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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/state/la-me-sinclair24dec24,1,5286806.story Sinclair Letter Turns Out to Be Another Exposé # Note found by an O.C. man says
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 27, 2005
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      http://www.latimes.com/news/local/state/la-me-sinclair24dec24,1,5286806.story

      Sinclair Letter Turns Out to Be Another Exposé
      # Note found by an O.C. man says 'The Jungle' author
      got the lowdown on Sacco and Vanzetti.

      By Jean O. Pasco, Times Staff Writer

      Ordinarily, Paul Hegness wouldn't have looked twice at
      Lot 217 as he strolled through an Irvine auction
      warehouse, preferring first-edition books and artwork
      to the box stuffed with old papers and holiday cards.

      But then, he wouldn't have stumbled upon a confession
      from one of America's great authors. Inside the box,
      an envelope postmarked Sept. 12, 1929, caught his eye.
      It was addressed to John Beardsley, Esq., of Los
      Angeles. The return address read, "Upton Sinclair,
      Long Beach."

      "I stood there for 15 minutes reading it over and over
      again," Hegness said of the letter by the author of
      "The Jungle," the groundbreaking 1906 book that
      exposed unsanitary conditions at slaughterhouses.

      The last paragraph got the Newport Beach attorney's
      attention. "This letter is for yourself alone," it
      read. "Stick it away in your safe, and some time in
      the far distant future the world may know the real
      truth about the matter. I am here trying to make plain
      my own part in the story."

      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."

      Hegness paid $100 for the box containing Sinclair's
      confessional letter and tucked it away in a closet —
      where it gathered dust. Now, after stumbling upon it
      again, he plans to donate it to Sinclair's archives at
      Indiana University, where it will join a trove of
      correspondence that reveals the ethical quandary that
      confronted Sinclair — papers that even some scholars
      of the author weren't aware of.

      "This is a stunning revelation," said Anthony Arthur
      of Los Angeles, a retired literature professor and
      author of the recently released biography, "Upton
      Sinclair: Radical Innocent."

      "I've never heard of this," added Lauren Coodley, a
      professor of history and psychology at Napa Valley
      College who edited a recent Sinclair anthology. "It's
      one of those amazing things. That's why history is so
      fascinating, because we keep revising it."

      Upton Beall Sinclair was a giant of the nation's
      Progressive Era, a crusading writer and socialist who
      championed the downtrodden and persecuted. President
      Theodore Roosevelt, who pushed through the nation's
      first food-purity laws in response to "The Jungle,"
      coined the name for Sinclair's craft: muckraker.

      Sinclair wasn't alone in believing Sacco and Vanzetti
      were innocent when he began researching the book that
      fictionalized their case. On Aug. 23, 1927, the day
      they were executed, 25,000 protested in Boston.

      The men have been viewed as martyrs by the American
      left ever since. Historians agree that prosecutors in
      the case were biased and shoddy, and that the two men
      failed to receive a fair trial.

      On the 50th anniversary of their execution,
      Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis all but pardoned
      the pair, urging that "any disgrace should be forever
      removed from their names." But the fearless Sinclair
      was left a conflicted man by what Sacco and Vanzetti's
      lawyer — and later others in the anarchist movement —
      told him.

      "I faced the most difficult ethical problem of my life
      at that point," he wrote to his attorney. "I had come
      to Boston with the announcement that I was going to
      write the truth about the case."

      Other letters tucked away in the Indiana archive
      illuminate why one of America's most strident truth
      tellers kept his reservations to himself.

      "My wife is absolutely certain that if I tell what I
      believe, I will be called a traitor to the movement
      and may not live to finish the book," Sinclair wrote
      Robert Minor, a confidant at the Socialist Daily
      Worker in New York, in 1927.

      "Of course," he added, "the next big case may be a
      frame-up, and my telling the truth about the
      Sacco-Vanzetti case will make things harder for the
      victims."

      He also worried that revealing what he had been told
      would cost him readers. "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," he wrote to Minor.

      Sinclair was born in 1878, and his upbringing in New
      York City was framed by his parents' poverty and his
      grandparents' wealth. He entered college at 14 and
      paid for school by writing stories for newspapers and
      magazines. His first novel was published in 1901.

      He moved to Southern California in 1915. In 1926, he
      ran as a Socialist for California governor, getting
      60,000 votes. He took another stab in 1934, during the
      Great Depression, this time winning the Democratic
      primary with a platform of ending poverty. He got
      nearly 900,000 votes.

      In 1943, Sinclair won a Pulitzer Prize for "Dragon
      Teeth," a novel that dealt with Hitler's rise to
      power. He died in a small town in New Jersey in 1968
      at the age of 90, having never publicly disclosed his
      doubts about the innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti.

      Ideale Gambera, whose father was a Boston anarchist in
      the 1920s, said he could empathize with Sinclair's
      angst about revealing his doubts.

      Gambera, 80, said there was a strict code of silence
      to protect the group and hide the nature of their
      activities. He said his father, Giovanni Gambera, a
      member of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee, told
      him before he died in 1982 that Sacco was one of the
      killers.

      "They all lied," said Gambera, a retired English
      professor living in San Rafael. "They did it for the
      cause."

      *

      (BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

      The writer and his subjects

      Upton Sinclair: American author born in Baltimore in
      1878, best known for his 1906 novel, "The Jungle," an
      account of conditions in the meatpacking industry in
      Chicago that began a style of exposé writing that came
      to be known as muckraking. His novel, "Boston,"
      chronicling the Sacco and Vanzetti case, was published
      in 1928. An unsuccessful Socialist candidate for
      California governor, he died in 1968.

      Nicola Sacco: An Italian immigrant and self-proclaimed
      anarchist who was arrested, tried and executed in
      Massachusetts in 1927 for murdering a shoe factory
      paymaster and his bodyguard during the robbery of
      $15,766.51 from the factory's payroll.

      Bartolomeo Vanzetti: Arrested with Sacco for the
      murders and robbery. The two were executed amid
      worldwide protests.

      *

      Sources: Upton Sinclair archives, Lilly Library,
      Indiana; published materials. Graphics reporting by
      Jean Pasco
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