National Register of Historical Places Inventory -- Nomination Form

Whittaker Chambers relative: Farm need not be open to public

[Editor’s Note: Title suggested to was “Creepin’ ‘Round My Door”; HNN has syndicated]

Chambers’ grandson suggests the author of a new book never visited the family farm; the historian confirms he did


Dr. Jon Wiener needs to set some facts straight, at least in the excerpt from his new book, just published by Salon (“A visit to the right’s least popular museum” [reprinted below].

First, the Whittaker Chambers Farm is no museum. In fact is neither a requirement nor even an implication that a property designated as a National Historic Landmark need open to the public at all. In “Protecting America: Cold War Defensive Sites (A National Historical Landmark Theme Study),” dated October 2011, the NPS clearly holds the Whittaker Chambers Farm “private property, not open to the public.” Further, Whittaker Chambers (my grandfather) never claimed his farm meant much to the outside world. He described it as “a few hundred acres of dirt, some clusters of old barns and outbuildings… a few beeves and hogs or a flock of sheep.” (Witness, p. 517). It hasn’t changed much over the years.

Second, Dr. Wiener either visited under cover, through a third person — or not at all. He claims that he saw only horses “where the landmark was supposed to be.” He must have come to the wrong place: we have never owned or housed horses. According to John Chambers (my father), who lives and works on the Farm, Dr. Wiener never called on him.

Third, Dr. Wiener did call on me — twice last year, in fact. This is our correspondence:

Received: 08:56 PM EDT, 05/09/2011
For a book on cold war memory I am looking for a photo of President Reagan awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Whittaker Chambers. Can you provide one, or can you help me find one? (the link at your web site doesn’t work any more.)
many thanks!
Jon Wiener

Received: 09:08 PM EDT, 05/09/2011
Before I make such effort, could you please offer more introduction. You might start with who are you, whom are you working for, what is the book, etc.

Received: 09:24 PM EDT, 05/09/2011
thanks for your quick reply. I’m a historian at the University of California, Irvine, and my book on cold war memory will be published by the University of California Press in 2012. I’m probably best known as a Freedom of Information Act plaintiff seeking the John Lennon FBI Files — but that was almost 20 years ago.

Received: 10:28 PM EDT, 05/09/2011
Dr. Wiener,
I remember that effort — and thank you for it (if many years late). I was an avid Beatles fan as a child (and remain so)…
Speaking of naming names, I also see that you are a long-time contributor to The Nation magazine, home of one of Alger Hiss’ longest defenders, Victor Navasky. In which case, you will please pardon me if I ask what and how (specifically and exactly) you would use any materials I might provide you in your forthcoming book? A good place to start might be how you summarize the Hiss Case. Given the courses you teach currently, perhaps you have something already written handy.
Respectfully – David

The John Lennon ruse had not worked. Between his first and second emails, I had looked Dr. Wiener up. John Lennon was not his interest here — Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers were. He stopped communicating immediately.

When it comes to the Hiss Case, Dr. Wiener rehashes old narratives. There are standard references to “forgery by typewriter” — as usual, too, glossing over notes written by the hand of Alger Hiss (and Harry Dexter White). There are a number of factual discrepancies — off-putting, coming from a Nation writer. For years, The Nation has made much of the shortcomings of Whittaker Chambers’s memory (even if he did first testify 10-plus years after events). When showing reporters how he had removed microfilm from a pumpkin on the Farm, Chambers said nothing about how the film “showed that Alger Hiss, a pillar of the New Deal, had been a Soviet spy.” Nor did that event occur in 1947. At that time, Chambers was still a senior manager at Time magazine and Hiss still president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The Pumpkin Papers went public in 1948 — in December.

