Boston accepts Sacco and Vanzetti memorial (1997)

By Leslie Miller, Associated Press writer

BOSTON, 08-24-1997 -- More than 70 years ago, a shy young government office clerk became obsessed with the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists accused of murder and executed after a trial widely viewed as unfair.

Carl Anthonsen, a Boston resident, attended rallies for the condemned radicals on Boston Common, kept an extensive diary of the trial and even viewed their bodies after they had been executed in 1927.

Anthonsen had a weak heart and died fairly young, but his widow maintained interest in the case and the cause. And 70 years after Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted in Charlestown State Prison, Cynthia Anthonsen Foster put down her cane in a cool, dark room filled with rare books and dignitaries and clapped wildly at the unveiling of a plaster bas relief commemorating the pair.

"I wish my husband Carl was here," she said. "This fulfilled his dream."

Others, too, felt a sense of closure in the rare book room at Boston Public Library on Saturday when the city's Italian-American mayor and the state's Italian-American acting governor removed a red cloth from the seven-foot sculpture.

With that gesture, acting Gov. Paul Cellucci and Mayor Tom Menino (see photo) formally accepted the piece. Menino talked about fairness and about learning, and Cellucci talked about tolerance.

Charlestown District Court Judge Peter W. Agnes Jr. told how the sculpture of Sacco and Vanzetti had been "conceived in their last hour of agony" by sculptor Gutzon Borglum.

Borglum was incensed when President Calvin Coolidge denied Sacco and Vanzetti a stay of execution on the same day he dedicated Borglum's masterpiece -- Mt. Rushmore. An infuriated Borglum volunteered his services to memorialize the two Italian immigrants.

He created a sculpture with silhouettes of the two men and Vanzetti's final words: "What I wish more than all in this last hour of agony is that our case and our fate may be understood in their real being and serve as a tremendous lesson to the force of freedom so that our suffering and death will not have been in vain."

A memorial committee tried to present the artwork to governors of Massachusetts and to mayors of Boston in 1937, 1947 and 1957. Each time it was refused. In 1977, Gov. Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation declaring that Sacco and Vanzetti did not receive a fair trial.

The fate of the actual bronze sculpture is unknown. In 1960, an anonymous junkman brought the plaster cast to the door of Aldino Felicani's print shop. Felicani was the treasurer of the Sacco and Vanzetti Defense Committee, headquartered at the Community Church on Boylston Street.

Cynthia Foster at 90 is now the oldest member of the Community Church. Located just a block-and-a-half from the Boston Public Library, the nonsectarian, radical church is on the second floor of a narrow, five-story brick building, right above a restaurant serving international peasant food.

The Community Church was the first religious body to advocate the innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti. Foster remembers two other church members, who she recalls as Mrs. Winslow and Mrs. Evans, coming back from daily visits with Sacco and Vanzetti at Charlestown prison.

In its heyday during the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, the Community Church had thousands of members. From the time the two were tried in Dedham District Court for the 1920 murder of a payroll clerk and his guard in Braintree, the church spread the word about the trial as the case of the two anarchists became an international cause celebre.

Nearly 700,000 people marched in their funeral procession in Boston. The cause sparked massive demonstrations and strikes throughout the world.

Quazi Hague had studied the Sacco and Vanzetti trial as a high school student in Bangladesh. "It's part of the worldwide struggle for freedom and antifascism," he said after Saturday's ceremony.

David Rothauser, a filmmaker working on a dramatic feature film about the trial, believes the public became captivated by the story about the two men's friendship. Both men could have said they were guilty and avoided execution. Sacco wasn't willing to compromise. Vanzetti was, but he wasn't willing to betray his friend.

"Sacco sacrificed himself to the cause, and Vanzetti was committed to Sacco," said Rothauser after the unveiling of the sculpture.

Cynthia Anthonsen Foster wants to help finance Rothauser's film or give her husband's diary to a worthy organization.

"I'm going to do something in his memory," she said. "This would have thrilled him beyond words."

Source: http://archive.southcoasttoday.com/daily/08-97/08-24-97/a03sr012.htm