photo detail of Whittaker Chambers at TIME Magazine in the 1940s, by Alfred Eisenstadt Pumpkin appropriate for the Pumpkin Papers on Whittaker Chambers' Pipe Creek Farm


The "Pumpkin Papers" should refer specifically to microfilm surrendered to HUAC investigators on December 2, 1948. However, due to "a journalistic passion for alliteration," the press transformed the microfilm contents of a pumpkin on the Whittaker Chambers farm to the "Pumpkin Papers" (Witness (p. 742, second footnote).

Nixon poses while reviewing Pumpkin Papers microfilm in December 1948

They were part of a "life preserver" that Whittaker Chambers made of papers and microfilm from his latter Soviet espionage in the 1930s. However, the press allowed the term "Pumpkin Papers" to stand for both the microfilm and the papers. (Images of some of the documents which incriminated Hiss and helped lead to his conviction are available on this page.)

1937-1938: Chambers kept hold of papers and microfilm to set aside his life preserver for when would defect from the Soviet underground in April 1938. It lay hidden in the Brooklyn home of his sister-in-law.

July 30-31, 1948: Elizabeth Bentley testifies before HUAC and names Whittaker Chambers.

August 3, 1948: Whittaker Chambers testifies under subpoena before HUAC and names more than a dozen communists including seven former U.S. Federal Government officials. Alger Hiss, one of the former officials named, denies the allegation and demands to appear before HUAC.

August 5, 1948: Hiss testifies before HUAC that he has never known a man named Whittaker Chambers.

August 25, 1948: HUAC brings Hiss and Chambers together before open committee; Hiss concedes that he might have known Chambers -- as "George Crosley."

August 27, 1948: During a Meet the Press radio interview, Chambers answers a question that yes, Alger Hiss was a communist.

September 28, 1948: Hiss files slander suit in Baltimore for $50,000. Upon receipt of subpoena for that case, Chambers said to the Associated Press, "I welcome Mr. Hiss's daring suit. I do not minimize the ferocity or the ingenuity of the forces that are working through him. But I do not believe that, ultimately, Alger Hiss, or anybody else, can use the means of justice to defeat the ends of justice." Based on this statement, Hiss added a second $25,000 suit, bringing the total to $75,000 for damages. In Witness (pp. 722-723) estimated that he had "perhaps two or three thousand dollars in the bank" and a mortgage of $7,500 on his farm.

October-November 1948: Pre-trial proceedings for Hiss's slander suit began almost immediately in the offices of his lawyer, William Marbury, located in the Maryland Trust Building (see photo, right). During this examination period, Marbury asked Chambers for "any letters or communications from Alger Hiss"? Chambers could remember nothing specific from the papers that might help his situation and so avoided response. When Marbury repeated his request at a later time, Chambers's attorney, Richard F. Cleveland, advised him to comply. (Witness, pp. 734-735)

November 15, 1948: Chambers had his nephew Nathan Levine take him to the Brooklyn house to retrieved the life-preserver package. It contained more than 60 typewritten pages and more than half a dozen handwritten notes (by Harry Dexter White and Hiss), mostly from the U.S. Department of State (where Hiss had worked from 1936 to 1946), plus five strips of 35 mm film.

November 17, 1948: During pre-trial examination for Hiss' slander suits against him in Baltimore, Chambers surrendered the handwritten and typewritten documents. These became the "Baltimore Documents." These papers contained the most important evidence against Hiss during his two trials, 1949-1950.

November 19, 1948: With permission of Baltimore Judge W. Calvin Chestnut, Hiss had his attorney William Marbury surrender the papers to the U.S. Department of Justice. Alexander M. Campbell, head of Justice's Criminal Division, received the papers. The Baltimore case stalled; Hiss hoped that Justice would indict Chambers. A Justice indictment would reactivate the Baltimore case and put Chambers on the defensive in two courts of law. At first, Hiss' ploy seemed to be working: Campbell called for immediate investigation "so that it can be determined whether Chambers has committed perjury." (Weinstein, Perjury, p. 179 and n. 43)

December 1, 1948: Two newspapers, The Washington Daily News and The Washington Post, published stories about new information in the Hiss Case that the Justice Department had received. When Richard M. Nixon and Robert Stripling of HUAC (which had started the Hiss Case in the first place) heard the news, they drove out to Chambers's farm and confirmed that he had further evidence beyond the Baltimore Documents still in his possession. HUAC would be back for the microfilm, they assured him.

