Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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Podcasting Since January 2008

The Bath School Massacre – Podcast #3

The following is an excerpt from my second book, Lindbergh’s Artificial Heart: More Stories From The Flip Side of History.

Let’s do a time warp back to May 18, 1927, two days prior to the start of Lindbergh’s historic crossing of the Atlantic.  This particular day started out just like any for the seven-hundred or so residents of the village of Bath, Michigan.  Yet, this day was not to be like any other.  Around nine forty-five that morning, a tremendous explosion shook the community.  Within just a short period of time, an additional loud blast would be heard. 

At a time when radio was still in its infancy, the news was very slow to spread, and area residents were unsure about what had just happened.  The first explosion produced a giant cloud of smoke in one direction, yet there was a major fire burning in another.  People followed their gut instinct and headed toward the source of the explosion.  What these people saw was something that we all hope never, ever happens again.  The community’s five-year-old Bath Consolidated School, with more than three hundred students enrolled, had just been blown to smithereens.  With one-third of the school completely leveled, rescuers worked as fast as they could to pull the wounded and deceased out of the wreckage.  Lifeless body after lifeless body was extracted.  Panicked fathers joined in the search while mothers looked on with horror.

Just as things seemed as if they couldn’t get any worse, a second explosion occurred about a half-hour later.  One of the cars near the disaster site blew up, killing the school’s superintendent, a school board member, the village postmaster, and another man.

Rescuers, frantically searching through the portion of the school that was still standing, made a horrifying discovery and quickly called for everyone to get away from the building.  The school was wired with over five hundred pounds of dynamite, complete with a timer and a battery!  Realizing the dynamite could go off at any moment, the rescuers carefully dismantled the explosives and removed them from the building.

Bath School disaster showing the front of school.
Bath School disaster showing the front of school. Wikipedia image.

We live in an age where we think that school shootings, bombings, and the like are only modern phenomena.  It’s not the type of thing that we would have expected to happen in the 1920s.  How could such a thing have occurred?  How could someone become so outraged that they would want to kill all of those innocent children? 

The answer to these questions can be given with just one word: taxes. 

It was all the doing of a man named Andrew P. Kehoe, who just happened to be one of the people killed in the automobile explosion outside of the school.  Kehoe was very upset that his taxes had dramatically increased in order to fund the construction of the new school.  In an effort to reduce his tax levy, he ran for and was eventually elected to the community’s Board of Education, where he quickly butted heads with the school’s superintendent and other board members.  His efforts to get his property taxes reduced were unsuccessful, however.  Soon the higher taxes, coupled with increased medical expenses due to his wife’s poor health, led to the foreclosure of Kehoe’s farm.

Kehoe’s frugal ways did not go unnoticed by the board.  He convinced them to hire him to do some odd jobs around the school and avoid the cost of hiring an electrician.  And what a wiring job he did.  Not only did Kehoe perform his assigned duties, but he also spent weeks methodically wiring and setting up explosives around the school.

A few minutes before the blast, witnesses said that they saw Kehoe leaving the school building and driving away.  After the entire wing of the school was destroyed, Kehoe returned to the scene of the crime.  Sitting in his car, he motioned Superintendent Emory Huyck towards his car.  It is believed that the two men got into an argument and Kehoe pulled out a shotgun and blasted the rear seat of his pickup truck, which was loaded with his remaining explosives.  Kehoe, Huyck, and several others were killed instantly. 

The next morning, the body of Kehoe’s wife was found at their farm.  Her husband had apparently killed her prior to the bombing of the school.  He had wired his home and outbuildings with explosions timed to go off after he left for the school.  All of the buildings on his farm were burned to the ground.

In the end, Kehoe had killed a total of forty-five people. This included two teachers, the superintendent, the village’s postmaster, a retired farmer, Kehoe’s wife, and thirty-eight children, most between the ages of six and eight.  More than fifty others were injured.

As hard as it is to imagine, the death toll from the blast could have been much worse.  It was later determined that a short circuit prevented the rest of the school from exploding.  Also, the blast occurred during final exams at the school, so the older students were not scheduled to arrive until later that morning. 

After all of the victims were laid to rest, the villagers were faced with the task of rebuilding their school.  Since they were still paying for the school that was destroyed, the increase in taxes to cover the new construction would have placed many of its residents into bankruptcy.  Luckily, the state came to the rescue with disaster relief and the school was rebuilt.  Today, the replacement school has been torn down and a park commemorates those that lost their lives to the actions of one deranged man.

This awful tragedy still ranks as the deadliest act of school violence in American history.  Much of the world has long forgotten this story, but it is a tragic event that will never be forgotten by the residents of Bath.

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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