On Wednesday, December 24th, Christmas Eve 1913, in Calumet, Michigan, seventy-three men, women, and children, mainly striking mine workers and their families, were crushed to death in a stampede in what became known as the Italian Hall Disaster.
At a crowded Christmas party organise for the children of copper miners, who had been on strike in the local mines since July 23rd of that year, someone shouted “fire” at the entrance to the hall. There was no fire!
Hundreds of people were in the second floor room at the Italian Hall enjoying the miners party. Toys were being distributed to the children by Santa. On hearing the shout from downstairs, there was a huge panic and a mass rush down a steep narrow stairs to the exit which caused multiple deaths, especially among the children.
The strike had earlier been called by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) seeking union recognition and an improvement in wages and working conditions. Mother Jones had visited Calumet in early August to show her support for the workers, before she became embroiled in the Colorado Coal Wars.
The mine owners in Copper Country refused to talk to the union members and the long and bitter strike continued until March 1914 in spite of this tragedy. Later investigations failed to reveal exactly who had wrongly called out “fire” which started the panic. Mother Jones blamed an anti union “law and order crowd” in the Calumet region for the false fire call which led to the deaths and repeatedly mentioned this dreadful tragedy in later speeches.
The sad and harrowing scenes in the town of Calumet on Christmas Day and over the 1913 Christmas period as the bodies of over 60 children were brought back to their homes left a lasting mark on witnesses. Photos from the time show lines of wooden white caskets. The Red Jacket Town Hall became a morgue, while the massive funeral procession down snow covered Fifth Street to Lakeview Cemetery was heart-breaking. Following several speeches from the strike leaders, the deceased were laid to rest in two mass grave sites.
The disaster at the Italian Hall was memorialised by singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie when in 1940 he wrote the “1913 Massacre”, in which he blamed the copper mines bosses of the Copper Country for the deaths.
“The piano played a slow final tune, And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon, The parents they cried and the miners they moaned, “See what your greed for money has done””
Candles are lit each Christmas Eve at the local park in Calumet, let us remember them too!
Our thanks to Jeremiah Mason of the National Parks Service, Lake Superior Management Centre at Keweenaw National Historical Park at Calumet.
The May Day Party for Mother Jones will take place at the Irish American Heritage Centre at 4626 North Knox Avenue in Chicago from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
Among those participating are:
Kevin Byrne, Ireland’s Consul General to Chicago and the Midwest.
Sara Nelson President of the Association of Flight Attendants CWA, AFLCIO.
Don Villar, Secretary Treasurer Chicago Federation of Labour.
Also participating are singers and artists such as Paddy Homan, Kathy Cowan and the SAG-AFTRA singers while artist Lindsay Hand will sign posters.
All proceeds will go towards the Chicago Statue Campaign.
There are very few monuments which commemorate women in Chicago and as with most cities everywhere none of working class women.
Why not assist the Chicago campaign to ensure that a beautiful statue is erected to honour Cork born Mary Harris who as Mother Jones worked ceaselessly to help immigrants of many nationalities to organise for decent wages and safe working conditions by joining the American trade union movement!.
A broad based fundraising committee in the City has been active in fundraising to bring the dream of the Mother Jones statue to reality.
With the help of the American trade unions and many others, the committee is close to achieving this ambition. Let’s put this iconic Irish immigrant refugee and a founder of the American Labour Movement–the Mother of the working class–on a statue in the city she called home.
A commemorative bench honouring the memory of the family of Mother Jones will be unveiled on May Day 2022 at the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive.
The grave of Mary Harris/Mother Jones lies in this unique cemetery, her memory forever immortalised in the large grave monument erected in 1936 to her memory.
During the forthcoming Mt. Olive International Mother Jones Festival 2022, the Union Miners Cemetery Perpetual Care Association along with the Illinois AFL-CIO and the UMWA Local 1613 will dedicate a memorial bench to her often forgotten husband George Jones and her children, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine and Terence who died in Memphis during the Yellow Fever epidemic of September 1867.
To hear directly from the Mayor of Mt Olive John Skertich and Nelson Grman, a member of the Union Miners Cemetery Perpetual Care Committee, long-time union activist and promoter of Mother Jones please click on the following link.
Congratulations to all involved with bringing Mother Jones to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Mother Jones inflatable was paraded through the streets of Chicago, on Saturday 12th March and received a great reception from the thousands lining the streets. Brigid Duffy also appeared as the Chicago Mother Jones.
The parade honoured Chicago’s essential workers. After a two year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the parade returned to Columbus Drive on Saturday, where the Chicago River was dyed green, a 60 year tradition. This event is believed to be the largest neighbourhood based St. Patrick’s Day parade outside of Dublin, drawing as many as 150,000 people.
The documentary Mother Jones And Her Children is now available to view at the link below.
This 2014 documentary tells the exciting story of Mary Harris/Mother Jones from her birth in Cork in 1837 to her death in 1930.
