Friday, September 10, 2021

A Spy in the Neighborhood of Charles Village, Baltimore

A Spy in the Neighborhood of Charles Village:

the intersecting lives of a Confessed Communist Spy turned Conservative Republican, and a Baltimore American Reporter

Edward C. Papenfuse,

Maryland State Archivist, retired

Whitaker “David” Chambers, Alger Hiss, and R. P. Harriss[1]

My wife and I had come to love Baltimore above all cities. We were at home in it, finding in its kindly people and their quiet lives a tranquillity contrasting with our distress. We loved the physical city, its old brick houses in whose grave and fine proportions, we sensed the proportions of a soul as well as an architecture. We loved its moods of morning and of evening light, its long gardens, sometimes brick-walled, its gas-lit streets at night. We loved the touch of the continuing past and the present sense that, while the city's commerce tapped the mainland, its harbor looked seaward. And under its traditional and easy order, we sensed a sultriness that spiked it with a special character, of people as well as of climate, and saved it from monotony--a sultriness that stirred the city and its people less in the dog days than in the bursts of hot spring nights. There was thus a proprietary of the spirit in our choice that went beyond any practical reason, and determined us to make in this gracious and loved city our stand against death and for life. …

Whittaker Chambers, Witness, p. 60.[2]


No matter how much evidence remains for the study of history, it takes considerable imagination to reconstruct the past into a convincing narrative.[3] Sometimes the records are so extensive that perspective and detachment are nearly impossible. Was Alger Hiss (1904 – 1996), Baltimore born , Johns Hopkins educated, and State Department employee, a spy for the Russians? Was Whittaker Chambers (1901 – 1961), playwright, translator, self-confessed spy, ex-Communist, esteemed editor at Time Magazine, and Baltimore resident, a reliable Witness to proving Alger Hiss was a spy?[4]

April 26, 1945:

Alger Hiss, Secretary General of the San Francisco Conference

on creating a United Nations,

with U. S. Secretary of State Stettinius at the podium.

Source: UN Photo/Rosenberg

Alger Hiss, who had risen high in the State Department and was largely responsible for organizing the San Francisco conference that led to the creation of the United Nations, went to prison in 1950 convicted of perjury (not spying) on the testimony and documents supplied by Whittaker Chambers. He denied Chambers’s charges to the day he died, November 15, 1996, at the age of 92.[5]

Was Alger Hiss guilty of treason or collaboration with Russia? The question remains a matter of extended debate fueled by web sites devoted to the lives of both Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers.[6] A possible theory is that Witness by Whitaker Chambers is the “Great American Novel,” one of the best examples of American historical fiction conceived and begun in Baltimore.

Regardless of what conclusions the reader reaches from the mountain of evidence and the books that have been written about Alger Hiss’s guilt or innocence, much of the testimony and the evidence produced by Whittaker Chambers about Hiss, centers on Baltimore where Chambers and his family, often under a number of aliases, lived in typical middle class housing (largely rental) from 1934 until 1939.[7] From the standpoint of the Hiss case, the most important of those years was 1938 when the Chambers family lived openly at 2610 St. Paul Street.

2610 Saint Paul St, Baltimore, MD 21218

a single family home built about 1847. This property was sold for $250,000 in 2019

and in 2021 had an estimated value of $298,000, 20.53% less than

the median listing price in Charles Village.[8]

1938 was a pivotal year for Whittaker Chambers and his family. By his own testimony early that year and the evidence presented at trial, he decided to leave the Communist Party and join the rants of the bourgeoisie. In February he was furloughed from his government job in Washington as an editor with the Works Progress Administration, National Research Project, and found it necessary to seek a permanent job.

a sample of the composition, editorial, and translation work by Whittaker Chambers to 1940[9]

For several years Chambers had been engaged as an on again, off again editor of left wing journals and newspapers, as well as a respected translator of several books, and in 1938-39 he was under contract with Oxford University press and its affiliate, Longmans, Green and Co., as a translator. That supplied a modest income.[10]

Residents of 2124 Mt. Royal Terrace, 1924 and 1937/38[11]

The uncertainty of his financial affairs did not deter him and Esther from leaving rented apartments at 2124 Mount Royal Terrace where another famous spy, Virginia Hall, had once lived, to buying a house at 2610 St. Paul Street in June of 1938 as “David” and Esther Chambers.[12]

The new home at 2610 St. Paul Street, provided a city residence to complement the farm in Carroll County on which they had placed a down payment the previous year.[13] Where the financial resources came from to buy those two properties is a matter of debate, but it was in part made possible because the Chambers established their credit to borrow and to buy on time in Baltimore by convincing the Baltimore Credit Bureau that Whittaker was Jay Lea Chambers, a well-paid U. S. Treasury official.[14]

If his biographer is correct, Chambers acquired the last batch of secret government documents and microfilm from his sources in Washington in April 1938, as a security blanket intended to prove Alger Hiss was a spy, all of which he said he secreted in New York City in late 1938 or early 1939 for “insurance” purposes in case he was called to account for his espionage past and to name names of government officials who were fellow travelers or outright Communists.[15]

After losing his federal job in February 1938 because of the downsizing of his section, and a short vacation in Florida, Chambers returned to his new home at 2610 St. Paul Street with translation as his primary source of income while he looked for full time employment.[16]

During his and Esther’s ownership of 2610 St. Paul Street (June-1938-June 1939), it is clear “David” Chambers was hard at work translating, but what else may he have been doing, apart from job hunting in New York? In late 1938, he landed a steady well-paying job with Henry Luce as an editor at Time Magazine The documents and microfilm stashed in New York were forgotten, and the family’s financial future looked bright.[17]

Ten years later that peaceful world would fall apart and Chambers would be called upon to explain his communist ties and his suppliers of secret government documents. Before the House Un-American Activities Committee he would testify that Alger Hiss had been a communist who he had known well, and who was a spy, ultimately producing as evidence what became known as the Pumpkin Papers and Baltimore Documents. They included typescripts of classified government documents and microfilm of originals. None of the material, typed or copied, appeared to be dated later than April of 1938. Who typed the copies and when were they typed?[18]

H.L. Mencken(1880-1956) and his fellow journalist,

Robert Preston Harriss(1902-1989)

a 1949 photograph taken by photographer John T. “Jack” Engeman at Mencken’s home.

