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Newsreel Covering Trial

Click here to see Chambers Remove the Film From the Pumpkin
































The Pumpkin Papers and the Baltimore Documents

Cover of Real Magazine with Nixon holding Newspaper

here were two main components to the physical evidence that Whittaker Chambers produced against Alger Hiss. According to Chambers, on November 14, 1948, he went to the home of his wife's nephew, Nathan Levine. There, Levine said he had stored an envelope that Chambers had given him some ten years before. In the envelope were a batch of papers and several rolls of film. Chambers gave the papers to Hiss's attorney on November 17. They consisted of typed copies of State Department documents that Chambers claimed were typed by Priscilla Hiss and then given to him for transmission to the Soviet Union. Chambers said he held onto the pages in the envelope in case he was threatened by Communist agents after he left the party. Chambers also produced four short notes about State Department documents in Alger Hiss's handwriting (Hiss said such scraps were routine jottings prepared for briefing State Department superiors). All of those papers, after they were turned over to Hiss's attorney in Baltimore, became known as the "Baltimore Documents."

Chambers did not turn the film over to Hiss's lawyer, even though he was directed by the judge in Hiss's libel suit to turn over any evidence he had. Instead, he kept the rolls at his Maryland farm, until the night of December 2, when he concluded the "Hiss forces" were plotting to steal the evidence. To protect himself, he took the film and placed it in a hollowed-out pumpkin behind his home. Then he alerted investigators for the House Un-American Activities Committee to what he had done. The investigators soon showed up at the farm with a subpoena and took the film. Instead of turning it over to the FBI, as they had been required by the judge in Hiss's libel suit to do, they took it to an associate in the Veterans Administration, who developed the film (and exposed some of it in the process).

What Was in the Pumpkin?

  • See some of the Pumpkin Papers and read Alger Hiss's comments about them as they appeared in The Real World magazine in 1976.

  • Richard Nixon testimony about the Pumpkin Papers before the Hiss case grand jury.

  • In 1976, journalist I.F. Stone investigated  the history of the Pumpkin Papers. Click here to read Stone's report.

When the film was developed it was found that the five rolls of 35 mm film (no microfilm) contained photographs of government documents. This batch of films was soon dubbed the "Pumpkin Papers." It consisted of photographs of both State Department documents and publicly available Navy Department papers. The Navy documents that could be developed dealt with such matters as the color to paint government fire extinguishers. None of this latter material was introduced at trial.
Richard M. Nixon examining the Pumpkin film.

The House Un-American Activities Committee leaked portions of the Pumpkin Papers that had come from the State Department, claiming that the material was secret and that Hiss was the likely source.

The controversy about the contents of the Pumpkin Papers, their value and the origin of the film itself continues to this day.

Many Saw Papers, State Aides Say

Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Sayre
In December 1948, an article in The Washingon Post claimed the documents which Alger Hiss was accused of handing to a Communist spy ring - both the Pumpkin Papers and the Baltimore Documents - were accessible to dozens of persons, both inside and out of government. Click here to read the article. 

Francis B. Sayre testified before the grand jury that the Pumpkin Papers were circulated among many government officials besides Alger Hiss. Click here to read excerpts from his recently released testimony about both the Pumpkin Papers film and the typed Baltimore Documents.


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