Executions · Famous Last Words · Utah

FLW: Ordering his own execution

Famous Last Words
Joe Hill
Salt Lake City, Utah
November 19, 1915

“Fire!”

Born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in Sweden, Hill was a labor activist, unionist, and song-writer who coined the term “pie in the sky.” He was accused of, arrested for, and convicted of the murders of his son, a grocer, and a former police officer under extremely circumstantial evidence: Hill had also been shot that day and was treated for his wounds. Defense attorneys pointed out 4 others had been treated for gunshot wounds the same day, but Hill’s excuse, claiming to have been shot by a jealous woman, was difficult to believe especially as he was unwilling to reveal the woman’s identity.

Fellow International Workers of the World (IWW) member and blind-deaf author Hellen Keller, the Swedish ambassador, and even President Woodrow Wilson attempted a bid for clemency but were unsuccessful.

Hill’s alleged crimes and execution took place in Utah which offered the condemned a choice between death by firing squad or hanging. He chose firing squad, quipping “I’ll take the shooting. I’ve been shot a couple times before and I think I can take it.” In a telegraph sent shortly before his execution, he told the founder of the IWW “Big Bill” Haywood “Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize.”

As his executioners prepared to carry out Hill’s sentence, the orders “Ready! Aim!” were called out with Hill calling back “Fire!”, becoming his famous last words.

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