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The 1927 Bombing of Bath School-America's First School Massacre
This Story Contains True But Graphic Content
This story was very hard emotionally for me to complete. Although 85 years have passed, seeing the names and faces of those children who died is heartbreaking. Be prepared to weep while reading this recounting of America's first school tragedy.
I have chosen not to post a picture of Andrew Kehoe because he lost such respect when he chose to murder 45 innocent people and injure 58 more.
On the other hand I have I also have chosen not to post photos of the dead children out of respect. They and their remaining families deserve privacy.
Some of the Victims
BROMUNDT, ROBERT, 12.
BROMUNDT, AMELIA, 11; sister of Robert
BURNETT, GEORGE, 12.
CHAPMAN, RUSSELL, 10.
CHAPMAN, EARL, 12
COCHRAN, ROBERT, 8.
CUSHMAN, RALPH, 7.
EWING, EARL, 12.
FOOTE, CATHERINE, 11.
GEISENHAVER, CARLYLE, 10.
HALL, WILLA, 11.
HALL, GEORGE, Jr., 8; brother of Willa.
HART, STANLEY, 10.
HART, ROBERT, 9.
HART, VIVIAN, 10.
HART, PERCY, 12.
HART, IOLA, 13.
HUNTER, LOREN, 14.
HUYCK, EMORY B., Superintendent of School.
JOHNS, DORIS, 10.
KEHOE, ANDREW, Treasurer of School Board.
McFARREN, CLARENCE, 14.
McFARHEN, NELSON, retired farmer.
NICHOLS, EMMA, 12.
RICHARDSON, RICHARD, 13.
ROBB, ELSIE, 11.
SMITH, GLENN, Postmaster.
WEATHERBEE, HAZEL, 20, teacher, of Okemos.
WITCHELL, LUCILLE, sister of Elizabeth
WOODMAN, LENORE, 9.
ZIMMERMAN, LLOYD, 12.
ZIMMERMAN, GEORGE, 10.
The Mourning Begins
Bath Township in Michigan built an expensive consolidated school so their children would be safer. They would not have to walk a long distance to school through inclement weather on roads where automobile traffic was only inches away. The children would not be subject to attentions from passersby or other children who wanted to be bullies. They would be picked up and delivered to school on a bus and watched over by a vigilant driver. Parents and citizens of Bath were relieved and excited for their schoolchildren and the community.
That feeling of well being changed forever on the morning of May 18, 1927. The morning began as usual with children and teachers excited about the upcoming vacation. This was the last day of school before summer break. Then the unimaginable happened when a bomb ripped through the school building, destroying most of the school and killing a total of forty five people, thirty eight of them children. Another fifty eight people were injured.
The sound of the explosion drew attention from blocks away and horrified neighbors went running to the site of the school. The entire community instantly came together to rescue children and teachers trapped in the debris and to remove the bodies of others. Nearby towns sent police and firemen to assist while two manufacturing plants in nearby Lansing let all of its workforce go help. Construction workers from several companies arrived and worked tirelessly to get dead and injured children out of the building.
It was a sad and tragic sight that no one would ever forget. Children were covered in plaster, dust, cement and blood. Arms and legs hung broken, some children were moaning and others were so still that rescuers knew they would never make a sound ever again.
Parents heard the news and rushed to see if their own little ones were among the injured or dead. Most saw things a parent should never experience. One mother saw her little girl hanging by one leg from the wrecked building and begged a worker to bring her down. She was already dead but the mother was desperate to hold her child. An eyewitness reported seeing another mother, Mrs. Hart, sitting on the grass holding her injured son who later died and her two dead daughters lying on each side of her on the ground. She lost all three of her children in the bombing.
A father sat beside the bodies of his tiny sons, weeping while mothers fought with police who restrained them from rushing into the wreckage in search of their children. A family lost five children. Few families in the township escaped loss that terrible day.
It was late in the day before all the bodies were recovered from the crumbling building and laid out in rows on the ground. Once the coroner officially pronounced death, parents and undertakers removed the little broken remains to places of safety. Many are buried in the Bath cemetery and others in nearby Lansing. The wounded were taken to local hospitals where several more died in the following weeks and months.
Some survivors lost fingers, one little girl had a leg amputated and most carried physical scars as well as emotional distress the rest of their lives. Entire families were devastated and destroyed which was what Andrew Kehoe wanted. His goal was to destroy the township of Bath and he nearly succeeded.
More Destruction Was Intended
Many children were not at the school that morning because the senior commencement was scheduled for ten o'clock. Others were absent for various reasons. Had the entire enrolled student body been present more deaths would have occurred.
More than 500 pounds of explosives were eventually found under the undamaged part of the school. It had not gone off for some reason and would have obliterated the entire building and surrounding structures had his evil plan succeeded.