It features US Labour historians such as Rosemary Feurer, who administers the website www.motherjonesmuseum.org and who writes extensively on Mother Jones. Elliott Gorn, author of Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America appears also along with interviews with authors Simon Cordery and Marat Moore. Larry Spivack of the Illinois Labour History Society and John Alexander of the Virden Monument Committee and US trade union activists such as Mike Matjelki, Dave Rathke and Terry Reed take part. In addition, there is an interview with Uibh Laoghaire historian, Joe Creedon regarding the birth place of Ellen Cotter, the mother of Mary Harris, while members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee (CMJC) provide details about her baptism in Cork, and the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.
According to James Nolan of the CMJC
“This documentary is ideal for anyone who wishes to learn more about this amazing Cork woman, a woman who survived horrific personal tragedy and bravely supported the trade union movement and fought for social justice in America for over four decades.
Mary Harris’s efforts in the early 1900s to highlight the exploitation of children in the mines, mills and factories of Americaand her arguments that they should receive an education instead will still resonatewith school children across the world today.
This documentary should be included in the Irish educational curriculum.”
Mother Jones and Her Children remains available on CD. The link to the documentary also appears above the main website masthead.
It was produced by Frameworks Films and the Cork Mother Jones Committee.
The tenth Spirit of Mother Jones Festival concluded on Sunday night 28th November 2021 with the songs of the Cork Singers’ Club.
The 2021 festival programme required a miracle due to the deterioration in the Covid-19 situation in Ireland and yet the Cork Mother Jones committee and friends ensured the completion of 20 events over the four days and managed to broadcast most of them on Cork Community Television. The extent of the collaboration we received from numerous groups, organisations and individuals to create a festival demonstrates that there is no substitute for people working cooperatively.
Taking the example of the resilient spirit of Mother Jones as the road map, everyone just “ploughed on”, (while ensuring full compliance with the Covid-19 regulations to keep people safe), we achieved our aim to carry through with the ambitious programme of events.
Highlight for those lucky to be in attendance was the presentation of the Spirit of Mother Jones Award to the brave representatives of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA).
Following the televised broadcast of the thought provoking conversation between Catherine Coffey O’Brien and Maureen Considine of the Alliance, they were joined by Phil Kinsella and Sheila O’Boyle for the formal presentation of the 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Award by James Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee.
It was an emotional occasion!
One is however left to ponder at the ongoing silence of so many and to wonder how this country can even consider allowing planning applications for development/construction of apartments to take place on the OSI marked burial grounds of hundreds of children? In spite of our reputation for mourning and honouring our dead, why are marked burial grounds no longer deemed sacred from development and are the hundreds of children whom we as a nation failed in the past to protect not allowed to now rest in peace?
Earlier, adoption rights campaigner Mari Steel who had herself been adopted from Bessborough in the early 60s discussed her journey to locate her own mother Josie.
A number of Q&A sessions with each of the speakers at the Maldron Hotel followed the Cork Community TV transmissions and the subsequent discussions, arguments and queries were reminders of the sparkle and sparks associated with many of the Spirit of Mother Jones meetings over the past decade. We appreciated the kind comments of Cllr John Sheehan deputising for the Lord Mayor who as he formally opened the festival stated that “he eagerly looked forward to the challenging programme of events at the festival each year as it was essential in any functioning democracy that people ask the hard questions”.
From the tragedy of Tadhg Barry, who spent his entire adult life working in the engine room of the revolution in Cork to the eventful and long life of Muriel MacSwiney, an unlikely revolutionary, the debates and sharing of information went on. The late and much loved Dr Sean Pettit could be seen once again displaying his legendary oratorical skills describing the Cork City of Mary Harris and much more. His final public performance displayed his creative approach to his lectures and his love of Cork City highlighted how he provided the stimulus for generations of local Cork historians.
We did not forget Mother Jones either and many of the documentaries at the festival sought to frame the American background and landscape in which Mother Jones operated in the early 20th Century. We appreciate the assistance of our friends, in America, UK and Greece. Her memory was enhanced in Cork through the efforts of singers such as John Murphy, Cait Ni Cheallachair, William Hammond, Karan Casey, Richard T Cooke and Mags Creedon who performed songs and stories relating to the life of Mother Jones. John and Gearoid Nyhan accompanied by Mick Treacy performed “Let the Mountains Roll”. Our thanks to the Cork Folk Festival and Cork Singers’ Club for their invaluable assistance. Cork’s own Mother Jones, Joan Goggin and her family Eadaoin and Aoife supporting the event all the way.
As the tenth festival recedes into the memory, so many people and organisations should be thanked. Without Eddie Noonan and the crew of Frameworks Films and Cork Community Television, the festival could not have happened in these never ending Covid days. We really appreciate the practical support our main sponsors such as Cork City Council, Cathedral Credit Union, the ASTI, SIPTU and the INTO as well as the assistance of the Shandon Maldron Hotel and WhazOn Cork which have continued to assist us even as we cannot have normal social gatherings and discussions which were always the heart, soul and magic of the Spirit of Mothers Jones festivals.
