American Experience
Murder at Harvard: History and Fiction

Question 2:
video | transcript

previous

2 of 6

next

Why did you find Parkman's story so compelling?

In the first place, this was something gruesome happening in a community that prided itself on esteem, honor and the New England virtues. Here was the light of suspicion thrown on a professor of chemistry at the medical school, who not simply disposed of his creditor in a gruesome way, but had issued blanket denial. His victim, too, had been part of polite Boston. And the crime was so hideous, really, the sort of thing which polite Boston and polite Cambridge always imagined would happen among those people, over there, meaning the the Irish, the immigrants. So already it was this kind of nasty little black poisonous stain occurring in the lily-white world of Boston, 19th century. So it was just the sense of the incongruousness of it all.

I also knew that extraordinary people were involved: the judges concerned, the lawyers concerned. That was part of it, just the sheer kind of intensely unsavory eloquence of it.

But what also struck me was that there were so many loose ends -- that the law, like history, likes to tie up the ends. There's this word which I always say I'm allergic to which happened at the end of all history books called conclusion. History books that are proper, respectable history books have to have an introduction and a conclusion. And even though a verdict was rendered, a man was executed, there was so much that was truly inconclusive.