Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Garden of History: The Biggest, Saddest Gathering in Boston

             Historian Robert Robert D'Attilio tells this story. In the era of newsreels shown before the features in movie theaters everywhere, and a couple years before the first "talkie," newsreel footage was taken of the Boston funeral of Sacco and Vanzetti.
             But what happened to that footage?
            After their execution at Charlestown State Prison on Aug. 23, 1927, a funeral for Sacco and Vanzetti was held at Langone's Funeral Home on Hanover Street in Boston's North End. With the bodies on view, an estimated 100,000 people passed by the bodies. The funeral march to the Forest Hills Crematory was judged the largest public gathering the city had ever seen. Many black and white photographs show the extent of the funeral gathering (such as those above). 
              On Sunday, Aug 28, 1927, according to a Wikipedia posting


"a two-hour funeral procession bearing huge floral tributes moved through the city. Police blocked the route, which passed the State House, and at one point mourners and the police clashed." After a brief eulogy at the Forest Hills Cemetery, the bodies were cremated. "The Boston Globe called it "one of the most tremendous funerals of modern times."
            Lots of newsreel footage was taken as well, but almost none of it exists today. The reason is an interesting example of government censorship.
            Though no official records exists of this action, the US government, probably through the FBI, passed the word to Hollywood to destroy all footage of the funeral. The government did not want the American people to see the long lines of mourners following the funeral cortege for Sacco and Vanzetti. They did not want the story kept alive.
            Speaking at a program for "Suosso's Lane," my novel based on the famous case, at Thomas Crane Library in Quincy Tuesday evening, D'Attilio called the newsreel's suppression "the first film burning in history."
            "All Hollywood newsreels on Sacco and Vanzetti are ordered destroyed by Will Hayes, movie czar," D'Attilio writes in his chronology of the Sacco-Vanzetti case. Hayes, who gave his name to the infamous Hollywood censorship code, became President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America in 1922.
            But a few minutes of film survived somewhere, and surfaced decades later. The Sacco-Vanzetti Commemorative Society plans to screen it in the near future somewhere. 
            D'Attilio also spoke of the society's campaign to place the memorial plaque in a public setting. The favored place would be in North Square in Boston's North End, near the site of the funeral and the funeral march. 
            D'Attilio also said that a historical plate has already been placed by the city at 256 Hanover St., marking the address of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee office.
            The Quincy library program drew an attentive crowd. From the quality of the comments and questions, a number of people knew and cared about the case.
            To answer a question that came up at a previous "Suosso's Lane" program, that I was unable to answer at the time, Sacco's ashes are located in Torremaggiore, Italy, the town of his birth, at the base of a monument erected in 1998. Vanzetti's ashes were buried with his mother in his home town of Villafalletto.