To make sure that intelligence agents from the Soviet (or any other) government -- or Hiss investigators -- would not seize the microfilm, Chambers took the precaution of hiding the microfilm. He knew he could not hide it in the house, but where outside? Earlier that day, Stripling had noted the pumpkins growing near the farmhouse. Later that day, as Chambers was thinking about a hiding place, he recalled a 1930 Soviet movie, Transport of Fire, which he had seen years ago in New York (see New York Times). In the movie, anti-tsarist revolutionaries ship arms inside museum figures loaded on a train. "There had been a close-up of the Chinese god of Fate, a seated, pumpkin-shaped idol." Drawing on this inspiration, Chambers hollowed out a pumpkin and hid the microfilm in it. Many people have called this act melodramatic. In fact, Chambers had merely hidden the evidence in the safest, fastest manner he could think of. "Investigators might tear the house apart. They would never think to look for anything in a pumpkin lying in a pumpkin patch." (See Witness, pp. 751-755)

December 2, 1948: Nixon had a subpoena issued for any remaining evidence. Stripling invited Chambers to pass by HUAC offices and served him the subpoena. Chambers had to wait before investigators came. That night, two investigators arrived and took away the microfilm. One of them, Donald Appell, kept it with him overnight.

December 3, 1948: Newspapers and radio announced HUAC's apprehension of the "Pumpkin Papers." None of the microfilm would prove important to the Hiss Case.

December 6, 1948: Press-savvy Nixon and Stripling paraded the microfilm in front of the press (see photo, above).

Justice nearly did indict Chambers, as Hiss had hoped. Part of the Nixon theatrics was to bring public pressure on Justice for whatever action it took. At points, various political insiders convinced Chambers that he would be the person whom Justice indicted (recounted in Witness). Instead, on December 15, 1948, Justice indicted Hiss — on two counts of perjury that, first, he had never given Chambers any documents and, second, that he had not seen or conversed with Chambers after January 1, 1937.

The Baltimore Documents included papers typed on a Woodstock 1928 No. 5N typewriter, Serial Number 230099 (see photo, right). In one of his theories during the Hiss Case, Hiss speculated that Chambers had somehow broken into his house and typed the documents there. "Until the day I die, I shall wonder how Whittaker Chambers got into my house to use my typewriter," Hiss declared. During the case, however, it came out that Mrs. Priscilla Hiss had taken typing and had worked as a typist: Mrs. Hiss had incomparably easier access to the typewriter.

Martin K. Tytell (1913-2008) was the FBI's expert witness who identified the Woodstock typewriter and its machinations. (Tytell would also testify as an expert in the Rosenberg Case. In that case, David Greenglass would lie about his sister Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg's typing of the secret information he passed to her husband, Julius Rosenberg — although authorities knew that Greenglass' own wife, Ruth, was a professional typist and stenographer — see her obituary in The New York Times.)

More important (though often understated in the press) were the Baltimore Documents. These papers contained not only documents typed on Hiss' Woodstock typewriter but six notes hand-written by Hiss himself. (Another handwritten note came from Harry Dexter White.) The dates on the Baltimore documents helped established that Hiss knew Chambers longer than Hiss had testified under oath under the special evidence requirements of perjury.

Microfilm copies of the Pumpkin Papers are available at the National Archives, under "General Records of the Department of Justice," 60.3.5 Miscellaneous records.

The Pumpkin Papers became part of mainstream American culture. A decade later, Alfred Hitchcock had leading man Cary Grant make a joking reference to it in North by Northwest (1959): "I see you got the pumpkin" (IMDB). These days, people even name blogs after "Pumpkin Papers" and "The Pumpkin Papers."

[Pumpkin Papers blogs: The Pumpkin Papers (WordPress), Pumpkin Papers (WordPress), The Pumpkin Papers (Tumblr), Pumpkin Papers (WordPress), The Pumpkin Papers (Vox), The Pumpkin Papers (Blog.com), Pumpkin Papers (Blog.com), Pumpkin Papers (Live Journal), Pumpkin Papers (SOSblog)]


Video of the Pumpkin Papers: Images including Documents: References News & Reviews

Woodstock Typewriter: 1928 No. 5N, Serial Number 230099

Maryland Trust Building (photo by John Orrick, 2000):

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