A newer line (only 20 or so years old) is that Soviets themselves — specifically, General Dmitri Volkogonov, Russian military expert — finally exonerated Hiss. “Not a single document substantiates the allegation that Mr. A. Hiss collaborated with the intelligence services of the Soviet Union,” Dr. Wiener quotes. (David Margolick, “After 40 Years, a Postscript on Hiss: Russian Official Calls Him Innocent,” New York Times, October 29, 1992). He then shares parenthetically that “Volkogonov subsequently qualified his remarks, noting that evidence implicating Hiss could be in archives he hadn’t consulted.” In fact, Volkogonov stated:

I was not properly understood… The Ministry of Defense also has an intelligence service, which is totally different, and many documents have been destroyed. I only looked through what the K.G.B. had. All I said was that I saw no evidence.” (Serge Schmemann, “Russian General Retreats on Hiss,” New York Times, December 17, 1992)

Hiss’ own reaction was effectively a retraction. “If he and his associates haven’t examined all the files, I hope they will examine the others, and they will show the same thing.” (Marvine Howe, “Keep Looking, Hiss Says,” New York Times, December 17, 1992)

Why then contrive this piece on the Whittaker Chambers Farm at all? Dr. Wiener seems to feel outrage that the Farm ever went on the National Historic Register (back in 1988). Would it relieve his mind to know that no one in our family ever requested that our farm become a National Historic Landmark?

Meantime, I cannot shake an image of Dr. Wiener’s sneaking up to the Whittaker Chambers Farm. Or skulking about the countryside around Westminster, Maryland. It’s just creepy.

Could this be some kind of fantasy-wish fulfillment on behalf of Alger Hiss? Hiss once famously said: “Until the day I die, I shall wonder how Whittaker Chambers got into my house to use my typewriter“… Next time Dr. Wiener wants to get into our house, maybe he could try the front door?

David Chambers

Alger Hiss in handcuffs - 1950


Readers can be assured I did indeed visit the site of the Whittaker Chambers pumpkin patch National Historical Landmark, but I didn’t go “skulking about.” When I saw the “No Trespassing” sign, as I wrote in the piece, I turned around and left. I thought that was what the Chambers family wanted us to do — rather than, as Chambers suggests here, “try the front door.”

I note that David Chambers doesn’t deny that the site has a “No Trespassing” sign and doesn’t display the landmark plaque as required by law.

What is this “John Lennon ploy”? As our correspondence shows, I told him I was working on a book on Cold War memory, but that I was best known for the John Lennon FBI files. All true. And I was hoping he could help me find a photo of Reagan presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to his grandfather. How bad was that?

As for Volkogonov, David Chambers repeats pretty much what I wrote: Volkogonov subsequently noted that “evidence implicating Hiss could be in archives he hadn’t consulted.” But, Volkogonov said, that fact did not lead him to change his conclusion: Hiss was not a spy. (See this interview with Volkogonov.)

Why did I “contrive” this piece? My book “How We Forgot the Cold War” reports on visits to two dozen museums, memorials and monuments, and argues that many of these have low attendance; while others, seeking a bigger audience, have shifted their focus to different topics. The Whittaker Chambers site was announced with impressive fanfare by the Reagan administration, Reagan himself had posthumously awarded Chambers that Presidential Medal of Freedom. David Chambers doesn’t deny that this National Historic Landmark has virtually no visitors, despite the claims for its significance made by conservatives.

As for the horses, maybe they were next door.

Jon Wiener

SATURDAY, OCT 13, 2012 03:00 PM EDT

A visit to the right’s least popular museum

The GOP insisted Whittaker Chambers’ pumpkin patch become a historical site. It averages two guests a year


Excerpted from “How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America”
The most popular National Park Service site is the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, which has around 17 million visitors per year; the least popular seems to be the Whittaker Chambers pumpkin patch National Historic Landmark near Baltimore, which has around two visitors per year. I was one of them. One windy fall day, I set out from Baltimore with friends to search for the pumpkin patch. The Reagan administration designated it a National Historic Landmark (officially called “Whittaker Chambers Farm”) in 1988 over the unanimous objection of the National Park Service Advisory Board. The site, outside Westminster, Md., commemorates the spot where, in 1947, Whittaker Chambers reached into a hollowed-out pumpkin and pulled out some 35mm film. He said it showed that Alger Hiss, a pillar of the New Deal, had been a Soviet spy.