Jack Engeman, Slide Collection – slide_engeman-00, MdHS.

R.P. Harriss began his career as Mencken’s assistant in the 1920s and

for the next six decades pursued a career in journalism with the

Baltimore Sun, The Paris Herald Tribune, the Evening Sun, and the Baltimore American.

The answer possibly lies within the year the Chambers family lived at 2610 St. Paul Street, the modest 19th century house in Charles Village, Baltimore. The general public’s attention was first drawn to this connection with Chambers by Robert P. Harriss, a reporter for the Baltimore American in a “Man About Town” column he wrote on the death of Whittaker Chambers in 1961.

Clipping from the Baltimore American, July 12, 1961[19]

In 1948, when Chambers went public with his accusations against Hiss at the House Un-American Activities Committee, Harriss and his wife were sitting in the back garden of 2610 St. Paul Street. She was reading the newspaper account when she exclaimed “Why, he was hiding right here in our home!”

They looked back to when they were first shown the house by Esther Chambers (they dealt directly with her and never saw Chambers). They especially remembered the basement where they had noticed

a cubicle enclosed with heavy timbers--a sort of stockade, really--containing a chair, a small table and a typewriter under a droplight. Noting my questioning look, Mrs. Chambers said: “My Husband does his writing down here. He prefers to work down here.”

By 1961 when Harriss first wrote about his encounter with Mrs. Chambers and purchasing her home, there had been a great deal written about the typewriter on which some of the incriminating evidence presented about Hiss’s spying allegedly had been copied. Some scholars argue that the typist was Priscilla Hiss, thus incriminating her husband Alger. Others, including an FBI expert, dismiss the Woodstock typewriter that was introduced into evidence at Hiss’s trial as not the machine on which the purloined documents were typed.


Woodstock typewriter exhibit in the Hiss Case;

Priscilla Hiss and son Tony Hobson ca. 1941[20]

Was the typewriter Harriss and his wife claimed to have seen in the basement of 2610 St. Paul, the typewriter on which the Baltimore Papers produced by Chambers were typed ? Could that basement have been where Whittaker Chambers began to concoct and write down for future disclosure his attack on Hiss’s credibility?

The year the Chambers lived there (1938-1939) was certainly a turning point in Whittaker Chambers’s life. Henry Luce hired him as an editor for Time Magazine and he commenced full employment with a good salary based upon his editorial and translation skills. Had he already realized that he needed a water-tight story of his departure from the Party, and had accumulated ‘evidence’ of nefarious activity within the State Department as an insurance policy, typing the transcripts himself? What did, if anything, transpire in the basement of 2610 St. Paul Street?

Until the investigators for Hiss began digging deep into the life of Whittaker Chambers in the late 1940s, there was no proof that Chambers or his wife had ever owned 2610 St. Paul Street. The official land records of the day record no sale to the Chambers or from the Chambers to Harriss. The official record of the sale in June of 1939 was from Henry Momberger to Robert P. Harris.[21]

Henry Momberger had owned 2610 St. Paul Street since 1930 when he purchased it from Mabel K. Smith who had lived there since at least 1918 until her husband passed away on June 8, 1930.[22] In 1938 Momberger and the Chambers’s signed an off the record contract for the sale of the house.

Chambers’s Contract to purchase 2610 St. Paul Street

In searching for ownership of housing in Baltimore unrecorded contracts of sale get in the way of knowing who actually occupied the premises at a given point in time. Such contracts included a down payment, modifications to the house and grounds required by the buyer, and periodic payments with interest until the full purchase price was paid. At that point the official deed would be recorded among the land records of the city, and not before.

On the 11th Day of June, 1938, Esther and David Chambers signed an unrecorded Standard Contract of Sale with Henry Momberger to buy 2610 St. Paul with the agreement by Momberger to build a one car brick garage at the rear of the lot, create a clothes closet in a passageway adjoining the bathroom, repair the broken shutters and replace broken window panes. [23] The Chambers paid $200 down on a sale price of $2950 and agreed to conditions of paying the remainder plus interest that may have included an additional payment of $1,000 borrowed from Chambers mother Laha. Not until the Hiss investigators obtained the contract in October of 1948 was the proof obtained that the Chambers had agreed to buy the house. By October 1948 the contract with the Chambers had been transferred to the Harrisses with the sale recorded in the land records of the city as having occurred on the 29th day of June, 1939.[24]

June 1938 to June 1939 was a busy year for the Chambers who at last had the prospect of a steady income other than Esther’s possible salary at Park School. There she was an assistant to the art teacher, a job that she began while they were living in an apartment on Auchentoroly Terrace across from Druid Hill Park, near to the site of the first location of Park School. [25] From the Auchentoroly apartment they had moved to the apartment in Mount Royal Terrace which by coincidence proved to have more than one association with spies.[26]

Robert Stripling, counsel to the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee, and Richard Nixon, 37th President of the United States, examining microfilm

stashed in one of Whittaker Chambers’s pumpkins and

Richard Nixon holding a newspaper announcing the conviction of Alger Hiss for perjury[27]

