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They Hadn't Turned to Dust

Lowell/Sacco-Vanzetti Files:

By Richard S. Weisman

With a deft snip of the scissors and some decidedly un-frantic clawing at 30-year old wrapping paper, Harley Holden, curator of the University archives, yesterday opened a package containing papers of former Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1877, all of which apparently relate, as expected, to the Sacco-Vanzetti case.

Many historians hope the papers will shed new light on the circumstances surrounding the conviction and execution--on charges of committing two murders during a bank robbery--of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti some 50 years ago.

After a cursory examination yesterday however, officials immediately placed the document in yet another cardboard box and returned them to the archives for cataloguing and microfilming. They will not be made available to the University community or the public for approximately four to six weeks, Douglas Bryant, director of the University Library, said yesterday.

Pertinent Info

While few clues as to the papers' exact contents were immediately discernable, it was clear that the bulk of the documents did pertain to the Sacco-Vanzetti case.

Keyes D. Metcalf, former director of the University Library, had written on the outside of the package, "Sacco and Vanzetti Papers."

Immediately after Harden stripped away the outer layer of paper from the package, a sealed letter--which was not opened yesterday--"on the Sacco-Vanzetti case," addressed to "Sir Horace Plunkett" tumbled out.

The package contained four boxes--each labelled either "Sacco-Vanzetti" or the Sacco-Vanzetti case"--which, in turn contained several file folders apiece, with such titles as "Letters Describing the Crime and Trial" and "Requests for Information."

File Headings

Albert H. Whitaker, chief records analyst for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was present at the opening ceremony yesterday. Whitaker, who will oversee the cataloguing process, speculated that on the basis of the file headings alone, "the papers have obvious implications with relation to the case."

Henry A. Yeomans--Lowell's biographer--and Nora A. Dwyer, his former secretary, deposited the papers in the archives in 1948, stipulating that the package remain sealed until yesterday.

Lowell served on the committee appointed by then-Massachusetts Gov. Alvan T. Fuller to review the Sacco-Vanzetti case following the men's execution in 1927.


Robert D' Atillio, a local historical researcher who unsuccessfully tried earlier this year to obtain a court injunction forcing Harvard to release the Lowell papers in advance of December 9, said yesterday that he will "petition immediately" for a copy of the document.

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