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2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the Hiss-Chambers espionage case, which gripped America in 1948 and still provokes controversy. Take a deep factual dive into the story of two brilliant, fascinating men, sensational Congressional hearings, spy documents hidden in a dumbwaiter shaft and a pumpkin, the trial of the century, and the launch of Richard Nixon’s career. Comments and politely phrased corrections or criticism are welcome by the writer and narrator, at

Apr 12, 2023

Certainly, this Case was painful for Chambers — bringing him close to prison for perjury, ending the quiet and lucrative life he had enjoyed for years and costing him the only decent and decently paying job he had ever had. All the same, Chambers loved melodrama, and can you imagine any more satisfying melodrama than, on a dark and freezing night, leading two government investigators to a pumpkin vine behind your farmhouse and presenting them with five rolls of camera film containing proof of espionage and treason by the man who personifies the governing class of the country?


Further Research:


The dramatic, and sometimes almost comic, events of the first week of December 1948 are recounted in 191-207 and 287-93 of Weinstein’s “Perjury,” still the definitive history of this Case.

The memoirs of the major participants tell what happened, each somewhat differently from all the others: Bert Andrews’ “A Tragedy of History” at 174-91, Chambers’ “Witness” at 751-60, Nixon’s “Six Crises” at 46-56 and his “RN” at 67-69, and Stripling’s “The Red Plot Against America” at 141-51.

The most fascinating discrepancy in the accounts concerns the auto trip that Nixon, Stripling, Bert Andrews and the stenographer Rose Purdy took from Washington to Chambers’ Maryland farm on the afternoon of December 1 to find out ‘what the hell’ had caused Hiss’s lawsuit against Chambers to blow up. Chambers, at 751 of Witness, says that Stripling came to see him — strongly implying that Stripling made the tip alone. Nixon adds himself to the trip. (“Six Crises” at 47, “RN” at 67.) Bert Andrews adds himself as the third member of the trip (at 175). Stripling mentions only himself and Nixon (at 143-44). Why would Chambers want to give the impression that only Stripling came to see him? Why would Chambers want to leave Nixon out of the scene? I don’t see how that would help him or his side. I doubt he would have forgotten about all the others.  

If you go to YouTube and search for “Pumpkin Papers,” you will find a group of film clips, starting with Nixon’s and Stripling’s press conference and including excerpts from the prior HUAC hearings and later films taken on the courthouse steps during Hiss’s trials. You can find other newsreels (which were shown in movie theaters and were the only form of moving image news before TV) about this case by searching on YouTube for “Alger Hiss” or “Whittaker Chambers.” The same search requests, made on CSPAN’s web page, will yield more newsreels, lengthy films of the August 25 hearing, as well as many interviews and much commentary on this Case. I suspect that this Case, and Chambers in particular, were favorites of Brian Lamb. 

Questions: Who do you think is the most likely leaker of Chambers’ first bombshell to the Washington Post? Personally, I have no idea; no evidence, no rumors, not even a theory.

Do you feel sorry for Pat (“Here we go again!”) Nixon?

Do you sympathize with Nixon’s rage at Chambers for not telling him, during the HUAC hearings, that he had proof that Hiss was not only a Communist, but a spy? Can you think of one or more reasons Chambers held back that fact (if it’s a fact)? Chambers gave several reasons, which he gave to the Grand Jury. For them, you will have to listen to the next Podcast.