Braintree to honor victims in case of Sacco and Vanzetti

Balancing history, 90 years later

By Christine Legere, Globe Correspondent | April 14, 2010

BRAINTREE ? Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Frederick Parmenter, Alessandro Berardelli: four names forever linked by tragedy 90 years ago.

Yet to most, only Sacco and Vanzetti are immediately recognizable, as the Italian immigrants convicted of an armed robbery and brutal double murder that took place April 15, 1920, in South Braintree Square.

History has not determined definitively whether the two were convicted and executed based on hard evidence or bias. They were foreigners, draft dodgers, and self-proclaimed anarchists as America was still reeling from the horror of World War I. To this day, some people still believe testimony that might have cleared the pair was never introduced at their trial.

Parmenter and Berardelli were the paymaster and security guard gunned down for $15,700 in wages they were delivering to workers at the Slater and Morrill shoe factory. Their names have virtually faded from the page for all but family members and scholars, obscured by the heat and noise over the controversial trial and executions.

Officials in Braintree will right that wrong at 3 p.m. tomorrow, the 90th anniversary of the murders. Descendants of Parmenter and Berardelli, as well as dignitaries, will be on hand for the unveiling and dedication of a bronze-and-stone memorial to the victims.

?It has always been known as the Sacco and Vanzetti case,?? said Braintree Historical Society chairman Paul Carr. ?It?s high time we acknowledge the two citizens who were murdered.??

The memorial will stand on Pearl Street, at the spot where Parmenter and Berardelli were fatally shot. An accompanying story board will display vintage photos of the area, along with an outline of the events that unfolded that day.

?We?re expecting a large crowd,?? said John Dennehy, a Historical Society member who helped plan the dedication, which kicks off ?Sacco and Vanzetti: A Retrospective,?? a series of events to run through Saturday.

Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan of Braintree said the series offers the public an opportunity to hear about all aspects of a crime significant in the town?s history.

?The plan is not to be judgmental about what took place, but to acknowledge the incident,?? Sullivan said. ?If people avail themselves of the symposium and the artifacts, they will get a sense of the history associated with that famous trial.??

Tomorrow, the focus will be on the victims, Dennehy said. Members of the victims? extended families are expected to be on hand, and for most it will be their first time in town.

Dennehy had proposed a retrospective in 1990, but failed to get support, he said, as some felt the rifts were still too fresh. ?Now, the consensus was, enough time had passed that there was no personal or emotional grudge,?? he said. ?All the principals are gone, and their children are gone.??

Parmenter left behind his wife, Hattie, and two children: 11-year-old Richard and 6-year-old Jeannette. Hattie died five years after her husband, in 1925. Her children were sent to live with an aunt in Easton.

Richard Parmenter died decades ago, but his two children, Frederick and Jane Parmenter Reed, who are now in their 70s, live in Lakeville and Middleborough, respectively. Their Aunt Jeannette, according to Frederick Parmenter, had been adamantly opposed to participating in any Sacco and Vanzetti event, right up until her death in 2005.

?They didn?t have a very happy childhood,?? said Parmenter of his father and aunt. ?I don?t blame them for being the way they were. They were bitter every time it was talked about.??

Parmenter said he is glad the town is finally getting to recognize the victims. He said he believes Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty of killing his grandfather. ?I think the evidence proved it,?? he said.

Berardelli left his wife, Sarah, a 7-year-old son, Jacob, and a 6-year-old daughter, Ida. Sarah Berardelli returned to Connecticut to join her family, Russian Jews who had come to the United States when she was young. Left to care for her young children, the widow agreed to an arranged marriage to a Jewish widower with children of his own, said Berardelli?s great-granddaughter Dina Chieffo.

?The murder was never discussed in our family,?? Chieffo said. ?I studied the Sacco and Vanzetti case in high school, unaware of my own connection.??

?My great-grandfather?s murder was a devastating tragedy, and the family moved on and put it behind them the best they could,?? said Chieffo, who plans to attend the memorial?s unveiling with other relatives.

?I am happy to see that his memory will be honored in Braintree.??

Following the dedication, an exhibit will open at Braintree Town Hall. Among items displayed will be the cage where Sacco and Vanzetti sat at their trial. A panel discussion is set for 7 p.m.

On Friday, Norfolk District Attorney William Keating headlines another discussion on the trial, which was held in Dedham, the county seat, and the events leading to Sacco?s and Vanzetti?s executions in 1927.

?The case has always been controversial regarding whether or not they received a fair trial,?? Carr said. ?This has been debated for years, and it will be debated again.??

Saturday will feature tours of Braintree?s Historic District and South Braintree Square. The day?s main event, in the evening, will celebrate Italian culture, with food, music, and dancing. A large number of the 10,580 who lived in Braintree in 1920 were of Italian descent, organizers say, and that holds true today in the town of about 34,000.

The Historical Society contacted Spencer Sacco, Nicola?s grandson, who lives in Rhode Island, about the retrospective, but he told the Globe he did not plan to attend and would offer no further comment.

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