In June of 1938 the Chambers moved from their apartment on Mt. Royal Terrace to their new home at 2610 St. Paul Street. A year later, after the sale to the Harrisses, the Chambers moved permanently from St. Paul Street to a farm in Carroll County, the scene of the microfilm in the pumpkin patch in 1948 which Richard Nixon so effectively used to launch his efforts to win the Presidency. Once again, there is no official record of initiating the purchase of the Carroll County property until 1940 when the Chambers had sufficient funds to complete the sale, a sale that had begun, not with the Chambers, but with an interest in the farm expressed by Priscilla Hiss in 1936.[28]

The Baltimore Papers, or Pumpkin Papers as they collectively were called, broke the Hiss case wide open. They consisted of documents covering the period from December 1937 until April 1938, including handwritten notes in Hiss’s hand from a cable sent from Moscow on January 28, 1938. The remainder were typescripts of documents allegedly produced on a Woodstock typewriter by Priscilla Hiss for Whitaker Chambers before April 1938, when Chambers deposed that he had broken with the Communist Party, typescripts that he said he stashed away instead of delivering them to his Communist contact in 1938, in case he ever needed them to prove his break with the Communist Party and identify those with whom he collaborated, specifically the Hisses. Chambers did not at first disclose the microfilm seen in the classic photograph of Richard Nixon and HUAC Counsel Robert Stripling, That would come later in the Pumpkin patch at the Carroll County farm.[29]

Of great interest were the typescripts which were of confidential or allegedly secret State Department documents. Who had typed them and what typewriter had been used? Did they indeed implicate Priscilla and Alger Hiss, or were they typed at 2610 St. Paul Street by Chambers, part of an elaborate scheme on his part to use Hiss as a means of ensuring his reputation as a fearless foe of Communism and as fodder for one of the finest pieces of fiction ever written by an American? As John P. Marquand pointed out in the blurb he authored for Witness as a Book-of-The-Month-Club selection in 1952, “No psychological novel can exceed it in interest. No study of conflicting character under stress could go deeper with Chambers, or be more puzzling than with Hiss. The book was not written as literature, but literature it is of a high order.”[30] Did the writing of what may have been a psychological novel of its own take shape in the cellar of 2610 St. Paul? The facts are not to be found. Like R. P. Harriss, we are left to our imagination.


Appendix

Whittaker and Esther Chambers

in and out of Baltimore

1934-1939

My wife and I had come to love Baltimore above all cities. We were at home in it, finding in its kindly people and their quiet lives a tranquillity contrasting with our distress. We loved the physical city, its old brick houses in whose grave and fine proportions, we sensed the proportions of a soul as well as an architecture. We loved its moods of morning and of evening light, its long gardens, sometimes brick-walled, its gas-lit streets at night. We loved the touch of the continuing past and the present sense that, while the city's commerce tapped the mainland, its harbor looked seaward. And under its traditional and easy order, we sensed a sultriness that spiked it with a special character, of people as well as of climate, and saved it from monotony--a sultriness that stirred the city and its people less in the dog days than in the bursts of hot spring nights. There was thus a propriety of the spirit in our choice that went beyond any practical reason, and determined us to make in this gracious and loved city our stand against death and for life. ...(Witness, p. 60)

1) sometime in 1934- April 1935 the Chambers lived at 903 St. Paul Street, as Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Cantwell

903 St. Paul[31]

I had noticed an apartment-to-rent sign in a window at 903 St. Paul Street -- an old brick building with Baltimore's traditional white stone steps. It was the headquarters of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. That seemed to me a properly sober address for an underground worker. Under the name "Lloyd Cantwell" I rented the apartment. (Witness, p. 358)

[Their maid may have been Edith Murray according to Chambers in Witness, but Edith's testimony does not seem to document that she worked for them at both the St. Paul Street apartment and later at Eutaw Place, but only at the latter. When she responded, "So I said ... ' Is Mr. Cantwell back in Baltimore? Are they looking for me to work for them?" (Weinstein, 1997, p. 131) it was to an FBI agent in [November] 1949 (Tanenhaus, p. 415), yet in Witness, Chambers relates all of his initial experiences with Edith Murray as if they took place at 903 St. Paul Street. (Witness, 357-358).

On his September 30, 1937 application for employment with the National Research Project of the WPA, Chambers indicated that between 1930 and 1935 he was employed by Maxim Lieber, Publisher's Agent, 545 5th Avenue, with editorial responsibilities as Managing Editor of American Feature Syndicate at $200 a month (Zeligs, 295). He is also referred to as a free-lance writer, and translator, formerly with the Maxim Lieber's Literary Agency in New York, in 1937 when he, as Jay Chambers, and Esther applied for a scholarship for their daughter Ellen at Park School. (Zeligs, 218). In February 1934 Beverly Smith published an article that included mention of Hiss in American Magazine (Weinstein, 545: 5. Beverly Smith, "Uncle Sam Grows Younger," American Magazine, Feb. 1934, p.124.) I wonder if anyone ever attempted to discover if George Crosley, Lloyd Cantwell, David Breen, or any variation of Jay David Whittaker Chambers ever worked as a freelance editor/writer for the American Magazine? Surely Chambers would have had to convince Hiss of the legitimacy of his hoped for connection with the magazine in 1934-35 when both agreed Chambers asserted he hoped to write for the magazine? If Weinstein is correct and Beverly Smith was a friend of Hiss (he cites no sources for this assertion), perhaps Smith corroborated Chambers's credentials or Lieber provided him with credentials that made his assertion plausible? (Weinstein, 41)].

The Chambers family lived on St. Paul Street in Baltimore [from 1934] until the late spring of 1935. During these months, Chambers told the FBI early in 1949, "my wife has reminded me that Priscilla and Alger Hiss once visited there [St. Paul Street] for dinner." It was from that address that Chambers moved his family into the Hisses' 28th Street apartment [in Washington, D. C.], and Whittaker remembered Alger helping him pack up "some of the baby things on his 'old Ford' " and driving him to Washington. His family occupied the Hiss apartment at the invitation of the Hisses and rent-free, Chambers asserted. Moreover, the arrangement included the loan of some furniture from the Hisses, which the Chamberses kept—and produced in 1949 for Hiss's lawyers.31 (Weinstein, 1997, 129)

...

