Jay Meehan: ‘Don’t mourn. Organize!’
Well, there you have it. Joe Hill’s final sermon to the faithful delivered 100 years ago, on the cusp of his execution by firing squad. Rather succinct, wouldn’t you say! And anyway, it’s not all that easy to mourn for 100 years anymore. That wasn’t the case with my Irish forefathers, however. They’d spend that long at a "wake."
But, be that as it may, organizing has never been my strong suit. Not that there’s a list out there of my most highly developed characteristics. But, if there were such a thing, I’m pretty sure that anything relating to arranging my life into a structured whole would have difficulty gaining entrée.
However, in memory of my working class hero, I shall plunge ahead. I shall make a list of items to take to the all-day Joe Hill Centennial Celebration at Sugar House Park this Saturday and I shall check it twice. I shall make sure that at least half the items that make the final cut are totally unnecessary. Nothing gives me an endorphin rush quite like busy work that masks the total absence of a skill set.
Anyway, it appears that this year, the elephant that has always been in the room will be somewhat less-easily ignored. That would be the Morrison family, the descendants of the two murdered grocers at the center of Joe Hill’s trial and subsequent execution.
Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Stop the presses. First of all, I can’t proceed further without calling attention to the seemingly Pulitzer-worthy journalistic endeavor currently underway at The Salt Lake Tribune to get to the bottom of every aspect of the Joe Hill story.
(Somewhere in here, I suppose, I should mention that both the "Trib" and the Park Record are owned by the same New York-based hedge fund. That, I believe, is called a disclaimer.)
Anyway, everything from editorials to investigative journalism to archival photos, online interviews, and documents from the distant past are being brought into play for their coverage of the Joe Hill Centennial.
Not to mention that Patrick F. Bagley, the Trib’s esteemed political cartoonist, is, as we speak, serializing the Joe Hill story as what I guess you would call a graphic novel. Anyway, I just finished his third installment and the sheer amount of information, context, background, research, and entertainment value is overwhelming. Not that this is breaking news but he’s one insightful cat!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Trib is "all in." They’ve been shoving chips into the center of the table since they first committed to the Centennial but, recently, their piece on the Morrison’s and an accompanying "Trib Talk" interview with reporters and a member of the family brought light to a part of the story that I often downplay.
It’s not like my newfound Trib-driven interest in the psychological trauma visited upon the Morrison’s these past 100 years will erode any of the passion I feel for the Joe Hill story. I remain of the opinion that Hill was too much of an artist and a humanitarian to have ever committed the murders for which he was convicted and executed.
I think he was "railroaded" within a context that proved vastly complex. Sound familiar? There’s not much about Joe Hill’s life and times that doesn’t resonate in the here and now. From corporate "bullying" to keep the working man in his place down low on the food chain to "Red baiting" those who would wish a more level playing field.
As a union organizer, songwriter, troubadour, painter, cartoonist, storyteller, and general all-around champion of the working man over the "boss" mindset, Hill made many enemies during the heyday of "thugs" and "goons." And that is how he’ll be celebrated this Saturday at Sugar House Park, the site of the old Utah State Prison where his execution took place a century ago.
Judy Collins is headlining a day full of music on two stages and there will no doubt be some improvisational components to the affair as well. I’m sure I’ll run into some Ed Abbey and Charles Bowden types, not to mention Ken Sanders, the man whose bookshop sits at the vortex of keeping the progressive faith in Utah.
But back to my list. Let’s see, where was I? Oh yeah, water bottles, sun hat, a low-rider chair, a blanket, some food and drink, a book, a light fleece, a slicker maybe, and I’m sure I’ll have room for a huge attitude. Whoda thunkit? I’m getting organized.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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