On December 27, 1916 the Salt Lake County Commissioners approved the offer of a $500 reward “for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who placed the bomb in the yard of Governor Spry’s home.”
The bomb, which contained nitro-glycerin and metal fragments, had not exploded. The police theorized that a heavy snowfall had somehow kept the bomb from detonating and, even if it had, it would have missed its intended target – Governor William Spry wasn’t home, although his family was.
While the identity of the bomber might have been in question on December 27, the motivation behind the bombing was not. In November of that year Governor Spry had chosen not to stay the execution of Joseph Hillstrom (also known as Joe Hill). Hillstrom, a well-known member of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.), had been convicted of murdering a grocery store owner and his son. The evidence against Hillstrom was suspicious but circumstantial, and the case sparked international debate as to whether Hillstrom’s association with the I.W.W. had influenced the trial. In spite of petitions from all over the world, including a request from President Woodrow Wilson to delay the execution, Spry allowed the sentence to be carried out on November 19.
The $500 reward wasn’t Salt Lake County’s only role in the aftermath of the Hillstrom execution. On November 22, 1916, the County Board of Commissioners received a letter from the County Sheriff requesting the sum of $317.80 in order to cover the costs associated with execution, which was then approved by the County Clerk.
The attempted Christmas bombing was one of several death threats that Governor Spry faced as a result of Hillstrom’s case. In fact, another bomb addressed to Spry had exploded in a railroad car in Montana in June 1916. Spry survived the threats against him, dying of a stroke in Washington, DC in 1929. The Hillstrom case remains an interesting, and controversial, moment in Salt Lake County history.
Salt Lake County Commission Minutes, December 1916, series CM-002. Salt Lake County Archives.
Salt Lake County Petitions to the Commission, series CM-333. Salt Lake County Archives.
Salt Lake County Tax Appraisal Cards and Photographs, serial 04-130. Salt Lake County Archives.
~Blog entry contributed by Dr. Jenel Cope, Processing Archivist at Salt Lake County Archives.