And her [ Esther Chambers] relationship with the Hisses? "I met Alger Hiss for the first time at St. Paul Street [in Baltimore in 1934]." Chambers, she testified, had brought Hiss home one day. Mrs. Chambers had a great deal of difficulty with dates in her testimony. Rarely was she precise as to a month, and she generally used her children's ages and other personal events as milestones to measure her connections with the Hisses. (Weinstein, 1997, p. 382)

[May 1935- June 1935 occupied Hisses' apartment on 28th Street in Washington, D. C., furnished, paying no rent. Weinstein, 1997, p. 128. They apparently spent August and September 1935 on holiday in Smithtown, Pennsylvania, (Weinstein, 1997, p. 130), as the David Breen family, where possibly Mrs. Hiss and Timmy joined them (Zeligs, p. 207).]

It is known that Chambers, as either Crosley or Carl, stayed several nights in the Hisses' house on P Street and that for nearly two months (May and June of 1935) he lived with his wife and infant in an apartment leased by the Hisses. No records of the arrangements were kept, and in fact, according to both men, no money changed hands. (Zeligs, p. 201).

Mrs. Chambers remembered the Hisses giving them the apartment at 28th Street almost completely furnished, since the Chambers family had almost no furniture at the time except for "the baby's things." She lived at the apartment for about two months, during which time she saw Mrs. Hiss for lunch and once when Priscilla took her and the baby for a drive to Washington's Hains Point. Also, "Mrs. Hiss and I both went to visit Dr. Nicholson about Timmy together,

at which time Dr. Nicholson examined my baby, ... (Weinstein, 1997, p. 382). [If Esther's memory on the stand is accurate, they also spent some time in this period in New York at Meyer Shapiro's, and a few days at the Hisses P Street home. (Weinstein, 1997, p. 382)]


2) October 1935-Spring of 1936, live at 1617 Eutaw Place Apartment C in Baltimore (Zeligs, p. 440; Baltimore City Directory, 1936, EPFL), as Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Cantwell (no available image.

[rented from the wife of a prominent brickwork contractor Charles E. Jackson (1880-1944) who earned a craftsmanship award for his many Baltimore Office buildings, schools, Guilford homes, and the entrance to the Municipal Stadium on 33rd Street. Between October 1935 and the Spring of 1936, Whittaker and Esther Chambers rented apartment ‘C’ from Charles E. Jackson’s wife, Alma May Jackson (d. 1974) who owned the “Blenheim” apartment building at 1617 Eutaw Place. The building, since demolished, was not constructed by Jackson and had its origins in the 1850s. Chambers may have attended a game in Municipal Stadium, although there is no evidence that he did so. See: SCL 5122/208, Baltimore City Land Records and a title search for the ownership of the apartment house.]

From fall 1935 to spring 1936, Esther and Whittaker lived in a Eutaw Place apartment in Baltimore, using the names "Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Cantwell." They had employed a maid at the time named Edith ... Murray. (Weinstein, 1997, p. 131)

The fact that Chambers saw himself as a temporary resident of Baltimore, and that Hiss, once segregated from the Ware Group, was operating in "isolation," contributed to the social interactions of the Hisses and the Chamberses, which were in violation of "underground procedures." And as the friendship between the two families developed, Chambers's transfer to London was delayed. The Chamberses would remain in the Baltimore-Washington area for most of 1934 and 1935. For part of that time they lived, rent-free, in the 29th Street apartment rented by the Hisses, which was vacant for two months after the Hisses moved, in the spring of 1935, to a furnished house on P Street. They also lived briefly with the Hisses, occupying the third floor of the P Street house for about a month. Eventually they moved back to Baltimore, to an apartment on Eutaw Place, not far from Minnie Hiss's house. Their frequent changes of location were dictated by the fact that they believed that any moment they might be dispatched to England and thus chose places with short-term rentals.11 (White, p. 40)

[note that White is wrong about the location of the Hiss Apartment during July 1934-June 1935:

The matter of Alger and Priscilla Hiss's various D.C. residences during the 1930s, all in the

Northwest section, would figure prominently in the events that followed and requires summary.

Dates of Hiss Residences in Washington, D. C.:

1933-July 1934 3411 O Street, N.W.

July 1934-June 1935 2831 28th Street, N.W.

June 1935-June 1936 2905 P Street, N.W.

June 1936-Dec. 1937 1245 30th Street, N.W.

Dec. 1937-1943 3415 Volta Place, N.W.

Chambers said that he met the Hisses at the 28th Street residence and saw them for the last time

in December 1938 at Volta Place. (Weinstein, 1997, p. 27, n.)]


3) Spring 1936- Fall 1936? in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

[According to Zeligs, p.440, in the Spring of 1936 the Chambers moved in with Maxim Lieber in New Hope, Pennsylvania under the name of David Breen. Tanenhous, quoted below, indicates they lived apart from Lieber. The title to the Hiss Ford was transferred on July 26, 1936, and on August 18, 1936, John Chambers was born in New York City. The Baltimore City Directory for 1937 (compiled in 1936?), EPFL, shows both 1617 Eutaw Place, Apartment C., and 3310 Auchentoroly Terrace as 'vacant'.]