The “pumpkin papers” helped convict Hiss of perjury in 1950, which transformed public opinion, convincing Americans for the first time that communism posed a real danger to the country. The obscure congressman named Nixon who pushed the Hiss case won a Senate seat the year Hiss was convicted and got the vice-presidential nomination in 1952; a month after Hiss’s conviction, Sen. Joseph McCarthy gave the speech in Wheeling, W.Va., that launched his career and gave the new, virulent anticommunism its name. For the next 45 years, the Cold War served as the iron cage of American politics.

Conservatives had hoped this site would provide a place where the public could be told that the Communist Party did not just defend a totalitarian regime but also recruited its members to spy on that regime’s behalf. Thus the hunt for communist spies was not “McCarthyism”; it was a noble cause.

But, like the other Cold War commemorative efforts, the pumpkin patch National Historic Landmark is remarkable primarily as a failure. In Westminster, outside the Carroll County courthouse, we stopped to ask a cop in a squad car if he could tell us where the Whittaker Chambers pumpkin patch National Historic Landmark was. “Never heard of it,” he said definitively — even though it turned out we were less than two miles away. If we were looking for a pumpkin patch, his advice was “go to the Farm Museum.”

Munch’s Smoke-Free Cafe is in the middle of town, on Main Street; we asked the man behind the counter if he knew where the pumpkin patch National Historic Landmark was. “Never heard of that one,” he said. But another patron at the counter, obviously a local, said, “Isn’t that where the spies hid the microfilm in World War II?” Conversation ensued. Somebody else said, “That Alger Hiss deal”; another chimed in, “Yeah, that’s the guy”; and then the man behind the counter said, “I never knew that was in Carroll County.” Of course it wasn’t World War II that was commemorated at the landmark; it was supposed to be the Cold War. The locals’ confusion on this point suggested that the conservative campaign had been a complete failure. The locals suggested we ask for directions at the tourist center in town.

We found a variety of brochures at the Carroll County Visitor Center on Main Street, including “Ghost Walk in Carroll County,” which said the countryside here had drawn “opportunists”— was this a reference to Whittaker Chambers? It continued, “Seldom has one area played host to such a diverse and interesting array of local ghosts and specters.” Hadn’t Karl Marx himself said that communism was a specter haunting bourgeois society? But the ghost of Whittaker Chambers was not listed here.

We asked the volunteer on duty at the Visitor Center about the Whittaker Chambers pumpkin patch; she offered to direct us to places where we could pick pumpkins. When we said no, we’re interested in the National Historic Landmark, she started telling us instead about Civil War battles. Since no battles were actually fought in Westminster, her presentation focused on battles that should have been fought here — in particular, the Battle of Gettysburg. (Gettysburg is 40 miles to the north.) She seemed disappointed and actually somewhat bitter about this situation. She even had a map that showed where the battle should have been fought, between Westminster and Taneytown, “if Meade hadn’t run into the troops up there in Gettysburg.” This little lecture was interrupted by a phone caller asking where he could find the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.

When we brought the conversation back to Whittaker Chambers, she agreed to draw us a map, remarking quietly that “about two people a year go up there.” A National Historic Landmark with two visitors a year? That must be some kind of a record — and it makes you wonder how this site got established in the first place.

* * *

In the last days of the Reagan administration, conservative true believers finally succeeded in persuading Secretary of the Interior Donald P. Hodel — one of their own —to overrule the National Park Service Advisory Board and declare the pumpkin patch an official National Historic Landmark. For them, only the Berlin Wall provided a more vivid site where the Cold War could be commemorated.

The landmark designation was announced by Hodel not in a public ceremony, which might have seemed the appropriate occasion, but rather in a media event at the Heritage Foundation. There Hodel called Chambers “a figure of transcendent importance in the nation’s history.” Chambers, he said, saw the Cold War as a “conflict of two irreconcilable faiths — Godless Communism versus the freedom of Divinely created and inspired Man.”