Andrew Kehoe had allowed a teacher to bring her class to his farm for a picnic. She had suggested Thursday but he asked her to come on Tuesday instead. Perhaps he set the explosives then or maybe he wanted them to have one final party before he murdered them.
In any regard, he desired the school and other nearby structures to be blown to smithereens along with as many people as possible. His hate knew no boundaries and no compassion was found in his soul.
On July 26, a twenty-five pound sack of unexploded pyrotol was found, making a total of five hundred and twenty-nine pounds that didn't explode. The man had hoarded explosives for a long time while planning this horrendous act.
Who Would Do Such An Awful Thing?
The perpetrator was Andrew Kehoe, Treasurer of the School Board. He was well known in the village and had even run for public office, being defeated. The Kehoes had been facing financial woes like most of the American citizens at the time. He had sold off many of his farm animals and was not a good farmer so his crops were not a great success. He liked to invent and tinker and often left crops untended and unharvested.
Andrew Kehoe had been known to show a lack of compassion toward other people and exhibited cruelty to animals. He once shot a neighbor's little dog for burying a bone near his fence and had beaten a horse to death.
At the same time, this unfeeling, cold man often gave handmade gifts to guests and worked tirelessly to help a neighbor remodel a home. This maniac killed dozens of innocent children yet he warned several men on the day of the disaster not to enter his house as it was burning, saying "You are friends of mine, don't go in there, go down to the school."
The bank loan on his farm had recently been foreclosed and Kehoe held the consolidated school and the School Board responsible since taxes had been raised to fund the project. He had a troubled history with the Board and in particular disliked and harassed the Superintendent, Mr. E. Huyck.
He had planned his revenge well, planting dynamite under the school building and waiting for the right moment to set it off by using an alarm clock. Kehoe drove by the scene about 20 minutes after the explosion, smiling and waving at an eyewitness (MJ Ellsworth). He returned about 10 minutes later and motioned for the school Superintendent, Emory E. Huyck, to come over to his car. When Mr. Huyck did do, Andrew Kehoe (according to witnesses) pulled out a rifle and fired into the backseat, detonating explosives and blowing up the car, himself, Mr. Huyck, and several others standing nearby.
Nelson McFarren was killed instantly and Glenn Smith died within on the scene a few minutes. One of the injured was a boy who had escaped from the school building and was wandering in a daze close to the roadway.
More of Andrew Kehoe's Madness
Almost the exact time the school building was destroyed, neighbors saw smoke coming from the Kehoe farm. Andrew Kehoe had wired his animals legs together so they could not be rescued and set the barns on fire. He blew up farm implements, tractors and tools. He destroyed trees and sawed off the grape vines.
His wife had been ill off and on all winter and was in the hospital until he came and got her on Monday night before bombing the school Wednesday morning. It is believed he killed her immediately once she returned home. Her burned body was found the day after the tragedy. It had been placed in a hog chute along with the household silver and several hundred dollars and set on fire. Many people had been by there the previous day but no one ever considered she would have been discarded in such a spot.
Blessings Among Burdens
- Paul Lefke, of the Lansing Fire Department, was in command at the central station at the time the call came in. He acted fast and before medical personnel were even on the scene, he had children sent to hospitals in any cars he could locate. He was in the basement with police and brought out undetonated dynamite along with other unselfish heroes. When asked why they did such a thing the answer was "that is our duty."
- Miss Elba Morse, was the National Representative of the Red Cross at the time and happened to be at Stanton, about 66 miles away. She drove all day, arriving that evening. By dawn the day after the bombing, she had a Red Cross help facility set up and running.
- Governor Green came to the scene by late afternoon and declared a state of emergency, allowing financial and restorative aid to be released to the stricken community.
- Local housewives cooked and provided food and materials for rescuers and workers for weeks afterward.
- People from hundreds of miles away came to assist, working to clear the debris and to aid the grieving people left in turmoil.
- The school was eventually rebuilt and renamed thereby refusing to allow Andrew Kehoe his desire to erase it and Bath forever.
Conclusions on Love and Hate
Andrew Kehoe left a sign hanging on a fence at his farm. It said Criminals Are Made, Not Born. I agree with him. They are made by the choices a person embraces. The criminal mind holds hatred close to the heart just as heroes embrace love and are made by their deliberate choices to serve and sacrifice for love.
Hatred can never be allowed to win or to make us bow before it. By acknowledging these terrible things lurk in the hearts of some people we can be watchful against them ever happening again. But we cannot dwell of pain but must find joy again after tragedy. In this manner, we regain power over our lives and honor the memory of those lost to us in this life. Love will always conquer hate, it will stand forever brave and strong after hate has been removed from every human heart.
Be intentional about choosing to love. By doing so its opposite, the thing called hate is eliminated for eternity.