In the summer of 1936 the Chamberses again vacationed in Pennsylvania. Max Lieber, enchanted by his stay the previous summer, had bought a farm in Ferndale, in upper Bucks County. Chambers located a place in nearby New Hope. For a nominal rent, met by his underground expense account, the "Breen" family occupied a three-room stone house set in an orchard, with commanding views of maples in front and a long stretch of garden in back. The previous summer Chambers had purchased a secondhand car, a tan Ford, and commuted regularly to Washington and New York. Their landlords, the Marshall family, apple growers, liked their summer tenants. Ellen ("Ursula Breen"), now almost three, played with Charlie Marshall, the landlord's son. ... he "always paid his rent in cash the first of every month." (Tanenhous, p. 107)

[how long they occupied the Marshall place is not clear. Tanenhous, pp. 107 says that they went to Manhattan in August, subletting the Schapiro's brownstone, "conveniently close to Booth Memorial Hospital," where John was born, returning to New Hope "to prolong their country idyll and stayed on though the winter and spring.:" That does not seem likely, even though in his personal statement, Chambers asserts that they lived at the Marshall farm 10-11 months. (Tanenhous, p. 548, n. 14). For the actual text of Chambers's personal statement see In Re Alger Hiss, Volume I, p. 251. It would appear that in fact the Chamberses moved back to Baltimore ca. October, 1936.]


4) Fall of 1936-November 1937, 3310 Auchentoroly Terrace, Baltimore, 21217, under name of Jay Chambers (source: Zeligs, 440):

courtesy of Google Earth, 2021/08/25

[beginning in the late summer or fall of 1936, the Chamberses began living under Whittaker's surname, possibly because they now had another child and Whittaker began casting around for a more permanent source of income from a steady job?]

... rented an apartment in Baltimore, on Auchentoroly Terrace, a middle-class neighborhood, mainly Jewish, in the northern part of the city, across the street from Druid Hill Park and its observatory. This was Chamber's address during the peak months of his work as an espionage agent. Tanenhaus, 111.

C&P Phone Book, corrected to October 1, 1936, Auchentoroly Terrace:

[during the Spring of 1937, Mrs. Hiss was applying to the University of Maryland to take courses. (Weinstein, 1997, pp. 193-194) and according to Zeligs, pp. 251-252, based upon a credit application with the Baltimore Credit Bureau, Mrs. Chambers (then teaching at the Park School) stole the credit identity of a Jay Lea Chambers who lived and worked at the Treasury Department in Washington. In October 1937, Esther applies to enroll Ellen at Park School (Weinstein, p. 385; Zeligs, p. 219, who notes the letter was written on October 11, 1937 from 310 [sic] Auchentoroly Terrace)]

On May 25, 1937, Priscilla wrote to the director of admissions at the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus, W. M. Hillegeist, applying for admission to the summer courses in chemistry given by the School of Pharmacy, which would begin two weeks later. She had written Bryn Mawr the previous day to send Hillegeist her undergraduate transcript. To explain these last-minute requests, she linked her decision to take the course directly to a program then being offered at Mercy Hospital: "I am extremely anxious to take the course [in inorganic chemistry] and obtain the necessary credits for Mercy Hospital's training course in medical technology. . . . I realize that this is extremely short notice for your office."

...

After Tim's illness [Timothy Hobson had been struck by a car while bicycle-riding on February 19, 1937; he spent four

months confined to a bed with a fractured leg and walked on crutches for some months after that] she was moved to re-examine the possibilities & Dr. Nicholson (our Catholic woman pediatrician) & others recommended taking a laboratory technician's course as more practical in view of her age & family duties. Pros is quite sure that once she found that she would have to take inorganic to take the technician's course and that she needed only to add organic to college physics & get into George Washington Medical School she lost interest in the technician's course.48 Further confirmation comes from a June 1,1937, letter to Mrs. Hiss from Sister M. Celeste of Mercy Hospital: "Regarding your summer course in Chemistry, if in organic chemistry, you acquire eight (8) credits, we will consider your application for September entrance in our School for Medical Technicians." Priscilla decided on a career in that field not in 1935, as Hiss later claimed, but, according to his own letter, after Timothy Hobson's serious accident in February 1937, and she filled out the application in late May. Hiss acknowledged this in a memo about Priscilla prepared for his attorneys in 1948 when he wrote: "In the summer of 1937, following Tim's recovery from a serious accident the preceding winter, Priscilla's mind turned toward medicine. . . ." Therefore, Esther Chambers would have had no way of knowing about these plans had she not seen Priscilla Hiss sometime during the summer of 1937. Chambers, in this connection, displayed familiarity with Hobson's accident when questioned by Hiss's attorneys in November 1948, an equally puzzling circumstance unless he had seen the Hisses that same year. Although wrong about the date, Esther and Whittaker Chambers recalled the circumstances surrounding Priscilla Hiss's daily trips to Baltimore during the summer of 1937, indicating an awareness of her last-minute decision to enter a Mercy Hospital medical-technician's program—a decision Priscilla did not make until late May 1937. ... (Weinstein, 1997, 193-194)

5) Spring of 1937 agrees to purchase (down payment on) Westminster Farm (Zelig, 440) for which previously (1936) the Hisses had placed a deposit (Weinstein, 49); possibly spending the summer there.

[On May 28, 1936, Alger Hiss wrote the real estate agent that he wanted to terminate the agreement and a refund of his deposit. (Weinstein, 49-50). The agent received another letter (which is mis-dated February 3, 1936) in February 1937 from Chambers inquiring about the property. In March either he or Esther placed a $40 deposit, and then Esther Chambers agreed to purchase the "I. Estella Shaw" place on April 10, 1937 for $650, placing a further down payment of $285 (Weinstein, 50). There appears to be no recording of the sale among the land records of Carroll County until 1940 and 1941 (http://mdlandrec.net). It is probable that the family spent the summer there before returning to Baltimore and their new apartment on Mount Royal Terrace by December, 1937.]