Reagan himself, the audience was reminded, had posthumously awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom a few years earlier. Reagan had declared that “at a critical moment in our Nation’s history, Whittaker Chambers stood alone against the brooding terrors of our age.” Reagan had described Chambers as a “consummate intellectual; writer of moving, majestic prose; and witness to the truth,” and said Chambers’ testimony against Hiss “symbolized our century’s epic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, a controversy in which the solitary figure of Whittaker Chambers personified the mystery of human redemption in the face of evil and suffering.”

Reagan had concluded that “as long as humanity speaks of virtue and dreams of freedom, the life and writings of Whittaker Chambers will ennoble and inspire.”

“Witness,” published by Chambers in 1952, four years after his HUAC testimony, was a best-seller. In the book Chambers described why he left the communist underground: He said he had been reading a book about the Gulag and concluded, “This is evil, absolute evil. Of this evil, I am a part.” Then “a voice said with perfect distinctness: ‘If you will fight for freedom, all will be well with you.’” Chambers understood this as the voice of God: “There tore through me a transformation with the force of a river.” And so he became a Christian and an anticommunist. “Witness” described the Cold War as a battle in which it would be “decided for generations whether all mankind is to become Communist, whether the whole world is to become free, or whether, in the struggle, civilization as we know it is to be completely destroyed.” The Cold War was not just a superpower conflict but a battle to the end between “irreconcilable opposites — God or Man, Soul or Mind, Freedom or Communism.”

Hodel reminded the Heritage Foundation audience about “Witness” and then said, “My staff informs me that certain persons or organizations appear to be engaged in an effort to prevent designation of the Whittaker Chambers Farm as a National Historic Landmark … If there be objection by some as to this designation, or if there is controversy, so be it. When we consider Mr. Chambers’ observation that one must be ‘willing to die that your faith may live,’ it seems to me that mere controversy is not sufficient reason to walk away from the opportunity to do what is right.”

Hodel later presented the bronze plaque intended to mark the site to Chambers’ son John. John Chambers told the Washington Post, “For all of his life, Donald Hodel will be welcome at Pipe Creek Farm.” But what about the rest of us?

The New York Times and the Washington Post, along with other publications, criticized the designation, siding with the Park Service Advisory Board in arguing that the site failed to meet the criterion of historic significance. The official History Division of the National Park Service pointed out that “the pumpkin patch was gone. The area where the famous pumpkin once grew had been partially paved over, and what remained was no longer a garden, but rather a grassy patch with a large evergreen tree growing in it.” Thus from a landmarks point of view the site raised “a very considerable issue of integrity.”

But the real objections concerned the politics behind the designation. The New York Times in an editorial called the designation “a low-water mark in landmarking.” An op-ed in the Washington Post called the designation “a rush to judgment by an influential group of arch-conservatives who wish to see Chambers appropriately ‘honored’ … The fact is that neither Chambers nor his farm possesses ‘transcendent national significance,’ as Hodel proclaimed.”

Then the Washington Post ran a follow-up column asking “where this landmark business would stop, if it really got rolling.” Some of their suggestions: “the place in the Tidal Basin where that stripper, Fanne Foxe, leaped after bailing out of Wilbur Mills’ car”; “the spot where George Bush’s father disciplined him with a squash racket”; and “the radio station where Ronald Reagan broadcast the fictitious baseball game after communications with the ballpark broke down.” “So much history,” the piece concluded; “so few plaques.”

Meanwhile, back in the Westminster Visitor Center, the woman behind the counter dug out a one-page typewritten sheet titled “The Pumpkin Patch Papers.” It started out with the fact that Alger Hiss “was a native of Baltimore” — obviously the local angle is everything here. Chambers’ real name, it reported, was “Jay Vivian Chambers,” but he changed it to Whittaker “so not to be ridiculed by his classmates.” Chambers’ farm, it said, “is well known for the microfilm hidden in a hollowed out pumpkin and sometimes referred to as the Pumpkin Patch Papers” (well, not exactly). The information sheet said the site “will have a bronze plaque erected.” The fact sheet also said that in 1925 Chambers “left college disillusioned and joined the Communist Party” and then “worked alongside Alger Hiss in the Communist underground”— something that Hiss denied for 50 years, to his dying day.

