Revisiting the Worst School Massacre in U.S. History

90th anniversary remembrances have only just begun

On the front page of several Michigan newspapers today: Washington Post enterprise reporter Theresa Vargas’ look back at the worst school massacre in U.S. history. An event that took place 90 years ago this spring at the Bath Consolidated School north of East Lansing.

The headline “World’s Worst Demon” is a reference to how the farmer who dynamited the school, Andrew Kehoe, was described by neighbor Monty Ellsworth, who would go on to write the book The Bath School Disaster. The final death toll of 45 included 38 children.

Vargas wrote the article for the Post’s “Retropolis” section. From her piece:

Unlike the school killings that would later follow it, among them Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary, the Bath event did not spur debate about mental health. A New York Times article that ran at the time described Kehoe as the “Michigan maniac” in the headline and as a “madman” in the first sentence.

The sign on the [Kehoe farm] fence [which read ‘Criminals are made, not born], the article author wrote, “may give an inkling to the psychology of the man who with measured deliberation, it is believed, attempted to wreak vengeance on this community for what he felt was the high tax imposed on him and other financial troubles … He was notified last June that the mortgage on his farm would be foreclosed, and that may have been the circumstance that started the clockwork of anarchy and madness in his brain.

The Kalamazoo Gazette is part of Advance Digital’s MLive Media Group. Also emblazoning the Post story about the 1927 tragedy on the front page today are sister publications The Grand Rapids Press, Muskegon Chronicle and Jackson Citizen Patriot.

In the Washington Post article comments, several people with direct connections to the Bath School massacre chimed in:

Cliff Hart: My family lost more kids than any other that day. Three of what would have been my dad’s cousins were killed in the explosion. A fourth cousin was injured when Kehoe blew himself up in his truck. Sad day for sure, folks didn’t used to like to talk about it at all. My grandma saw her dad cry once… it was that day.

Missy French: My former home, built in 1923, was right across the street from the consolidated school. The blast was so big it shook the foundation on all of our surrounding homes. Each year on the anniversary, ghost hunting types meet at the plot of land that is now the town park.

For those with a further interest in this bit of demonic history, the Lansing State Journal last year for the 89th anniversary of the attack interviewed one of the last surviving students from 1927, George Baird. Many more remembrances will be shared in Michigan leading up to the anniversary date of May 18, which this year falls on a Thursday.

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.