6) December? 1937-April 1938, lives as David or Jay Chambers at 2124 Mount Royal Terrace (Zelig, 440); Tanenhous, 552, n. 53

2124 Mount Royal Terrace

[From October 18, 1937 until April 1938, Chambers worked in Washington on the National Research Project (a branch of the WPA) (Zeligs, pp. 294-295), a job that paid him $166 a month as an editor. His rent in Baltimore was probably ca. $40 a month?]

C&P Telephone book, corrected to April 1, 1938, EPFL, Mount Royal Terrace:

In December [1937], he found a new apartment still in Baltimore, on Mount Royal Terrace, a row of brick twin houses perched on tall stoops atop an embankment. From its steep height the house commanded good views of the street below. Chambers told none of his accomplices he had moved. His plans, so deliberate at the outset, were now speeding up, though not by choice. In 1937 the hand of the purge had reached across to America, leaving two bloody prints in disturbing proximity to Chambers himself. (Tanenhous, 126, and on p. 550, n. 13, notes rent receipt from Andrew J. Ludwig, December 25, 1937).

1938- late January- (Tanenhous, 134), indicates that in Late January, 1938, Chambers received notice that as of February 1, he would be furloughed without prejudice from the National Research Project because he was newer staff and there was a reduced workload. He had worked at compiling an index of the nation's railroads, at a salary of $166.66 a month, doubling his income. He was known there as J. V. David Chambers and classified as a "Report Editor." (Tanenhous, 125, 134).

1938-

Chambers set aside the manuscript and turned to another matter, finding temporary safe lodgings for his family. Some of his acquaintances knew he was living at Mount Royal Terrace. He placed an ad for a subletter in the Baltimore Sun and then "roamed all over the countryside" in search of a hideout, eventually subleasing a single large room in a private home divided into apartments, on Old Court Road in Woodlawn, the rural outskirts of Baltimore. The house stood atop a rise with sweeping views in all directions. The owner, who lived on the premises, kept a police dog. Tanenhaus, 135.

[Moved to Old Court Road some days after April 1, 1938. (April 19?: Tanenhous, 552, n. 54). Utilities were cut off at Mount Royal Terrace on April 9, 1938 and new tenants moved in on April 27, 1938 (Tanenhous, 553, n.58).]

An interesting coincidence is the fact that another spy once lived at 2124 Mount Royal Terrace, Virginia Hall. See: “The Baltimore spy who beat the Nazis” by Jacques Kelly, Baltimore Sun, January 11, 2020 (https://www.baltimoresun.com/features/retro-baltimore/bs-md-kelly-virginia-hall-20200111-6qeyyfkygrarzfurs7och6v6ki-story.html).

7) April 1938, Old Court Road, off and on; in May 1938, apparently in Florida; returns in June (Weinstein, )

8) June 1938- purchases [agrees to purchase?] 2610 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, as David Chambers and sells it [relinquishes his contract?] in the Summer of 1939 (Zelig, 440).

Back in Baltimore [ca. June, 1938], the Chamberses [briefly?] moved into their small Old Court Road apartment to begin a cautious but somewhat less secretive existence under their own name. They frequently patronized Center Street pawn shops, and, having no regular source of income except for his publisher's modest advances, the family lived close to poverty until Chambers began work for Time the following year. Still, aided by a $500 loan from his mother for use as a down payment, Chambers purchased a small house on St. Paul Street to which the family moved in June 1938. They remained there until November, when they moved to the Westminster farm acquired the previous year. (Weinstein, 1997, p. 280, note 19, p. 566-Witness, pp. 42-44, 56-63; Summary Report, op. cit., p. 131)

[It is possible they spent the summer at their Carroll County farm]

In June (1938) he and Esther found a house, at 2610 St. Paul Street, near Johns Hopkins University. The house, a spacious two stories, had a small enclosed backyard where Ellen and John could play. The price was $2,950. Chambers borrowed the $1,000 down payment from Laha, with the rest to be paid like rent, in monthly installments of $40." In 1939 (Tanenhous, 156) sublet the St. Paul Street house, moved in with his mother, Laha, as he began his Time job, and then moved to Westminster where he remained for the rest of his life. See footnote 7, Tanenhous, p. 552: "EC deposition, Nov. 17, 1948, p. 698, W, pp. 60-61. Contract of sale for house at 2610 St. Paul Street, June 11, 1938; agreement: June 25, 1938 (both HISS)." (Tanenhous, 138).

[There is no official land record of any of these transactions. As far as the land records are concerned in this period the house was owned according to public records by a Henry Momberger (probably subject to a ground rent) from 1930 until June 1939 when Momberger sold it to Robert P. Harris and his wife. (http://mdlandrec.net for Baltimore City). Robert P. Harris, a reporter who bought the house from Momberger according to the recorded deed (Baltimore City Land Records 5928/273), claims in the Baltimore American, July 16, 1961, that he bought it from Chambers:

The day the spy news "broke," 10 years later [1949?], our family was sitting at a table on the back-garden patio, waiting for Callie to serve dinner. Suddenly my wifed, reading the story under the black headlines, cried, "Why, he was hiding right here in our house!" We hurriedly checked the record of sale. The name on it was David W. Chambers, but there could be no mistake--- the "W" obviously was for Whittaker.." Besides there was Time identification. We also remembered vividly an incident that occurred when we were being shown through the house by Mrs. Chambers. ...In the basement we noticed a cubicle enclosed with heavy timbers--a sort of stockade, really -- containing a chair, a small table and a typewriter under a droplight. Noting my questioning look, Mrs. Chambers said: "My husband does his writing down here. He prefers to work down here."

[Observation: Tanenhous says they moved to Westminster in December of 1938 after a visit by Chambers and Ellen to his Oxford University Press editor in New York, (Tanenhous, 147-148), but if Harris is correct, Esther was showing the St. Paul Street house to the Harrises ca. June 1939. The house in Westminster does not appear to have been winterized and it is more likely they returned to Baltimore following their usual pattern.]

