I grew up looking at the pictures of the children and adults who died the day that the school blew up. The pictures and the story were in a little brown book in one of the upstairs bedrooms at my Grandparent’s house. Sometimes I would look at the pictures with my sister, other times by myself. I don’t remember ever talking about this book with any other members of my family. For sure the adults never mentioned the book, and maybe they forgot that it was even there. I never knew why my Grandparents had the book.
As an adult, I wondered if I had imagined the book. No one else seemed to know what I was talking about when I mentioned it. My memory, though, was so vivid of those who had died. I was able to share bits and pieces of the story, but I couldn’t remember where it happened. It was the day of one of the school shootings—I’m thinking the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School—that one of the commentators mentioned the Bath School disaster. I knew right away that this was the story that I remembered! Since then I have discovered that my Aunt now has the book (a first edition), and I have bought later editions for my sister and myself. It turns out that as a child, my Aunt also looked at this book, and never knew why her parents had it.
The book is called “The Bath School Disaster”, and is written by M. J. Ellsworth. This is a rare, and fairly expensive, book. The nice thing is that the entire book is on-line for anyone who would like to read it. It only has 136 pages, and is a quick—albeit emotional—read. The book describes how on May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, a member, and treasurer, of the school board, blew up the Bath Consolidated School in Bath, Michigan. Mr. Ellsworth’s 2nd grade son was in the school at the time, and he was a neighbor to Kehoe’s farm. In addition to the school, Kehoe blew up the buildings on his farm, murdered his wife, and blew up his car outside of the school when responders gathered around it. Those killed included the school superintendent, Mr. Emory E. Huyck, and the postmaster, Mr. Glenn O. Smith.
The Bath School Disaster killed 38 children and 7 adults, while injuring another 58 people. 504 pounds of dynamite in the school basement did not explode. If it had exploded, the death toll would have increased by a significant number. I cannot fathom the grief on that day. My heart shatters when Mr. Ellsworth describes this scene: “I saw one mother, Mrs. Eugene Hart, sitting on the bank a short distance from the school with a little dead girl on each side of her and holding a little boy, Percy, who died a short time after they got him to the hospital. This was about the time Kehoe blew his car up in the street, severely wounding Perry, the oldest child of Mr. and Mrs. Hart.” This was only one of the scenes in the midst of the disaster.
I have been convinced that I must have had a relative living in Bath when the disaster happened. Hart is one of our family names, and I thought that might be the connection. I couldn’t, however, find this specific family in our family tree. It would have been so much easier if my relatives would have talked about the disaster! About two years ago I solved the mystery as I was looking at our family tree. I was right, we had relatives living in Bath. I’m sad to say that I had a relative die in the explosion. Earl Edwin Ewing was 11 years old, and in the 6th grade, when he died. If Earl had lived, he would have been 49 when I was born.
Mr. Ellsworth described Kehoe as “the world’s worst demon”. I’m afraid that just in my life-time Kehoe has had a lot of competition for this title. Violence is becoming a commonly repeated theme in our society. We need to talk about this and not stay silent! It is time for us to stop all of the emotional rhetoric, and to find solutions. Yes, this will need to include uncomfortable subjects, like: mental health; the de-sensitizing to violence happening in our society (including violent video games); family values and discipline; support when there is a lack of family; drug abuse; and access to weapons. We might even have to make compromises!
Can we work together? As United Methodists? As Christians? As Americans? As humans? It is time to see past our differences, and look to what we have in common. We can’t afford to wait any longer. We can’t stay silent. Let’s demand change! Together, let’s look for options. We might not be able to eliminate violence, but we can certainly do better than what we are doing. I’m willing to help. How about you?