Our thanks go to all the participants this year who give of their time on a voluntary basis to contribute to the events, to designers Abbie O’Shea and Shannon Smyth, website administrator Ferdia O’Mahony and to Ciaran Cronin and Aidan Fitzpatrick of A to Z printers. For 2021 we wish to especially thank the Centre for Community and Civic Engagement in University College Cork for promoting and assisting the formal launch of the festival back in October on the beautiful grounds of UCC.
Our collaboration with the Centre For Earth Ethics in New York with respect to the Mona Pollaca interview was innovative. Finally we are thankful to the journalists at the Evening Echo, Irish Examiner, Irish Times, Southern Star and 96FM for providing local and national coverage of the events as many normal community publicity channels were closed due to Covid-19.
As a committee we now look forward to working on the next Spirit of Mother Jones festival in 2022.
If anyone has ideas for topics, for speakers or for entertainment for this 2022 festival, please drop a brief email to email@example.com and we will consider all suggestions.
Some of the extensive press coverage of the 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival follows:
2:00 pm. The highlights of the past ten years of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festivals.
7:00 pm. Tadhg Barry Remembered. A documentary by Cork Council of Trade Unions and Frameworks Films.
8:00 pm. Interview with Dr. Donal Ó Drisceoil, author of Utter Disloyalist: Tadhg Barry and the Irish Revolution.
The official launch of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2021 took place at the Maldron Hotel, Shandon last night. The Lord Mayor of Cork represented by Cllr. John Sheehan declared the festival open and stated that he was delighted that the festival had proceeded this year as each event set out to challenge one’s views of history and social issues. Speaker, Anne Twomey attended and participated in a brief Q&A session afterwards in relation to questions about Muriel MacSwiney.
The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will take place online on Cork Community Television from Thursday 25th November 2021 until Sunday 28th November 2021. We are hoping to have a number of live events, including Q&A’s with the interviewees as well as some live music at the Maldron Hotel in Shandon during the course of the Festival. These are subject strictly to the Covid 19 regulations specified at the time and the attendance will be limited.
Thursday 25th November – Sunday 28th November 2021
Programme of online events on Cork Community Television.
Thursday 25th November 2021
2:00 pm. The highlights of the 2020 online Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.
7.30 pm. Muriel MacSwiney………The Unlikely Revolutionary. An interview with Anne Twomey, historian and teacher, of the Shandon Area History Group.
Friday 26th November 2021
2:00 pm. The highlights of the first ten years of the Spirit of Mother Jones festivals.
7.00 pm. Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the death of Tadhg Barry, of Blarney Street.
Tadhg Barry Remembered. Documentary by Cork Council of Trade Unions and Frameworks Films.
8.00 pm. Interview with Dr. Donal O’Drisceoil
Author of Utter Disloyalist: Tadhg Barry and The Irish Revolution.
Saturday 27th November 2021.
2:00 pm. Blood on the Mountain produced by Mari-Lynn Evans.
4:00 pm. Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre produced by Lamprini C Tomas and Nickos Ventouras.
6:00 pm. Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America by Rosemary Feurer.
6:30 pm. Interview (zoom) with Mari Steed, Adoption Rights campaigner.
7:00pm. Maureen Considine and Catherine Coffey O’Brien of the CorkSurvivors and Supporters Alliance, CSSA discuss their effort to safeguard the Bessborough Burial ground.
Sunday 28th November 2021
2:00 pm. The Mine Warsproduced and directed by Randall MacLowry.
4:00 pm. Mother Jones and Her Children by Frameworks Films.
7:00 pm. Dr. Sean Pettit…….An Extraordinary Teacher with an introduction by Richard T Cooke. This film features Sean’s final presentation “The Cork City of Mary Harris” at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on 29th July 2016.
8:00 pm. The Songs of Mother Jones.
Featuring Māire Ní Chēilleachair, Karan Casey, William Hammond, Mags Creedon, Richard T Cooke, John Murphy, John & Gearoid Nyhan and Mick Treacy.
The 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will also include Q&A sessions with the speakers at the Maldron Hotel after the broadcasts on Cork Community Television. The capacity is strictly limited in accordance with the Covid-19 regulations for the safety of participants. Full details on how to attend will be announced later.
Every wonder why Mother Jones wished to be buried near “her boys” at the town of Mount Olive, in Southern Illinois in the Union Miners Cemetery, which is located near Route 66 midway between Springfield and St. Louis?
Mother Jones had earlier written to the Miners of Mount Olive on November 12th 1923, seeking
“a resting place in the same clay that shelters the miners who gave up their lives in the hills of Virden, Illinois on the morning of October 12th 1898, for their heroic sacrifice for their fellow men”.
Extract from Mother Jones and the Union Miners Cemetery Mount Olive, Illinois by the Illinois Labor History Society.
Her request was granted.
The Battle of Virden claimed the lives of four Mount Olive miners and since 1899, October 12th has been celebrated as Miners Day in Illinois at the Union Miners Cemetery.
During the battle, seven miners were killed and forty were wounded. Five mine guards died and four were wounded. The youngest miner killed was Edward Long, just 19 years old from Mount Olive.
Many activists from the Progressive Miners of America are buried at Mount Olive. Recently the remains of labour singer Anne Feeney, were placed in the cemetery.