May 30, 1914 – April 26, 1920
What fascinates me about this headstone is the note above little Ruth’s name, “Erected by Mary J. Gordon.”
It seems so odd to see this. The Plath family does not seem to have been poor or struggling. Their oldest son George was already buried nearby by the time Ruth died (and when the snow melts someday I’ll go back and look more closely at the surrounding headstones to see who else is there from the family).
So while I have no facts, I have a theory assembled from names and dates, any actual actions all falling between the public record signposts and unprovable, the idea little better than fanfiction, but nevertheless…
I think Ruth was George’s daughter. George was born 5 July 1891 and died 18 January 1915 at the age of 23. He was the oldest of ostensibly six children (Ruth being the youngest) and had been working as a bill clerk at a tobacconists for at least five years when he died.
Mary J. Gordon was a young Scottish girl who immigrated to the US in 1913 when she was 18 years old. The window for her to meet and “get in trouble” by George is narrow. She arrives in 1913, Ruth is born in May 1914, and George is dead by the following January, but as we all know, it only takes a few moments and then nine months.
Maybe he wouldn’t marry her. Maybe she wouldn’t marry him. Maybe something bad had happened between them, and Mary insisted they take the child, her a newly-arrived immigrant with no resources, or maybe they offered to take the child for the same reason. Who knows? Maybe all of this, as I said, is total fiction?
Ruth’s nearest-in-age sibling is twelve years older than she was. Her mother Ida would have been 45 when she was born. Not unheard of. Not impossible.
But then we think again of Mary J. Gordon’s name on Ruth’s headstone, and we have to wonder.
I see no reason why anyone would erect a headstone for a the five-year-old daughter of a sturdy, hard-working family fully capable of paying their own way (going by the census records) unless that child had no one else to do it for her or no one else who would do it for her.
Perhaps her ostensible parents buried her near George but wanted to leave it at that, a sad short life for a girl perhaps not exactly welcomed upon her arrival into the world.
Mary J. Gordon married in November 1915 to another Scottish immigrant, and they went on to have five children together, but if this is the same woman, it is of interest that the name she put on the headstone was her maiden name. The name she’d have had when Ruth was born but which would have changed to McDonald by 1920. It’s also of interest that Mary J. Gordon began to go by Jean at around this same time. One wonders if the girl who was Mary J. Gordon was someone she decided to put behind her entirely.
I cast no slander on the Plaths. Who knows why Ruth died so young? But what I think happened is that her mother came back when she did die and put her name on her daughter’s headstone for all eternity as an act of claiming and protection and comfort.
There is one more Mary J. Gordon who this could possibly be that I can find, an elderly, widowed Mrs. Gordon. However, I can find no connection for her to the Plaths, and the presumption in that case would be some kind of need on the Plath’s part, and in a case of charity, would you really demand to affix your name to the child’s headstone in exchange for assisting with its placement? I think not.
RIP Ruth Plath and peace to the Mary J. Gordon who marked your final resting place.
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