Bath School House Disaster

Bath School House Disaster

Marcie Hartmann

 

The Bath School House massacre is the deadliest school massacre in American history to date. In 1927 a school in Bath, Michigan, only 10 miles outside of Lansing, was subject to the most brutal but forgotten attack on a public school. On May 18, 1927, the elementary wing of the 314-student school exploded killing a total of 44 people, 38 of which were students all of which were at the hands of Andrew Kehoe, the disgruntled treasurer of the school board (Boissoneault, 2017). Upset about the tax increase to pay for the Bath Consolidated School that opened in 1922, Kehoe set to carry out his brutal plan. Although only leveling the north wing of the building, Kehoe had intended to demolish the entire school with dynamite. Pictured below is what is left after the explosion, the brand new building that Kehoe had not only helped pay for but also worked for is all but demolished. This is one of many examples of Kehoe’s mental status during the weeks and months prior to the bombing. Someone of sound mind would not have senselessly destroyed something they had begrudgingly helped pay for.

 

The north wing of the Bath Consolidated School after the explosion, May 18, 1927. (https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/05/18/bath-school-disaster-michigan/27521127/)

 

The death count didn’t stop with students and staff inside the school. When Kehoe arrived on scene with a truckload of explosives and shrapnel that he detonated by shooting it with his rifle, killing the school superintendent and several bystanders the massacre finally came to an end. After the dead and wounded were taken away police, fire, and rescue workers also found another 500 pounds of dynamite and pyrotol in the school’s basement. The following photo is what was found in the basement after the bombing.  It can be seen here that not only was Kehoe attempting to bring down the school but his overkill use of the explosive probably meant that he had more sinister plans in store for the village of Bath. According to the fire chief at the time had the rest of the explosives detonated it is possible that downtown Bath, in its entirety, would have been leveled. This would have been a financially catastrophic blow to an already poor community.

Five hundred pounds of unexploded pyrotol that was taken out of the basement of the untouched portion of the Bath Consolidated School. http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/05/10_things_you_probably_didnt_k.html)

 

Not only did Kehoe cause the deaths of those in and near the schoolhouse that day, but it was later found that he had murdered his wife, Nellie Kehoe sometime in the days prior to the massacre. Kehoe hid her remains, strapped to a cart behind what was thought to be the sheep paddock before burning the property to the ground.  It was also later found that he had tied the hooves of his horses together to die in the burning barn. Days later in the ruins of the Kehoe farm, a sign was found attached to the fence that read “Criminals are made, not born”. In the image below you can see that Kehoe spent a decent amount of time stenciling the simple phrase onto a scrap piece of lumber. According to the inscription that Kehoe left behind, it suggests that he is not at fault for the bombing, but that he was born this way; criminal at heart. The lack of personal accountability for his actions lends itself as a clue to his long-term, unaddressed mental instability.  There were no other explanations from Kehoe about his actions that day (Peters, 2012).

Sign found on the fence of Kehoe’s farm (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103186662)

Although hardly spoke of today, Bath, Michigan still remembers and feels the echoes of the disaster.  Arnie Bernstein who wrote an account of the bombing in 2009 recalls the importance of remembering this tragedy in Michigan history: “A whole generation of a town was affected because of a madman…we owe it to them to tell the story and keep their memory alive” (Putnam, 2016).

Primary Sources

Reiman, N., & Garofalo, M. (2009, April 17). Survivors Recall 1927 Michigan School Massacre. Retrieved April 13, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103186662

 

Secondary Sources

Boissoneault, L. (2017, May 18). The 1927 Bombing That Remains America’s Deadliest School Massacre. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/1927-bombing-remains-americas-deadliest-school-massacre-180963355/

Peters, J. (2012, December 18). “We Still Look at Ourselves as Survivors”: More Than Eighty Years Later, Remembering the Deadliest School Massacre in American History. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from http://www.slate.com/blogs/crime/2012/12/18/bath_school_bombing_remembering_the_deadliest_school_massacre_in_american.html

Putnam, J. (2016, May 20). Putnam: Evil of Bath School Disaster remembered 89 years later. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/opinion/columnists/judy-putnam/2016/05/18/putnam-evil-remembered-89-years-later/84276384/

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