the club these days are weddings and golf, and the only place you’ll see a horse is on their logo.
While I was on the internet I googled “horses in Dedham” and hit pay dirt. I should have started here to begin with. I found an ad for a horse for sale in Dedham! A five year old dark bay mare clean limbed and straight moving, great jumper, and only £1600! When I refined my search to Dedham, Massachusetts, USA…nothing.
I thought I should ask former president and friend Frank Walley. Like me, Frank is the great grandson of a blacksmith. The family business is now insurance, and when I talked to Frank he told me that while he has insured many a Mustang and Bronco over the years, they were not of the Equine variety.
So now I’m starting to get frustrated. I can’t believe that there is not a single solitary horse to be found in the hometown of the woman who grew up to star on TV as the wife of a man who owned a talking horse! I’m talking (of course, of course) of Connie Hines (DHS 1948) who played Carol Post on the old Mr. Ed show back in the sixties.
I have to admit that I was aware all along where I could easily find an answer to the question “Are there even any horses in Dedham?” We all know that in order to keep a horse, donkey mule, pony, llama, bovine, goat, sheep, alpaca or other large animal, here to known as “large animals,” one must provide an acre of land for the first animal, 2/3 of an acre for each subsequent animal, furnish an MMP (Manure Management Plan and), locate the facility for housing the animal 100 feet from any wetland or well, public or private, and obtain a permit from the town’s Board of Health. One phone call to town hall could end this quest, and with trepidation I made that call. And was told that at present there are no permits on file for permission to stable a horse in town. Lots of chickens, no horses.
But I have not given up. During my quest I came upon a story from a few years ago about a couple who had been harboring a paint mare named Fancy in a garage on Congress Place off of Bussey Street. The neighbors were upset because the horse was there without a permit and they did not want a “large animal” living in their quiet suburban neighborhood. Eventually Fancy found a temporary home in Westwood, but the story gives me hope. If there could be one illegal horse hidden in town, there could be two, a dozen, even hundreds hiding out in garages, garden sheds and in-law apartments. We just can’t be sure. So the next time someone asks me “Are there even any horses in Dedham, I will reply, there just might be, and if there are, they can rest assured knowing that I and the rest of the members of SIDFAHT are ever vigilant.