Ten things playwright Debora Threedy wants you to know about Joe Hill before ONE BIG UNION opens November 10

Playwright Debora Threedy

Playwright Debora Threedy returns to Plan-B with ONE BIG UNION, where she has premiered her plays THE END OF THE HORIZON, WALLACE and THE THIRD CROSSING at Plan-B. THE END OF THE HORIZON and ONE BIG UNION were workshopped as part of Utah Shakespeare Festival’s New American Playwrights Project and THE THIRD CROSSING won the Fratti-Newman Political Play Contest. Her short play THE TIGERS OF AKANUMA premiered as part of SHADOWS OF THE BAKEMONO (Meat & Potato Theatre) and her play DESERT WIFE toured Utah for more than a year. ONE BIG UNION

ONE BIG UNION celebrates the impact and music of Joe Hill. So we asked Debora to share ten things she wants you to know about him before you see the play.

1. Joe Hill was born Joel Hagglund (pronounced HEG-looned) in 1879 in Gavle, Sweden, and emigrated to America in 1902. The house where he was born serves today both as the branch office of a Swedish union and as the Joe Hill Museum, which draws 15,000 visitors a year.

Joe Hill

Joe Hill

2. His father was a railroad man and, when Hill was seven, his father was knocked under an engine, suffering severe internal injuries. Despite this, he never sought medical treatment until a year later, when the chronic pain became unbearable; he died on the operating table. His death threw the family into acute poverty; Hill left school at twelve and went to work in a rope factory.

Hill was the author of numerous labor songs, including "Rebel Girl," inspired by IWW activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Hill was the author of numerous labor songs, including “Rebel Girl,” inspired by IWW activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

3. In 1896, when he was seventeen, he developed splotches on the side of his nose and his wrist that were diagnosed as tuberculosis of the skin, a then often fatal disease; after four years of treatment including a six month hospitalization, he inexplicably recovered.

4. In 1906, he was in San Francisco during the Great Earthquake and subsequent fire; we know what happened to him because he wrote a long piece about it that was published in his hometown newspaper.

One of the 600 envelopes used to scatter Joe Hill's ashes across the country.

One of the 600 envelopes used to scatter Joe Hill’s ashes across the country.

5. In addition to his musical talent (he played the organ, the piano, the violin, the guitar and the banjo), he was also a painter and later a cartoonist; only one of his paintings is extant: entitled “Cataract” it is an expressionistic rendition of the waterfall on the Gavle River and it is displayed in the Joe Hill Museum in Gavle.

6. Reputedly, he was a master of the art of riding the rails, especially the dangerous moments of getting on and off a moving train, where he displayed a daring that verged on recklessness.

7. He excelled in the art of Chinese cuisine and used chopsticks like a native.

8. In June 1911 he crossed the border into Mexico to fight in the Mexican Revolution; one of his cartoons is titled “How the Memory Doth Linger” and depicts his friend Sam Murray, wearing bandoliers and standing outside a cantina, and another cartoon shows Hill wearing a bullet-riddled sombrero, brandishing two pistols and shouting “Viva!”

9. In June 1913, while in prison in San Pedro on a vagrancy charge, he was served with deportation papers. It was alleged that he was an anarchist advocating the overthrow of the government by force, and that he had illegally reentered the country from Mexico; at his deportation hearing he argued that he was not an anarchist and that he was a war refugee fleeing Mexican troops seeking asylum, which arguments the immigration judge accepted. Ironically, had he been deported, he would not have been in Utah in January 1914.

10. He was a non-smoker and a life-long teetotaler.

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