Friday, December 21, 2012

Perspective: Remembering the Worst School Massacre 85 Years Later

With the nightmare of last week's massacre of innocent children in Newton, Connecticut, fresh in all of our minds, it might help to look back into the past to remember a forgotten event in US history that perhaps might put things into perspective.

While most people will be able to recount the horrific images of last Friday for years to come, just as many recall the tragedy of the Columbine school massacre with clarity, the worst school massacre in US history is all but forgotten.

The small town of Bath, Michigan, was witness to the unimaginably evil deeds of one madman, who killed 45 people in a day of infamy, 38 of which were innocent children, 85 years ago.

Andrew Kehoe was quite notorious around the village of Bath, for his eccentric, often violent behavior and his dislike of taxes and any "intrusions" the federal government forced upon his life. Neighbors and family recounted how Kehoe once shot a dog for barking too much and killed his horse for being "too lazy". He was also known around town as the "dynamite farmer". Controls on dynamite were not as strict in 1927 as now, and neighbors report he was always setting off blasts on his farm, to blow up stumps of rotted trees, old barns and other dilapidated structures.

Kehoe ran for town clerk of Bath in 1926, but his eccentric, often violent reputation preceded him and he was easily defeated in the election. His hatred of federal taxation came to a head during this time. Taxation of local residents had been raised to help pay for the beautiful and more modern Bath School, which could house many more students than the old school.

This angered Kehoe considerably, so much so that he began to hatch a plan to exact a diabolical revenge on both the people of Bath and the federal government he blamed for his problems. He secretly gained access to the bright and beautiful new schoolhouse and began to place explosives around the property.

On the morning of May 18, 1927, Kehoe put his deadly plan into action. After murdering his wife and blowing up his own farm, he detonated the charges around the school at 8:45 AM, just as students and faculty were convening for the start of morning lessons. The devastating blast shattered the peace of a usual Bath morning, leveling the once-beautiful school and killing 38 children and teachers.

Kehoe then parked his explosive-laden truck close to the disaster scene. While conversing with the school superintendent who had survived the initial blast, he detonated the dynamite in his truck, killing himself, the superintendent and several other people trying to help find survivors of the school blast. The disaster could have even been far greater: Authorities later found over five hundred pounds of explosives under a portion of the school that had not detonated. If Kehoe's plan had worked, the entire village of Bath would have been leveled.

Just as in the Newton killings, there was an immediate media frenzy after the tragedy. Newspapers and radio announcers descended onto the tiny town, and memorials began poring in from around the country. The frenzy only lasted a few days, however, as a young pilot named Charles Lindburgh took off in his airplane The Spirit of St. Louis in the very first trans-Atlantic flight three days after the massacre, which quickly captured the world's attention.

It took the town decades to recover from the devastating events of that single day in history. Eventually, the event was all-but forgotten to the world at large, although there are plaques and memorials in the town to commemorate those innocent victims who lost their lives to the ravings of one mad man, intent on revenge and destruction.

You can read the definitive account of the tragedy Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing written by Arnie Bernstein.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a lot for posting this one here. It's the first time when I spotted that article like that in some website that I didn't know before. I will definitely bookmark your blog and keep an eye on it in the future too. Thanks!


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