Thursday, November 19, 2015

Remembering Joe Hill



How can I get into the Thanksgiving and soon-to-be Christmas season when it is 75 degrees with 95% humidity and I’m wearing short-sleeves and not worrying about getting wet in the rain?  In November, even in the South, rain should be capable of endangering one of hypothermia, but not this year…

Joe Hill (found on the internet)
Joe Hill, the “Singing Wobbly” was executed by firing squad a hundred years ago, today, November 19th, by the State of Utah.  Hill was a Swedish immigrant, who had found his way into the American West where he performed odd jobs and became a member of the International Workers of the World, the IWW or Wobblies, as they were also known.  It still remains a question as to whether or not Hill murdered the grocer and his son.  Many think he was not guilty, but there are a few who think he was guilty.  Most, however, agree that he and his defense did not help his case. There was no hard evidence of his guilt.  He was convicted on circumstantial evidence, mainly having been shot on the same night the murders occurred   Hill had always maintained that he was shot by a jealous lover, but he refused to give the name of his assailant or the woman with whom he was involved.   Recent investigation has given credence to this theory, there was a woman with whom Hill and another man were fighting over.   But Hill, whose behavior didn’t help his cause, was perhaps willing to die a martyr and, once convicted, he certainly used the notary of his death to promote the IWW (a group that many in the country despised and feared, especially the more radical anarchist within their ranks.   But others, including President Wilson, asked Utah not to carry out the execution.  But the state was determined.

Shortly before his death, Hill wrote the Big Bill Haywood, the President of the IWW, saying:  "Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize... Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don't want to be found dead in Utah.”  Not only did Haywood arrange to have his body removed, he sent portions of his ashes to IWW leaders in every state in the Union except Utah, asking that they spread Joe Hill around.  In a way, Hill did become a martyr.  His songs became more popular and his ghost still haunts those who thought they were done with him.  Hill inspired many folksingers and became a figure in literature.   As a myth, Hill lives taller than he ever did as a singing workman.  

Joe Hill’s execution is another reminder of the failure of capital punishment to bring about a better society. As far what it says about how we treat immigrants, in today's climate, I'll let you argue that out... 

32 comments:

  1. Not familiar with Joe Hill, but an interesting story!

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    1. It is an interesting story--I tend to think he wasn't guilty

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  2. Maybe the jealous other man set him up!

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  3. Wow - I've never heard of ashes spread like that.

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    1. I'm doubt anyone in Utah cared that he wasn't dumped there.

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  4. I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
    alive as you and me.
    Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead.”
    “I never died”, said he.
    “I never died”, said he.
    Alfred Hayes

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  5. A very good and informative post. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. Thanks! It is a little out of the ordinary for my posts, but it was fun to do.

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  6. I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
    alive as you and me.
    Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead.”
    “I never died”, said he.
    “I never died”, said he.
    Alfred Hayes








    Warm ALOHA,
    ComfortSpiral

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  7. I found Mother Jones quite a fascinating person. And trying to decipher the song She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain is fraught. The white horses being the Whiteboys or Mollie Maguire's. Her body guard of six lads. The coming out was coming out on strike. And the chariot was the coal wagon.
    Of course labour relations in the USA was difficult. Not helped by surplus labour endlessly entering the market from both emigration and natural breeding in the farming areas.
    I'd not come across this guy before, but I did know that Utah had death by firing squad before the gas chamber and was used for Mormons who were given a choice of the squad of noose. Something about spilling blood.

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    1. Yes, the Mormons don't like to talk about it, but the firing squad comes from a belief in "blood atonement" and if you shed the blood of another your own blood must be shed and the Mormons are pretty literal and believing that hanging and gas wouldn't actually cause blood to flow, such methods would deny the condemned the ability to be forgiven. Today, the Mormons would say they don't believe this but in the past it was a hot topic.

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    2. The first person in the US to be executed after the Supreme Court suspended capital punishment in the 60s was Gary Gilmore in Utah, who chose the firing squad. Utah is the only state that has used it, the firing squad normally being used by the military.

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  8. capital punishment is definitely not the answer

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  9. For most of this post, I thought I was reading a book review but alas, it just seems to be a true story. I searched Amazon for a book on Joe Hill but there is an author of the same name with lots of books under his belt. Do you know of any good books on Joe Hill?

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    1. I've not read a biography of him, but mainly knew of him from my time in Utah and from readings about the state and labor in the early 20th Century. The recent biography, "The Man Who Never Died" by William Adler has good reviews and I've placed it on my tbr pile

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    2. I found it. It is also in my pile now!

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  10. The wobblies. It's been a very long time since I've heard about them

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  11. Yep, us historians try to keep 'em alive :)

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  12. If he was innocent, his death was certainly a tragedy!

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    1. The trial, thanks to the media, became more about the IWW than about the murder, from what I've read.

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  13. What an interesting story. One I've never heard about until now. I hate to think that this man was innocent and killed anyway.

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    1. I wonder how many such innocent have been executed--there have been so many on death row freed with DNA

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  14. It's scary how long ago people were tried and persecuted with little or no evidence.

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    1. Sadly, there have been times it was been an easy way to end dissent.

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  15. I was once all for capital punishment. That is until I started reading and hearing about all the guys on death row being found innocent after DNA testing became widespread. I cannot imagine the fear a person has to live with each day that they will die for a crime they did not commit.

    But in a way the dependence on capital punishment as a "deterrence" is another symptom of a simplistic but broken approach to justice.

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  16. Interesting story, J. I guess we'll never really know.

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  17. I didn't know the Joe Hill story at all. Thanks for sharing!

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