Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fish peddler, were arrested for the 1920 robbery and murder of two men in Braintree, Mass. Their subsequent trial and conviction attracted intense interest because of the widespread belief that the evidence against them was flimsy and that they were being prosecuted because of their anarchist political beliefs. "Did you see what I did to those anarchistic bastards!" the judge was heard to crow later. Appeals and other legal reviews lasted six years, after which the pair was executed. Many historians now believe that Sacco was probably guilty and Vanzetti innocent, but that the evidence was insufficient to convict either one. In 1977, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis signed a decree clearing their names. An excerpt from The Post of Aug. 23, 1927:
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti shortly after midnight this morning paid the penalty of death exacted by the State for murder. ...
Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for the murder of a paymaster and his guard at Braintree more than seven years ago.
Sacco was dead at 12:19 and Vanzetti at 12:26.
Inside and outside of the high prison wall stood a small army of armed guards. Waiting also were the press wires to inform the world that the long fight to save the men was at an end. The fight on behalf of the men continued until the last minute.
Both Sacco and Vanzetti made brief speeches in the death chamber before they took their seats in the chair, Vanzetti protesting his innocence to the last.
Sacco, pale but steady, shouted in Italian: "Long live anarchy!" as he sat down in the chair.
Then, in broken English, he went on: "Farewell, my wife and child and all my friends." The straps were being adjusted as he said his last words:
"Good evening, gentlemen! Farewell, mother!"
Vanzetti entered the death chamber the calmest ... Shaking hands with two of the guards as he came through the door of the execution chamber, he walked unassisted to the chair and seated himself.
As the guards began the hasty adjustment of straps to his head and body he began a speech.
In the broken English that characterized his dramatic plea for "justice" when sentence was passed on him in Dedham on April 9, he declared:
"I wish to tell you I am innocent and never connected with any crime, but some time some sin. I thank you for everything you have done for me. I am innocent of all crime not only of this one but all. I am an innocent man."
Then, just as the guards slipped the straps and headcap in place, cutting off further speech, he shouted:
"I wish to forgive some people for what they are now doing to me."