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Merlin Morrison has held a grudge for a lifetime.

He grew up a witness to the grief of his father, who at age 13, saw the murder of his own father and an older brother. Now 80, Merlin Morrison has long resented the fame of Joe Hill, the renowned labor songwriter executed in Salt Lake City for his grandfather's death.

But Friday night, he beamed as he clasped the hand of Rolf Hägglund, of Sweden, a relative of Hill's, in an extraordinary meeting between the two families linked by history

"It's amazing that we're all here and we all understand," he said. "There is no animosity. We all wish that what happened didn't happen, but it did, and it's in the past."

Hägglund, his wife, Annya, and sister Pia Samuelsson and her daughter Lovisa are visiting Salt Lake City from Sweden to attend Saturday events marking the approaching centennial anniversary of Hill's Nov. 19, 1915, execution.

Hill was shot by a firing squad in what is today Sugar House Park, where the Utah State Prison then stood and Saturday's gathering will be held. Lovisa Samuelsson, a singer, will be one of the musicians performing.

The meeting was suggested by Jay Arling Morrison, of Highland, a great-grandson of the slain John G. Morrison, and agreed to by the Hägglund family. Merlin Morrison traveled from his home in California.

Hill was born Joel Hägglund in Sweden in 1879 in a family of six children who survived childhood. He and his brother Paul emigrated to the United States following the deaths of their parents.

Hägglund, 64, and Samuelsson, 58, are the grandchildren of Efraim Hägglund, who was Hill's older brother, one of the four children who stayed in Sweden.

Hägglund and Samuelsson said they believe their granduncle Hill was wrongly convicted and executed.

"To me, there was no doubt whatsoever," Samuelsson said in a interview. "Everything I've read about him tells me this [Hill] is no criminal."

Hägglund agreed with his sister. "He was not a killer," Hägglund said. "He was innocent."

That sentiment is the opposite of what Morrison's descendants believe — that Hill was guilty and rightfully executed. 

Still, both sister and brother expressed empathy for the Morrisons and the trauma the family suffered in the aftermath of the murders.

"I only see victims," Samuelsson said.

Hägglund said he, too, felt sympathy for the family's suffering and pointed out they lost two family members, compared to his one.

"There's so many losers in this affair," he said.

After his arrival in the U.S., Hill drifted out West and eventually joined the radical labor movement known as the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies.

He adopted the name Joe Hill as he became a well-known songwriter for the union, which espoused the labor takeover of capitalist enterprises.

Hill, who also went by the name Joseph Hillstrom, eventually ended up in Utah in 1913. On Jan. 10, 1914, John G. Morrison and his son Arling were shot to death in the Morrisons' west-side grocery store, and one of the assailants was thought to have been wounded in the attack.

That same night, Hill showed up at a doctor's office with a bullet wound in his chest. He was arrested and tried in 1914 and executed Nov. 19, 1915, despite national and international appeals for a new trial.

The Morrison family was left devastated emotionally and financially. For a century, the next generations have been frustrated as Hill's legend as a martyr to labor and as a victim to the anti-unionism of Utah has grown. 

But the two families were grateful to meet Friday.

Marilyn Morrison-Ryan, also a granddaughter of John G. Morrison, warmly greeted Hägglund, and they discussed another bond they share: their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Ryan-Morrison and her brother, John Arling Morrison, who was also in attendance, are both members, though their parents were not. Hägglund's mother joined the church, too, and Hägglund remains a member today.

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