Bath, MI School Disaster, May 1927
Children Huddle About Teacher.
The explosion in the school came at 9:40 A. M., ten minutes after classes began. About 260 pupils were in the building. There would have been more but this is commencement week for the high school and few seniors were present. The attendance was kept down also by the fact that an examination was scheduled for 10 o'clock and those who were to take the examination had not yet arrived.
The explosion wrecked the entire north wing of the building, which housed the third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades. The building was in the shape of a “T”, the north wing corresponding to the upright of the letter.
Children in the rooms in the south wing were uninjured. In the first grade room the little ones were marching about singing to the music of a phonograph when the blast went off with a terrific detonation which shattered the windows of neighboring houses. The children shrieked and huddled about their teacher, Miss Bernice Sterling. The air was choked with dust, but in the hall the voice of the principal, Floyd Huggett, was heard calling to the children.
Teachers Lead Children Out.
Led by Huggett and the teachers, most of the children in the unshattered portion of the building were led to safety in orderly fashion. Some of those on the lower floor, frightened, jumped out of the windows. The glass had been broken by the explosion.
The villagers came running and at once started the work of rescue. Leading in the work was Superintendent HUYCK. The workers brought scores of the ninety trapped children, moaning and shrieking, out of the ruins in their arms. The piercing lamentations of mothers added to the heartrending cries of the sufferers and the terror-stricken screams of children.
About twenty minutes after the explosion KEHOE'S car was noticed at the curb in front of the school. No one knows how long it had been there. KEHOE was standing beside the car, talking with HUYCK, who had stopped for a moment to rest.
GLEN SMITH, village Postmaster, and NELSON McFARREN, an old man, were standing a few feet away. Suddenly, witnesses said, KEHOE took a rifle from his car and fired it into the rear seat, which apparently had been stacked with dynamite. There was a flash and a roar, and KEHOE was hurled through the air, his body dismembered. HUYCK'S body likewise was blown to bits. McFARREN was killed outright. Both of SMITH'S legs were broken and he was injured internally, he died later.
Aid Rushed to Stricken Village.
About fifteen minutes before the school explosion, there was a blast in KEHOE'S home on a farm west of the town. The resulting fire spread to the barn, and both his home and barn were destroyed.
Following the school explosion, a call for aid was sent to Lansing. Every available doctor, nurse and ambulance was rushed to Bath. A detachment from the Lansing Fire Department was sent to do rescue work. St. John's and Ovid also sent firemen.
State police took charge of the rescue work. They were aided by Lansing police and cadets from the Michigan State College at East Lansing.
Two large Lansing construction companies sent rescue parties. So many persons from the surrounding towns and cities drove to the scene of the disaster that the State Police were forced to take charge of traffic regulation and parking. Automobiles were parked for two miles into the country on all roads leading into Bath. Two or three thousand people were crowded into the school grounds.
Dynamite Wired Together.
State Police, exploring the basement of that portion of the building undamaged by the explosion, found about 500 pounds of dynamite planted in such a manner that a portion was under every room in the school. If it had exploded the school would have been demolished and almost every child would have been killed or hurt.
The units in the unfired dynamite were wired together. Apparently they had been connected with those fired in the north section of the building. Two lines of wire were found leading from the school across the yard. They ended near the spot where KEHOE'S car stood.
It is the theory of the State police that KEHOE fired the blast from his car by a coil. They declare the development of a short circuit in the line probably kept the dynamite in the south wing from firing and saved the children in that part of the school.
HAZEL IVA WEATHERBY, teacher of the third and fourth grades, was almost instantly killed. Severe injuries were suffered by MRS. BLANCHE ELIZABETH HARTE (later died), fifth grade teacher; MISS EVA GUBBINS, sixth grade teacher, and MISS NINA MATSON, English teacher in the high school.
MISS MATSON was alone in the library on the second floor at the time and the other teachers were in their classrooms. The three injured teachers were taken to Lansing hospitals.
Governor Doffs Coat to Help.
Governor and Mrs. Fred W. Green visited the scene late this afternoon. Governor Green threw aside his coat and assisted the crews who were busy pulling on long cables attached to the shattered walls. Mrs. Green assisted the nurses and friends who were working over the less seriously injured and offered sympathy to the grief-stricken mothers.
KEHOE is believed to have blown up the school house in revenge for the school board's recent refusal to reduce his taxes. On this occasion KEHOE engaged in a bitter quarrel with other members of the board.
A mortgage on his farm home held by Mrs. Lawrence Price of Lansing, an aunt of his wife, was foreclosed recently. Mrs. Price, the wealthy widow of a founder of an automobile body manufacturing company, said at her home here today that KEHOE had made no effort to pay the mortgage, which had been placed on his property several years ago.
The foreclosure, together with the quarrel with the School Board, is believed to have unsettled his mind.
Last night KEHOE called Mrs. Price from Bath and said that his wife, who had been in a Lansing hospital, had returned to her home at Bath, but that he was taking her to visit relatives in Jackson. Whether she died in the blast that wrecked the KEHOE home today is not known. She has not yet been found.