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The Last Days Remembered: A Compatriot Recalls the Deaths of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927

by Aldino Felicani/Dean Albertson

The emotional and highly publicized case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti became a touchstone and rallying cry for American radicals. In 1920 the two Italian immigrants were accused of murder and although the evidence against them was flimsy, they were readily convicted, in large part because they were immigrants and anarchists. They were executed, despite international protests, on August 23, 1927. Aldino Felicani, printer and publisher of the anarchist paper Controcorrente, was a long-time acquaintance of Sacco and Vanzetti; in 1920 he organized the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee. In this interview with Dean Albertson, recorded in 1954, Felicani recalled his relationships with the accused men and his work on the defense committee. His story gave a sense of the emotion of the last days of Sacco and Vanzetti.

Listen to Audio:

Aldino Felicani: I was the one who broke the news to Sacco and Vanzetti in the death cell that they had to die on August 10th. That was the original date, and then it was postponed to August 22nd. In the meantime [Governor Alvan T.] Fuller had seen the boys in jail. He went to see them. He saw them previous to the decision, while the Lowell Committee was working. I learned from Vanzetti and Sacco that he had visited them. Sacco, as you can surmise, refused to shake hands with Fuller. He didn’t want any part of it. As Fuller was the representative of the capitalist class, and he was the downtrodden. He didn’t have anything to ask him. He didn’t want any grace, any part of it. So he had nothing to say to Fuller at all. He refused to talk.

Vanzetti was the gentle type and so he sat down with Fuller. The next morning I went to see him and Vanzetti told me, “This man will never send us to the chair. He sat down and talked to me like a brother, smiling and joking. That man will never send us to the chair.”

I said, “I don’t know.” I tried to disarm Vanzetti, to destroy his enthusiasm, because I sensed that the worst was coming. I did not want him to delude himself, to think himself in paradise, when actually he was in hell.

I really can’t describe you well what happened during those few days before the execution. We had messengers coming from Western Union all the time. We had messages from all over the world, from every corner of the earth. We had messages from South Africa, from Russia, from South America, from England, from Germany, from France. We had messages from Maurice Thores, who was one of the biggest lawyers of France, a radical of course. He’s now [1954] a big shot in the Communist Party. He’s gone to Russia in the last few years. We even had a message from Albert Dreyfus. He had been through hell himself, knew what it was like, and asked if he could be of any help. We had messages from the most prominent human beings everywhere. They were all the same messages, “If we can help, let us know.”

I wish I had the power to describe my feelings of those days in terms of human response in such a human tragedy.

Source: Oral history courtesy of Columbia Oral History Research Office, Columbia University.