* * *

There’s another big museum with an exhibit about the pumpkin patch: the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. Garry Wills once wrote, “Richard Nixon: Hiss is your life.” Nixon, a member of Congress and of HUAC in 1947, pursued Whittaker Chambers’ espionage charge against Hiss; Hiss’ conviction for perjury propelled the formerly unknown Nixon into national prominence. The Nixon Library has one display case about Chambers and Hiss, which includes a plastic pumpkin and vines. There’s also a Woodstock manual typewriter. Visitors at the museum are told that Hiss’s Woodstock typewriter convicted him when samples typed on it were found to match documents Chambers said Hiss had given him to transmit to the Soviets. The typewriter in the display case is a replica of Hiss’s Woodstock, and library officials told the L.A. Times that the original Hiss typewriter is kept in a vault in the library basement.

Could it be true that Nixon himself had the Hiss typewriter? Most of the artifacts in the library are from the National Archives; I asked Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper about the typewriter in the Nixon Library vault. “It’s not ours,” she said, “not the National Archives.’“ It turns out it isn’t Hiss’ either; that typewriter was returned to Hiss after his trial, and at the time the Nixon Library opened in 1990, it was in the attic of the documentary filmmaker John Lowenthal.

The claim that Nixon has Hiss’ typewriter in a vault in the library basement added another bizarre chapter to a 40-year saga. At the time Chambers charged Hiss with espionage, the typewriter on which Hiss was said to have typed the documents was missing; Hiss claimed it would prove him innocent. Despite a massive FBI effort to locate the typewriter, the Hiss defense found it and presented it triumphantly to the court, only to learn that it matched the Chambers documents. Ever since that time, the Hiss defense claimed that the typewriter was used to frame him, that the FBI manufactured a phony duplicate Woodstock to match the Chambers documents and left it for Hiss to find — a type of fabrication that even the Hiss critic Allen Weinstein acknowledged “had become standard procedure in the repertoire of espionage agencies by the time of the Second World War.”

Although the “forgery by typewriter” theory seems unlikely, evidence keeps cropping up suggesting that it’s true. In Nixon’s book “Six Crises,” published in 1962, he wrote that the FBI had the typewriter four months before Hiss’s attorneys found what they thought was the right Woodstock. That fit Hiss’ “forgery by typewriter” theory. After a period of embarrassed silence, Nixon put out a press release saying this had been a researcher’s error; subsequent editions of the book said the FBI never had the typewriter. Eleven years later, during the Watergate crisis, John Dean, counsel to President Nixon, recalled Nixon telling him, “The typewriters are always the key. We built one in the Hiss case.” Nixon’s edition of the White House tape transcripts confirmed Dean’s account, quoting Nixon as saying, “We got the typewriter, we got the Pumpkin Papers. We got all of that ourselves.” The debate for 50 years focused on the authenticity of the typewriter Hiss introduced at the trial; now it seems that the Nixon Library vault holds a second phony Woodstock.

Needless to say, the “forgery by typewriter” theory is not presented in the Nixon Library display. One visitor standing next to me at the display commented, “Isn’t that something! I remember hearing about the Pumpkin deal, but I never understood what it was about.”

The Nixon Library, and the “fact sheet” on the Whittaker Chambers pumpkin patch, could have said the evidence on which Hiss was convicted of perjury had not been very convincing. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. A second trial was held four months later; during the interval, the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb, and the communists won power in China, intensifying Cold War hysteria in the United States over communist espionage. The fact that Hiss was convicted in this overheated atmosphere created a cloud of doubt about the verdict that has never dissipated.

