Dirt from Mother Jones’ grave is bound for Ireland

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Jim Goltz digs up a scoop of dirt from Mother Jones’ grave to take to Ireland. – Sharon Goltz photo

Her spirit will be there, too

By CARL GREEN
Illinois Correspondent

Mt. Olive, IL – Jim Goltz of Bunker Hill has been campaigning on behalf of Mother Jones in one way or another since the 1980s, and much of the recognition she has received in recent years can be traced to his efforts.

Now Goltz is stepping into the fray once more, this time to share a bit of dirt from the great Labor leader’s grave in Mount Olive with her dedicated fans and followers in her hometown of Cork City, Ireland.

Goltz is scheduled to speak at the Aug. 1 opening ceremony of the annual Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in Ireland’s Shandon District. He will present the small scoop of dirt, 30 grams’ worth, which will be called “clay” under local custom, and three proclamations, from the United Mine Workers, the AFL-CIO and the Illinois AFL-CIO. The dirt will be incorporated into the town’s Mother Jones monument.

THE OTHER VISITOR

In Goltz’s mind, he won’t be the visitor from America at the event. He figures that Mother Jones’ own “living spirit” will be right there with him.

“This may sound a bit strange, but I often go and sit at her monument and just kind of contemplate, and the idea came to me that – if you believe in such things – her spirit finds Ireland a long distance away, and she would like to be remembered as Irish, and the possibility of taking a bit of her essence back to her homeland would allow her spirit to connect with the place of her birth much more easily.

“So I decided I needed to take a bit of the earth, with a bit of her essence, and take it back to Ireland to where she was born.”

Mary Harris “Mother Jones” is buried in Union Miners Cemetery, the only union-owned cemetery, in this town 45 miles north of St. Louis. It was established as a burial site for union miners killed in an 1898 gun battle with scabs and their guards, and Mother Jones requested that her body be taken there. The monument was dedicated in 1936, and just two years ago, the Mother Jones Museum was created in the town’s new village hall.

The cemetery board had no problems with Goltz’ idea, and on July 11, he dug up the dirt in a small ceremony that made some local news reports.

MOTHER JONES

EARLY EFFORTS

In the late 1980s, Goltz founded the Friends of Mother Jones, which succeeded in getting Mother Jones named to the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Fame, now called the Hall of Honor, in Washington D.C.

The group then campaigned with letters and petitions to convince the U.S. Postal Service to create a stamp honoring Mother Jones. She was passed over, though, in favor of stamps for Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Later, Goltz served as first chairman of the museum board and now serves with the cemetery board.

He said he is pleased with how the museum, which is still in development, has turned out so far.

“I stepped aside, but I’m happy that the museum is there,” he said. “It has wonderful displays and it looks great. Anyone coming there will be surprised.”

CORK FESTIVAL

While Mother Jones has been honored in recent years in this area by upgrades to her gravesite, the annual Mother Jones Dinner in Springfield, the new museum and various festivals and events, a similar process has been under way in and around Cork City.

An Irishman, Ger O’Mahoney, researched Mother Jones’ life and found she had been born in Cork City and was baptized nearby in Shandon. That led him and supporters to create the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival, now in its sixth year.

Goltz, a retiree from Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 553, made it to the festival in 2013 and met with the mayor in 2015.

“They hope to maintain this festival,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons for the proclamations – to praise them for keeping her spirit alive in Ireland.”

THE SPIRIT

But as Goltz reads the proclamations, he’ll have something else in mind – how the term “spirit” is intentionally capitalized in all three.

“That gives that ‘Spirit’ a special meaning and personage,” he said. “We are not just talking about someone who has spirit and drive. We are taking it to a new level.

“Anyone who hangs around in that cemetery very much can’t help but become touched by the spirit. I’m going to invoke the spirit of Mother Jones into the hall and let the proclamations speak for themselves.”

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