Monday, December 27, 2010

'A little packet containing the ashes of Joe Hill...'

Over the last year or two I've been researching what happened to the ashes of Joe Hill — IWW organiser, poet and songwriter — in New Zealand. According to most sources:

“Joe Hill’s ashes were placed in many small envelopes. These were sent to IWW members and sympathizers in all forty-eight states of the United States except one, the State of Utah… and to every country in South America, to Europe, to Asia, to Australia, to New Zealand and to South Africa. With fitting ceremonies and the singing on his songs, on May 1st, 1916, the ashes of Joe Hill were scattered over the earth in these many countries.”

Yet nothing is known about what happened to the ashes of Joe Hill in New Zealand. Were Hill’s ashes really sent here? Or was New Zealand simply listed to give such a symbolic act more scope? If they did make it, what happened to them? I've been pondering this question for a while now, and it's satisfying to feel my research has gone some way in answering this. It also questions the May Day 1916 date accepted for so long as the date his ashes were released. But you'll have to wait for my finished essay to find out more! It's in draft format and undergoing peer review as we speak... so hopefully soon.

In the meantime, here's images of the actual packet that contained the ashes of Joe Hill and the letter that went with it, courtesy of the Labadie Collection. Julie Herrada at Labadie has been a fantastic help, scanning the images, trawling newspapers, and fielding a number of my requests. The collection is fascinating in itself, recognised as one of the world's most complete collections of materials documenting anarchism in both the USA and around the world.

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