The doubts were renewed when the Pumpkin Papers themselves were released in 1975 in response to Hiss’ own Freedom of Information lawsuit. What Chambers had pulled out of the pumpkin that night in 1948 included some unreadable film and some innocuous Navy Department documents dealing with life rafts and fire extinguishers (they said they should be painted red). The documents were unrestricted at the time and obviously distributed widely — to everyone in the navy with jurisdiction over fire extinguishers. If these pages of the Pumpkin Papers had been made public at the time of the trial, the prosecution would have been laughed out of court.

The rest of the 55 images are of State Department documents that had been introduced at the two Hiss trials. All dated from 1938. At the time, government prosecutors — and Richard Nixon — described them as classified national security documents. But the topics seem routine — trade relations with Germany, developments in Japanese-occupied Manchuria — and many people other than Hiss had access to them. In the Rosenberg case, the prosecution said its evidence included a drawing revealing the secret of the A-bomb; the Pumpkin Papers contained nothing remotely like that. But you wouldn’t learn that at the Nixon Library, or at the pumpkin patch National Historic Landmark.

The opening of the Soviet archives after 1991 led conservative historians to look forward to the discovery of proof that Hiss was guilty, but in 1992 General Dmitri A. Volkogonov, chairman of the Russian government’s military intelligence archives, conducted a search and reported that “not a single document substantiates the allegation that Mr. A. Hiss collaborated with the intelligence services of the Soviet Union … If he was a spy then I believe positively I would have found a reflection in various files.” None have been found there since. (Volkogonov subsequently qualified his remarks, noting that evidence implicating Hiss could be in archives he hadn’t consulted.)

But the efforts to prove Hiss guilty continued. The most important attempt focused on the Venona documents, released in 1996 by the National Security Agency (NSA), Soviet messages from and about their spies decoded by the United States At the time New York Post editor, Eric Breindel, wrote in the New Republic that one of the Venona documents, purportedly sent by a Soviet spy in Washington to his superiors in Moscow in 1945, proves “beyond doubt” that Hiss “was still a Soviet agent in 1945.” Many others agreed.

The Venona page released by the NSA, dated March 30, 1945, reports that “ALES has been working with the NEIGHBORS continuously since 1935”—“neighbors” was the code word for Soviet military intelligence— “working on obtaining military information only.” It also reports that “after the Yalta Conference, when he had gone on to Moscow, a Soviet personage in a very responsible position … allegedly got in touch with ALES and at the behest of the Military NEIGHBORS passed on him their gratitude and so on.”

At the bottom of that page a note declares, “ALES: probably Alger Hiss.” But that statement does not come from the Soviet document. Instead it appears in a separate section at the bottom of the page titled “Comments,” written by an unknown NSA functionary and dated Aug. 8, 1969 — 24 years after the original cable. Crucially, the identification of “Ales” as Hiss is not supported by any evidence from the Soviet archives.

It is true that Hiss attended the Yalta conference and then went on to Moscow. But in 2007 the historian Kai Bird made headlines with new evidence that “Hiss was not Ales.” In a lengthy article in the American Scholar, Bird, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his coauthor, Svetlana Chervonnaya, showed that Ales’ travels did not match Hiss’: Hiss was in Washington when Ales, according to his Soviet handlers, was in Mexico City. Through painstaking research Bird and Chervonaya were able to identify another State Department official whose travel matched Ales’s, who had gone to Yalta and then Moscow, and who had also been in Mexico City at the crucial time: a man named Wilder Foote. The FBI had suspected him of espionage, and the FBI file documenting their investigation of Foote is large. But Foote was never indicted. Instead, because of Whittaker Chambers, and the Pumpkin Papers, they went after Hiss.

* * *

Back in Westminster, Md., searching for the Whittaker Chambers pumpkin patch National Historic Landmark, we left the Visitor Center, heading out of town with directions and a map called “Carroll County Roads to Gettysburg Driving Tour,” but it contained nothing about the National Historic Landmark. Another map, the “Carroll County/Classic Country/ Bicycle Friendly Bicycle Tour,” also “highlights historical attractions”—but that map doesn’t show the pumpkin patch National Historic Landmark either. The road itself is marked “scenic route,” and indeed it is, with beautiful rolling hills and farms and forests gleaming this day in their full fall colors.

