MOUNT OLIVE, Ill.---Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's great novel reinvents himself, but so did historic Americans like Mary "Mother" Jones and Samuel "Mark Twain" Clemens, and so does almost every American president and presidential candidate.
We stopped Monday morning at the grave of and monument to Mother Jones, just off old Route 66 in Illinois. Jones died in 1930 and, a generation later, gave her name to a radical magazine. The site is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Department of Labor on April 28 (declared by President Obama to be Workers Memorial Day) issued a poster of Jones with one of her sayings: "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."
She was born in 1837 and at age 30 lost her husband and their four children to a yellow-fever epidemic in Memphis, Tenn. She rallied from that tragedy to build a dressmaking business in Chicago, only to lose her home, shop, and possessions in the Great Fire of 1871. With family and career both lost, she turned to class warfare and co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World (the "Wobblies"), then for decades worked with the United Mine Workers.
Many women then (and some now) try to take years off their age, but Mother Jones added seven years (saying she was born in 1830) and dressed like an old woman even before she became one. As she aged she became even more set on revenge, like an American version of Charles Dickens's Madame Defarge (A Tale of Two Cities). The words on her monument convey her "last request: Let no traitor breathe o'er my grave."
Tomorrow I'll write about some baseball games and WORLD readers, then come back to Mark Twain and our stop in Hannibal, Mo.