9) moves to Westminster (Carroll County) Farm permanently ca. April 1939, when he began a steady paying job at Time Magazine.

[In Witness, p. 86, Chambers says it was his neighbors, the Eubanks and Chesneys, who lent Esther train fare for his trip to NY and the Time interview in 1939 (he joined Time in April, 1939)].


[1] Until he became an editor at Time Magazine in 1939, Whittaker Chambers assumed many aliases including calling himself David. See: https://whittakerchambers.org/about/aliases/.

[2] For examples of the extensive investigations of the lives of Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers, see the writings of Alistair Cooke, A Generation on Trial: U.S.A. Vs. Alger Hiss. New York: Knopf, 1950, Allan Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case. New York: Random House, 1997, Samuel Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1997, and most recently, Joan Brady, Alger Hiss: Framed: A New Look at the Case That Made Nixon Famous, 2017.

[3] See Schama, Simon. Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations). Vintage, 1992, for a discussion of the uncertainties of writing history, and Spence, Jonathan D. The Question of Hu. New York: Vintage Books, 1989, as a prime example of the role of imagination in writing history.

[4] Is it possible that Chambers created, out of whole cloth, a brilliant , completely fabricated story of Hiss’s guilt as a spy which caused Hiss to lose his job and go to prison? Hiss’s son Tony in Laughing Last, and stepson Timothy Hobson at a conference on Hiss and Chambers in 2007, defended Hiss. According to a CBS news report

Timothy Hobson, Hiss' stepson, said Whittaker Chambers, whose bombshell allegations against Hiss broke the case open, had lied about his personal relationship with Hiss and had never visited the Hiss home as he claimed. Hobson, 80, said that during the time Chambers claimed to have visited the home, he was recuperating from a broken leg and met every person who came calling. Chambers was a former American communist party member who spied for the Soviets during the 1930s. He defected before World War II and accused others of being spies, but his claims did not attract FBI interest until after the war. He joined Time magazine in 1939 and as a writer and editor was a severe critic of communism. He died in 1961. "It is my conviction that he was in love with Alger Hiss, that he was rejected by Alger Hiss and he took that rejection in a vindictive way," Hobson said. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/author-hiss-innocent-of-espionage/

Joan Brady, Alger Hiss: Framed: A New Look at the Case That Made Nixon Famous, 2017, believes Chambers concocted the evidence and Meyer A. Zeligs. Friendship and Fratricide. An Analysis of Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss. London: Deutsch, 1967, lends credence to the theory of Chambers as the rejected lover.

Perhaps the key to positing whether or not Chambers actually concocted his damning narrative of his and Esther’s relationship with Alger and Priscilla Hiss are two individuals who play minor roles in Alan Weinstein’s Perjury (1978 and none at all in Tanenhaus’s Chambers (1997), Baltimore reporter Beverly Smith and Baltimore Pediatrician Dr. Margaret Nicholson. Dr. Nicholson knew Esther and Ellen Chambers at the same time she treated Timmy Hobson, son of Priscilla Hobson Hiss. With imagination, it is possible to construct a narrative of the Chambers befriending the Hisses as early as 1934 when the Chambers first arrive in Baltimore to live in a rented apartment at 903 St. Paul Street (see Appendix). Hiss testifies that at that time Chambers passed himself off as George Crosley (although the Chambers called themselves the Cantwells at 903 St. Paul) who hoped to sell his stories of the New Deal to the American Magazine, where Beverly Smith had published a flattering account of Hiss’s arrival in Washington in February of 1934 (Perjury, 46, 134). It is not difficult, given Chambers’s literary career and association with the Communist Party at that point, to believe that his party role was to cultivate an association with Hiss and to gather information about him. In this Esther played a prominent role in also befriending Priscilla Hobson Hiss whose socialist tendencies have been thoroughly documented. As the Chambers became less enamored with the Party and moved from apartment dwellers to bourgeois home and property owners in 1938 (see Appendix), they also created an insurance policy of documentation that would establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that they not only had left the party but that they were willing to document that their New Deal associates were Communists or Communist sympathizers, if they should ever have to. In 1948-1949 when the witch hunt for Communists in Roosevelt's New Deal intensified, they were called upon to do so.

[5] For the continuing interest in the Alger Hiss story see “The life and fate of Alger Hiss remains a hot topic among readers” By Frederick N. Rasmussen, Baltimore Sun, June 25, 2011, https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/bs-md-backstory26-20110624-story.html

[7] See note 4 above for an alternate interpretive theory of the Chambers/Hiss story and the appendix for the Baltimore addresses of the Chambers family. The residences of the Chambers family in Baltimore provide insight into the rental architecture of Baltimore and its ownership in that period and tangentially to the life of one of the best known brickwork contractors of his time, Charles E. Jackson (1880-1944) who earned a craftsmanship award for his many Baltimore Office buildings, schools, Guilford homes, and the entrance to the Municipal Stadium on 33rd Street. Between October 1935 and the Spring of 1936, Whittaker and Esther Chambers rented apartment ‘C’ from Charles E. Jackson’s wife, Alma May Jackson (d. 1974) who owned the “Blenheim” apartment building at 1617 Eutaw Place. The building, since demolished, was not constructed by Jackson and had its origins in the 1850s. See: SCL 5122/208, Baltimore City Land Records and a title search for the apartment house. Chambers may have attended a game in Municipal Stadium, although there is no evidence that he did so. It is clear from the residential pattern of the Chambers family that in 1938 they moved from being unconcerned about owning housing to entering the bourgeoisie with the purchase of 2610 St. Paul Street and the farm in Carroll County.

[8] https://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/2610-Saint-Paul-St_Baltimore_MD_21218_M58004-09811. This reference has the wrong date of construction which is corrected in the caption. The State Department of Assessment and taxation also has the wrong date of construction. According to R. P. Harris who owned the house from 1939 until 1953, the house was constructed in 1847 when it was in Baltimore County.

