Here’s Duane’s 4th grade class in 1940. Can you find him? It’s important to note that Duane’s class was not involved in the Bath School Disaster, but 13 years earlier children this same age were. Can you imagine the horror?
Today we’re going to have a history lesson. Today is the 85th anniversary of the Bath School Disaster, and while this tragedy happened five years before Duane, our octogenarian, was even born, because it took place in our family’s general neighborhood, I thought it worthy of mention.
Bath Township was, and still is, a small community located just off what now is I-69. It’s about ten miles southwest of Laingsburg. According to Wikipedia, in 1922, the community voted to close its one-room schools and merge them into the Bath Consolidated School system. They built a big, new school building, which, of course, necessitated an increase in property taxes.
One man, Andrew Kehoe, was particularly disgruntled by these costs. As treasurer for the Bath Consolidated School board, he fought to lower the taxes and blamed them for the financial difficulties he was having on his farm.
On the morning of May 18, 1927, Kehoe killed his chronically ill wife and set his home and farm buildings on fire. As fire fighters responded to this emergency, Kehoe detonated hundreds of pounds of explosives he had previously planted in the Bath Consolidated School building. And then, if that wasn’t enough, as people rushed to respond to the school explosion, Kehoe drove up in his car and detonated that too. It killed him, the school superintendent and several others who were nearby.
According to sources, all totaled, Kehoe killed 45 people and injured at least 58. Most of his victims were children in the second thru seventh grades, whose classrooms were in the north wing of building. During the rescue efforts, searchers found an additional 500 pounds of undetonated explosives in the south wing of the building.
Can you imagine something so horrific happening in your community?
At the time, Gladys would have been 16. She may have been living with her father in the Williamston area or with her mother in Lansing. Can you imagine how shocking it was to hear of this news?
I ask the Amos Boys about it. I wonder if they talked about it as children? Did people memorialize the date the way we do our tragedies today?
“We heard about it as we were growing up, but not too much detail,” says Duane.
“It happened before we were born,” says Bruce. “All we knew is what we heard, and that wasn’t a whole lot.”
“I don’t remember ever discussing it,” says Jerry. “Not in my neighborhood, or with my grandparents, or in school. Not even in junior or senior high school. Some history teacher may have mentioned it, but I don’t remember.”
Basically, as Jerry says, it happened and then people put it aside. They moved on.
Let’s talk about this a bit (we can have a psychology lesson as well as our history lesson).
If we look at modern-day school tragedies, like the Columbine High School Massacre or the Virginia Tech Massacre (neither of which had a death toll as high as the Bath School Disaster), we see public reactions that are very different. Nowadays, the media exposes every detail and we discuss it to great lengths. We send counselors into the classroom to help students deal with what they’ve experienced. And we soothe our pain with proactive measures to ensure nothing so terrible will ever happen again.
How different from putting it aside and moving on.
What do you think?