Many cities have their own legends and tales, and in Salt Lake City, Utah, a 100-year-old question lingers to this day: Did Joe Hill shoot and kill John Morrison and his 17-year-old son, Arling, in their family-owned grocery store? That question left reverberations through the victims’ family, divided a city and created a folk hero out of the man executed for the January 1914 murders.
Before the centennial anniversary of Hill’s execution on Nov. 19, Jeremy Harmon, Salt Lake Tribune director of photography, and a team of Tribune staffers set out to tell the story of Hill and the Morrison family.
“The Legacy of Joe Hill” (ow.ly/VFPtX) took the team nearly a year to complete. The project included multiple stories, photo galleries, handwritten notes from witnesses, and more than 20 videos featuring Hill’s music (Hill was a songwriter) and interviews with experts and family members.
“I joke with my staff that I’ve got to be the only photographer who’s taken more pictures of paper than people,” said Harmon.
They released the first portion of the project in September, and a second batch of stories, photographs and videos on the anniversary of Hill’s execution. Harmon said the team will continue writing stories about smaller characters and adding newly discovered information.
“One of the most common things I have heard from readers is that they are amazed and happy the Tribune would spend the time to do a project like this,” he said. “It is pretty unusual to devote this much time and effort to something that happened a century ago, but the story is just so compelling and it is largely unknown. I think the drama of the story and the mystery of it really resonated with readers.”
At the time E&P spoke with Harmon, videos had garnered nearly 16,000 views on YouTube and 11 of the videos Harmon posted on Facebook received about 17,400 views. The website pulled in around 130,000 views.
While Harmon and the team pored through handwritten letters, searched old photographs and read countless research, they also brought the story back to life by initiating a meet up in Salt Lake City between the Morrison family and the relatives of Hill—many of whom were still in Sweden, Hill’s native homeland.
“They were nervous,” Harmon said. “(But) the two families bonded. It was important to tell the story that hadn’t been properly told before. What happened to later generations was something we hadn’t thought about before.”
Although Hill’s execution site is now a popular park and the Morrison’s grocery store is no more, the legacy is sure to live on for 100 more years.