[9] Chambers’s Play for Puppets which was decidedly anti-Christian led to his ouster from Columbia University, Bambi was his most famous and enduring translation. He was briefly an editor at the Communist “New Masses” and co-translated and edited The Great Crusade by an Anti-Stalinist Communist, Gustav Regler during his residence at 2610 St. Paul Street.

[10] Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers, p. 144.

[11] sources for composite: Google Maps, 2021/09/08; https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-county/bs-md-co-virginia-hall-marker-20180404-story.html; https://archives.dickinson.edu/image-archive/esther-francis-chambers-1932, Virginia Hall yearbook image, Yearbook page from 1924 Roland Park Country School for Virginia Hall. (Courtesy Roland Park Country School). Image of Whittaker Chambers from https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/a-byte-out-of-history-the-alger-hiss-story. See: Sonia Purnell, A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II. 2020. See also Jacques Kelly, “The Baltimore spy who beat the Nazis”, Balimore Sun, January 11, 2020. He doesn't mention the Mount Royal Terrace connection with Whittaker Chambers.

[12] For Virginia Hall, see: Sonia Purnell, A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, 2019.

[13] Weinstein, Perjury, pp. 51-57.

[14] See Zeligs, Friendship and Fratricide, pp. 251-252. When he worked for the WPA National Research Project (1936-1937) he also used the name “J. V. David Chambers”. Proof of that job using the name of the Treasury official would also have contributed to a solid credit rating in Baltimore. Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers, ff. 125, 134.

[15] Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers, p. 136.

[16] for Chambers’s translation work in 1938, see Tanenhaus, f. 137 and footnote 4.

[17]Alan Weinstein, Sam Tanenhaus, and Meyer A. Zeligs, have thoroughly documented where Whitaker Chambers lived in Baltimore between 1934 and 1939, the years in which Chambers transitions from a Communist spy in the pay of Russia to a celebrated editor at Time Magazine. Their conclusions are illustrated in the appendix which follows this essay. For a compilation of Whittaker Chambers’s employment prior to 1939 when he joined Time Magazine and moved permanently to Carroll County, see the appendix to Meyer A. Zeligs and Sam Tanenhaus’s biography. Chamber’s mastery of many languages held him in good stead as an editor. For a list of his published translations see: https://archive.is/20130416034042/http://whittakerchambers.org/translations.html. In 1937-38 he was hard at work on translating the 323 pages of The Story of the Red Cross by Martin Gumpert (New York: Oxford University Press, 1938) - from German (Dunant: Der Roman des Roten Kreuzes), and in 1938-39 on Gustav Regler’s The Great Crusade about the Spanish Civil War.

[18] See Weinstein, Perjury, p. 179 for a list of contents.

[19] Baltimore American, July 16, 1961, Pratt Library Vertical File. Jacques Kelly repeated Harriss’s story on the occasion of the publication of Sam Tanenhaus’s biography of Chambers (Baltimore Sun, 4/13/1997) without mentioning his former fellow reporter from the Baltimore American who had died in 1989 (The Evening Sun, September 27, 1989). By then Allan Weinstein had discovered the truth of Harriss’s assertion of buying 2610 St. Paul Street buried among the Hiss papers in Harvard Law School Special Collections.

[20] https://algerhiss.com/history/the-hiss-case-the-1940s/the-typewriter/the-serial-number-1978/. Intrigued by a Woodstock for sale in Annapolis while I was still Archivist of Maryland, I purchased it to find that it had a serial number close to the Woodstock entered into evidence in the Hiss case. The debate still rages on the web as to whether or not #230,099 was the typewriter on which the incriminating documents were typed. One expert deposed that it was definitely not, https://algerhiss.com/history/the-hiss-case-the-1940s/the-typewriter/the-experts-evelyn-erdrich/ while another testified that it was. The source of the photograph of Priscilla Hiss and Tony Hobson, ca. 1941: https://algerhiss.com/media/gallery/

[21] Baltimore City Land Records, MLP 5926 f. 273.

[22] Allen L. Smith and Mabel K. his wife, lived at 2610 St. Paul in 1926 according to the Polk Baltimore City Directory of that year. See: Baltimore City Land Records, SCL 3205, f. 242.

[23] It is not clear where the original or copy of this contract are now stored. This image is from a reel of film simply labeled Harvard Law School Library (HLSL) number 4. To date the Library has not been able to identify where the original or copies are stored.

[24] Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers, p. 138. In 1939 Henry Momberger was listed as owing taxes on 2610 St. Paul Street. See Real Estate Assessments, Baltimore 1939, published by the Mayor and city Council of Baltimore and the Real Estate Board of Baltimore, Baltimore City Archives.

[25] For the time of the Chambers’s residence on Auchentoroly Terrace see the appendix. It is not known if anyone connected with Park School owned the Auchentoroly Terrace building where the Chambers’s lived from the Fall of 1936 until November of 1937 under the name of the Jay Chambers family. According to Zeligs, Friendship and Fratricide, p. 252, Esther was an unpaid assistant on the staff in order to obtain a tuition waiver for her daughter and that she called herself the wife of “Jay Chambers, “Senior Administrative Officer, Treasury Department”. .

[26] see note 11 above.

[27]The image of Nixon with the newspaper is copyrighted by American Heritage, and is from an article by Fawn M. Brodie, "I Think Hiss is Lying" The Launching of Richard Nixon, August/September 1981, Vol. 32, no. 5, pp. 4-22.

[28] Weinstein, Perjury, pp. 53-57

[29] see Note 2 above for the best secondary sources discussing the Pumpkin and Baltimore Papers in the Hiss/Chambers controversy.

[30] Blurb tucked into a copy of the first printing of Witness in author’s collection.

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