Tags: 1927 | school | bombing | newtown

1927 Bath School Bombing That Killed 38 Kids Shares Parallels With Newtown

Tuesday, 18 Dec 2012 11:45 AM

By Megan Anderle

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The horror of the Sandy Hook school shooting that left 20 children and seven others dead is immense, and there are parallels between the Connecticut tragedy and a 1927 school massacre in Michigan.

On May 18 of that year, a former electrician who was a handyman at the local school in the small town of Bath, located in the middle of the state, wired explosives intricately throughout the school, his car, and his house. Then Andrew Kehoe detonated the explosives, killing 45 people. Of those, 38 were children in the third through sixth grades. Another 58 people were wounded by the blasts.

The Bath School bombing remains the deadliest killing spree at a school ever, according to the National Constitution Center.

According to archived reports, like the Newtown shooting, there were heroes who put the lives of children before their own. One was school Superintendent Emory Huyck, who scrambled to save children and adults after an initial blast. Kehoe saw this and called Huyck over to his car and then blew it up, killing Huyck, himself, and several others.

Not all of the explosives were detonated. Investigators found more than 500 pounds of dynamite that hadn’t gone off that day that would have killed hundreds more had the wiring been correct.

Prior to the massacre, Kehoe reportedly had financial problems and was upset about having to pay taxes. He had killed his own wife before blowing up his house.

How could a person do such a thing? What drives a person to senselessly kill children? People of Bath have asked themselves these questions for decades.

"You wouldn't think a church member could do such a thing, would you?" said 97-year-old Willis Cressman. "He was the caretaker of the school. In fact, I saw him that morning. He was working on a door, and he smiled at us as we walked in."

There weren't hundreds of news trucks that descended at the scene the day of the Bath tragedy. The families of the victims weren't interviewed by countless talk shows. The gun control debate didn't rage madly days following the disaster.

However, the small Michigan town grieved for a very long time – as Newtown likely will. Generations later, survivors who are now in their 90s and their families remember the day of the bombings vividly.

"Years later, we still look at ourselves as survivors. So you look after one another differently, because you know that the absolute unthinkable can happen, even going to school," said Johanna Cushman-Balzer, a niece of Cressman.

Residents, many of them farmers, had to go back to work following the attack. There was no access to mental healthcare or psychologists who specialized in helping people grieve the way there are today.

The 13 remaining survivors didn't talk about it for too long, but people were undoubtedly scarred, according to an interview in the Christian Science Monitor with a survivor.

But from the tragedy come stories of compassion and kindness.

"It's been 80 years, but it's still fresh in mind," Arnie Bernstein, author of 2009's "Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing" told the Monitor. "It's yesterday. But out of this came good and decency – people caring for strangers and looking out for one another."

The Bath residents collectively cleared the rubble, as residents worked to find victims and offer assistance. The neighboring town, Lansing, also pitched in. A politician wrote a $75,000 check.

Even during a time when news circulation was limited, tens of thousands of people came to Bath to grieve with the town. According to a news report from May 26, 1927, more than 50,000 people came to the town to offer their support.

Today, people are giving what they can to the grieving Connecticut town in an attempt to offer a glimmer of hope.

Tom Cavanaugh, a Los Angeles resident who is from New Jersey, bought 100 cups of coffee for residents at the town's general store. His act of kindness inspired countless others for the town.

"Our humanity comes through in the face of evil and the inexplicable," said Bernstein.

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