Bath Township School Disaster 80 Year Anniversary

By: Lauren Zakalik Email
By: Lauren Zakalik Email

"On May 18th, 1927, Andrew Kehoe committed the worst school mass killing in US history, and one of the worst mass murders of US history," says local reference historian David Votta.

"The word terrorism was never used," he says. "Words that were used were maniac. Superkiller. Madman."

Eighty years ago this week, as students at Bath Consolidated School in Bath Township were taking their final exams, dynamite exploded, bringing their school to the ground.

And as the survivors ran from the rubble, a car full of exploding metal shrapnel met them in the schoolyard. In all, 45 people died-- the majority of them children.

"If all the dynamite had been exploded, the tragedy would have been much worse. There were nearly 300 students at the school, plus teachers there at the time," Votta says.

The killer was Andrew Kehoe, and Votta says it's a widely accepted fact that Kehoe bombed the school as revenge for high taxes placed on his farm.

For weeks, he concocted the intricate plan: a plan to murder his wife, plant dynamite all over the school and drive his expsive-filled car up to the crime scene to cause further tragedy.

"MSU wanted to examine his skull and see if he was some sort of primitive man that could perform these acts. They couldn't comprehend a man could do this," says Votta.

Ninety-five-year-old Willis Cressman was a tenth-grade student at Bath School in 1927. He recalls how his life was saved that day.

"I got to the doors to the library and the teacher wouldn't let me in," he says. "So I went back to my desk and right after that, it blew up, and the whole library went down."

He dodged death a second time that day as shrapnel from Kehoe's car flew by his face and hit a friend.

"We thought the fellow must have had someone working with him. We were worried about him blowing us up again," Cressman says.

Even after last month's Virginia Tech massacre, the Bath Township disaster remains the worst school killing in history. But many Americans-- let alone people in mid-Michigan-- know little if anything about it.

Votta explains why:

"Unfortunately it got a little bit of press, but two days later is when Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, so it was really buried."

A tower-like structure is all that's physically left from the school; it sits in a park in Bath. For many, it serves as a memorial for the lives lost. For others, it's a reminder of how lucky they are.

I'm lucky because they wouldn't let me into the library," Cressman says. "I don't know why. Kind of a miracle it kept me from going in there."

Most of the people who died that day are buried just down the street at Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Bath. Their headstones show lives cut short; Cressman still remembers a few.

"Dick Richardson, he was in a lower grade. He was killed."

Kehoe himself was killed in the explosions that day. He's buried in the pauper's section here at Mt. Rest Cemetery in St. Johns. His grave may be unmarked, but the mark he left on Bath Township still remains 80 years later.

"The repercussions are still going on," Votta says. "It's a very sore topic. There are still folks alive who remember this and don't want to talk about it. There were several families who lost two and three children that day."

Just yards away from the memorial park in the center of Bath, children play, likely unaware of what took place 80 years ago, a tragedy from another time that is so very close to home.


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