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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 john_berresford@comcast.net.

Aug 25, 2021

Alger Hiss, like Chambers, gives secret testimony to Nixon’s HUAC Subcommittee.  He is outraged that they are thinking of trusting Chambers, whom Hiss labels a Communist and a traitor (Hiss pre-channeling Senator McCarthy).  When confronted with Chambers’ detailed knowledge of his domestic life 10-15 years ago, Hiss drops his claim that he never knew Chambers.  Oh, now it’s all coming back to me, . . .  There was a man whom I knew back then, a self-styled freelance journalist who went by the name George Crosley.  He was disheveled, had shockingly bad teeth, and seemed sometimes to live in a fantasy world of dramatic escapades.  He became our subtenant, living under the same roof with us for a while, and stiffed us for the rent.  Maybe Chambers and Crosley are the same man.  Does this new story, which Hiss stuck to till the day he died, sound believable to you?  Or is he just coming up with a more complicated lie to defeat Chambers and the truth?

Further Research Episode 9:  Hiss’s secret testimony starts at HUAC at 935; the George Crosley recollection starts at 948-49, gets into depth at 955, and continues off and on until 970.  (Congressional hearings frequently hop from one topic to another as individual Representatives arrive, chime in, think of new lines of questioning, and leave the room to attend to other business.)  Hiss’s recollections of his secret testimony, and of Crosley in general, are in his memoir “In the Court of Public Opinion” at 15-32 and in his late-in-life autobiography, “Recollections of a Life” (1988) at 207-08.  Chambers’ analysis of Hiss’s secret testimony is at “Witness” at 580-81 and 593.  See also Weinstein’s Perjury at 39-44.  Nixon’s recollections are in “Six Crises” at 23-29 and “RN” at 58-60.  There is a wonderful essay on this Case by the professor and literary critic Leslie Fiedler, “Hiss, Chambers, and the Age of Innocence,” in his book “An End to Innocence” (1952).  In it, at 9, Fiedler describes Hiss here as “uncertainly feeling his way into the situation, cautiously finding out at each point how much he will have to admit to escape entrapment.”

Questions:   How does Hiss’s new “George Crosley” story sound to you?  Obviously a fabrication, or plausible but we need to learn more, or has ‘the ring of truth’; to it?  How would you learn more?  Ask members of the Nye Committee staff if they remembered a man named George Crosley (evidently poor and with memorably bad teeth) hanging around the Committee’s offices?  Ask the Hisses’ household servants and social friends if they remembered a shabby looking man with bad teeth named George Crosley socializing with the Hisses back then?  Did Hiss ever mention to a deadbeat pest he’d finally gotten out of his life?  Look for magazine articles published by “George Crosley” in the mid-1930s?  Find pictures of Chambers in those years, show them to all the above-mentioned people, and ask them if the remember this man?