Interviews on the Hiss Case

As part of a continuing original research project, this website has made it a practice to reach out to people close to the Hiss case to record and preserve their stories. We present here four of these interviews, each conducted by the site’s executive editor, Jeff Kisseloff. Three are conversations with two Hiss case witnesses who never testified in court, specifically two conversations with Dr. Timothy Hobson, Hiss’s stepson, and one with an eminent economist who was a Georgetown neighbor of the Hisses in the 1930s; the fourth interview is with an exceptional journalist who in the 1950s was one of the first to reinvestigate the charges against Hiss.

Fred Cook on Alger Hiss

Studs Terkel, himself a great reporter, called Fred J. Cook “the finest investigative reporter in the land.” Cook, a self-proclaimed conservative who believed Alger Hiss was “guilty as hell,” was initially reluctant to look into the Hiss case, but after months of investigation changed his mind and then wrote The Unfinished Story of Alger Hiss (Morrow, 1957), one of the first books to challenge Hiss’s conviction.

Was Priscilla Hiss a Spy?

Whittaker Chambers said that Priscilla Hiss was typing copies of government documents on her manual Woodstock typewriter at night; Elizabeth May and her husband, the Hisses’ next-door neighbors, said they knew the story was false. Dr. May, who in the 1960s served as the first woman director of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, was an economics professor in the 1930s at Goucher College in Baltimore. Her husband, Geoffrey May, a lawyer, at that point worked for the Department of Labor. Why did Dr. May never doubt the Hisses’ innocence? According to her, the walls between the two homes were so thin “every little sound went through.”

How Close Were Chambers and Hiss?

Whittaker Chambers said he was a regular visitor to Alger Hiss’s homes both on P Street and on 30th Street (the house next door to the Mays). Hiss’s stepson, Dr. Timothy Hobson (b. 1926), remembers these years precisely and very differently. For years he has been eager to put on record the story he never got to tell on the witness stand and, when already in his mid-80s, gave this website two interviews in successive years – one in 2001 and a more extensive one over many hours in 2002, presented here in full. (In April 2007, Dr. Hobson revisited his childhood homes in Washington, DC, and showed a Washington Post reporter the houses that Whittaker Chambers, to Hobson’s direct and certain knowledge, never visited.) In January 2016, after reading through the revised Alger Hiss website, Dr. Hobson sat down reflect again on his life with the Hisses many years before and the meaning and significance of the Hiss case.