At the corner of Bachman’s Valley Road and Saw Mill Road, where the landmark was supposed to be, we saw nothing but a field with a few horses in it. The bronze plaque displayed at the Heritage Foundation back in 1988 — the one that was supposed to mark this spot — was nowhere to be seen. Off Saw Mill Road was a handsome brick gate. I had an old article from the Washington Post that said the pumpkin patch was “in back of the barn.” We could see the barn; we were almost there. We drove through the gate and headed up the tree-lined driveway—but were confronted by a sign reading, “No Trespassing, hunting or fishing/Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Prosecuted for visiting a National Historic Landmark? Surely the taxpayers — who paid for the plaque — deserved better than this. I went home and sent an email, as any concerned citizen would, to the National Park Service; Barry Mackintosh replied. He said he had asked John Chambers — at that point a staff member at the Joint Congressional Committee on Printing — what happened and was told that he kept the plaque “inside one of the houses on the property,” because he “feared the plaque might be a target for thieves” if it were displayed outside. “I fully appreciate his concern,” Mackintosh wrote.

Then I got a second e-mail, from Robbie Lange of the National Park Service. Government regulations, he wrote, “clearly indicate that the government provides NHL [National Historic Landmark] plaques for the purpose of public display. A National Historic Landmark not providing some degree of public access does not meet the requirements for the receipt of a plaque at government expense. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.”

Thus the pumpkin patch National Historic Landmark is evidence not of conservatives’ success in honoring one of their heroes but rather of their failure. How many tourists are interested in being told that HUAC’s hunt for communist spies was not “McCarthyism” but rather a noble cause? “About two people a year.”

Excerpted from “How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America” by Jon Wiener. Copyright 2012. University of California Press. Republished with permission of the publisher and author.

14 Responses to debate on Whittaker Chambers Farm

  1. Joseph D Anderson says:

    I want get too involved in this particular discussion but would like to echo Mr. Walsh’s and others appreciation for Whittaker Chamber’s writings in general. Witness is one of a kind. The Hiss case aside I have been more than impressed with the sincerity and meditative insight that David’s grandfather was able too express in his writing. I believe such soul searching reflection can only come from one who is fully committed to knowing the truth about himself and his fellow man. And his experiences on his farm added another dimension to his perspective. It was there I believe that this man felt the most in tune with his Creator. This lifestyle exemplified his call for simplicity, honesty, and a spiritually renewed America. His skepticism of science and technology along with the intellectual mind has proven well founded.

  2. Juan Goldstein says:

    Dear Mr. Chambers,

    I am currently reading Witness for the second time. What a masterpiece!

    The most amazing moment in all of this must have been (one of the) time(s) when Hiss claimed he’d never met or never known your grandfather. How strange and surreal that must have seemed to Whittaker!

    I’m glad Grandfather never had to know of how low our country has sunk in 2013. Although – he did more or less prophesy the time would come. Scary that it is only 50 years after he died…

    God have mercy on all.

  3. Avery says:

    I find Mr. Weiner’s reply to you very confusing. He seems to be trying to score points against someone who’s not you, by claiming that the lack of historically inclined visitors to your farm is proof of something about the Cold War. In any case it’s one of the most dishonest things I’ve read in a while.

  4. Reyes says:

    It must be very confusing to be a leftist, not knowing whether one should fill graves or disturb them.

  5. Roland Hirsch says:

    The linked document “Protecting America: Cold War Defensive Sites” lists the Kennedy Compound, Barnstable County, Massachusetts as one of the Cold War National Historic Sites. The description states “The houses are not open to the public.” (page 67)

    Some of the other National Historic Sites also are not open to the public, such as the Eight-Foot High-Speed Tunnel at NASA Langley Research Center: “It is now used for storage and is not open to the public.” (page 65)

    So the Whittaker Chambers Farm National Historic Site is not at all alone in not being open to the public.

