The story was “Boston,” Sinclair’s 1920s novelized condemnation of the trial and execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants accused of killing two men in the robbery of a Massachusetts shoe factory.
Prosecutors characterized the anarchists as ruthless killers who had used the money to bankroll antigovernment bombings and deserved to die. Sinclair thought the pair were innocent and being railroaded because of their political views.
Soon Sinclair would learn something that filled him with doubt. During his research for “Boston,” Sinclair met with Fred Moore, the men’s attorney, in a Denver motel room. Moore “sent me into a panic,” Sinclair wrote in the typed letter that Hegness found at the auction a decade ago.
“Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the full truth,” Sinclair wrote. ”
—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.” —Jean O. Pasco —Sinclair Letter Turns Out to Be Another Exposé (LA Times (will expire))
I’m going to have to look deeper into this when I get the chance… that’s just stunning! The execution of Sacco and Vanzetti was a cornerstone of literary political activism in the 1920s.
But according to the letter, Sinclair, who had initially thought the two were innocent, didn’t want to change his story for fear of alienating his public and hurting sales: “It is much better copy as a naïve defense of Sacco and Vanzetti because this is what all my foreign readers expect, and they are 90% of my public.”