  6. LH says:

    Mr. Chambers,
    I don’t see what your remark about Ms. Sterling has to do with the truth of what she wrote. Is she automatically discredited because she was once a Communist? You seem to think so. So would McCarthy. So would your grandfather. Tag a person as a leftist or communist and the discussion is over.
    My book about your grandfather and Hiss and the Case That Ignited McCarthyism is complete and will be published next year by a very reputable publisher. I truly have no personal or political stake in this story. I’m too young for communism, even too young for the New Left. I’m certainly a leftist but that’s beside the point.

    • Mr. Hartshorn,

      Please attend:

      • “I don’t see what your remark about Ms. Sterling has to do with the truth of what she wrote”: I merely noted that Ms. Sterling was a lifelong communist to help inform readers.
      • “Is she automatically discredited because she was once a Communist? You seem to think so”: Please resist the temptation to allege beliefs to me that are groundless and unsubstantiated. (Or, were you trying to voice your own belief?)
      • “Tag a person as a leftist or communist”: The only person engaged in an attempt to discredit is you — again — this time with an aspersion about “tagging,” which aims to conflate Whittaker Chambers with Joseph McCarthy.
      • “And the discussion is over”: I would have thought a conversation that involves Whittaker Chambers would be just beginning with the term “communism”…

      Your indignation makes me I wonder: were you aware before I made this note that Dorothy Sterling was a communist? More importantly, how does that information affect you as author when interpreting something like her NYT letter? (Perhaps I should have asked you this question initially, so you would not get bogged down in name-calling — and instead get to a possibly interesting point I was directly you to…)

    • T. H. Hubert says:

      Such self-identification is never “beside the point.”

  7. LH says:

    See New York Times:
    – “White House Freedom Medal Set for Whittaker Chambers” (February 22, 1984) by Francis X. Clines
    – “Whittaker Chambers: Odd choice for the Medal of Freedom” (February 28, 1984) by Dorothy Sterling

    • Interesting choice of citations — you know of course that Dorothy Sterling was a lifelong communist-socialist?…

      • LH says:

        A reply worthy of Joe McCarthy, though ole Whit led the way.

        • Mr. H,

          Since you’ve been writing about a book about Whittaker Chambers, I trust you pursue your subject with every effort at intellectual and historical integrity. Thus, I am surprised to see you make ad hominem attacks (and outdated ones, at that) at me when I add a note that states the intellectual outlook of your source, the late Ms. Dorothy Sterling. My note points readers to a Los Angeles Times article about Ms. Sterling because it is worth noting that person questioning the anti-communist Whittaker Chambers was a lifelong communist (as well as a supporter of Theodore White at Time magazine). Communism is dead — China went capitalist before Russia — so criticizing someone for merely noting that someone (dead) was a communist is a bit obsolete, no?

          Yet you resort to what you clearly intend as name-calling — which is itself ironic, since so many people (one would think, you among them) have objected to and disliked Whittaker Chambers for naming names.

          In fact, your comments and emails wax between brief moments of (grudging) respect toward Whittaker Chambers to long streams of angry attacks.

          Why be so coy in saying (as you have in the past) that you have nothing personal involved here? Please be candid. If you will accept a bit of gallows humor, you might start by answering, “Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party…?”

          For me, there is no shame in Communism, as I started my education in the Classics and still start each historical approach from Terence: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.”

          David Chambers

  8. Michael Walsh says:

    Mr. Chambers, I commend you for withholding cooperation from Mr. Wiener. His predictable hit-piece echoes all the tired Hiss apologetics that littered The Nation for many years.

    I continuously re-read Witness, Cold Friday, the letters to Buckley and the Teachout anthology of your grandfather’s journalism.

    Whittaker Chamber’s reflections on nature and the rural life, as experienced on Pipe Creek Farm, are incredibly evocative.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.