The Bath School Disaster

bath
The Bath School Disaster, Bath, Clinton County, Michigan

Copyright © 1997 by Robert Lyons Jr. This copy contributed for use in the USGenWeb Archives.

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The Bath School Disaster
It's a little known fact that on May 18, 1927 at 9:45 am, in the farming community of Bath Michigan, a man named Andrew Kehoe caused what would be America's largest single-event mass murder in history.

Bath would hold this title until the time of the Oklahoma City bombing.

After blowing up the school, killing his wife, ruining everything he could on his farm and burning it, he took his ford pickup, loaded with dynamite and shrapnel, to the area where the rescue effort was going on, Kehoe called Nelson McFarren, Glenn O. Smith, Postmaster, and E.E. Huyck the school Superintendant over to his pickup and blew it up.

Andrew Kehoe was born February 1 1872 on a farm 4 miles south-east of Tecumseh Michigan. He was one of 13 children. His mother died when he was young. When Andrew was 14 years old, his stepmother was lighting the kitchen stove when it sprayed oil on her which ignited. Andrew watched her burn for sometime before throwing water on her, which caused the flames to spread. She later died from her injuries.

After graduating high school in Tecumseh, Andrew took an electrical engineering course at Michigan State College (later to become Michigan State University), where he met Nellie Price, whom later would become his wife.

He bought a farm in Bath, on Clark rd. west of town, and moved there in the spring of 1919. He and his wife belonged to the social club, and Mr. Kehoe variously served as school board trustee, treasurer, and filled in the remainder of a term as township clerk, although he lost the election to keep the position at the next election.

Although Mr. Kehoe was active in the community, it seems that it was more in an effort to lower his taxes, than any concern for the good of the community, or good of the school children.

He had done some maintenance work at the school from time to time, and it is speculated that in this way he had the means to get the dynamite into the basement undetected.

The following is a chapter from the book BATH SCHOOL DISASTER written by M.J. Ellsworth, a neighbor of Andrew Kehoe's.

MADE OWN TROUBLES

Kehoe had trouble on the school board and he very seldom voted the same as the other members. In the spring of 1926 he ran for township clerk and was defeated. He tried to get them to cut the valuation down on his farm. He also tried to get the people who held the mortgage on his farm to take it off, telling them he had paid to much for it, but of course, he couldn't get this done. He was going to have his own way at any cost. He planned on destroying everything. He cut the wire fences on his farm and put dynamite in his tractor so that it blew all to pieces when the tool shed was burning. All the stock he had at the time was two horses. They were tied in the barn and their feet were wired together so that rescuing them during the fire would be impossible.

About a month before he did this, he gave the best one of these horses to a neighbor, A. McMullen, and delivered it himself. Mr. McMullen kept the horse for a few days, then he got to thinking that it might be Kehoe was going to commit suicide because he hadn't done any work on the farm for nearly a year, so he brought the horse back to Kehoe.

Mr. Kehoe carried all the rails and lumber that there were around the buildings into the tool shed. I suppose that was to make sure that everything would be destroyed. He girdled all the small shade trees and sawed the grape vines off next to the ground and set them back on the stumps so that they would not be noticed.

I think that he was very dissapointed when he got down to the schoolhouse and saw that all the dynamite had not exploded. I think if all the dynamite had exploded, it would have killed all the children, teachers, and the superintendent. So much of it being in loose form, it is probable that the ruins would have caught fire. Then, he probably would have driven his machine which was loaded with burrs, bolts, scrap iron, drag teeth, and rifle shells up into the crowd and blown it up, killing and injuring many people. I think he commenced planning this revengeful murder right after he was defeated in the spring election of 1926.

Dead

Bauerle, Arnold Victor
Bergan, Henry
Bergan, Herman
Burnett, Floyd Edwin
Brommund, Robert
Bromund, Amelia
Chapman, Russell
Claton, Cleo
Cockran, Robert
Cushman, Ralph Albert
Ewing, Earl Edwin
Foote, Katherine Onalee
Fritz, Margory
Geisenhaver, Carlyle Walter
Gibbs, Beatrice
Harte, Blanche Elizabeth, teacher
Harte, Stanley Horace
Harte, LaVerne Robert
Harte, Gailand Lyle
Hall, Willa Marie
Hall, George
Hart Iola Irene
Hart, Vivian, Oletta
Hart, Percy Eugene
Hoppener, Francis Otto
Hunter, Cecial Lorn
Huyck, Emory E. superintendant
Johns, Doris Elaine
Kehoe, Nellie
Kehoe, Andrew P
McFarren, Nelson
McFarren, Clarence Wendell
McDonald, Thelma Irene
Medcoff, J. Emerson
Nickols, Emma Amelia
Richardson, Richard Dibble
Robb, Elsie Mildred
Shirts, Pauline Mae
Smith, Glenn O.
Weatherby, Miss Hazel Iva, teacher
Witchell, Elizabeth Jane
Witchell, Lucile June
Woodman, Harold LeMoyne
Zimmerman, George Orval
Zimmerman, Lloyd

Injured

Babcock, Lloyd
Babcock, Vera
Babcock, Norris
Barnes, Ruth M.
Braska, Anna
Chapman, Earl
Delau, Aurthur
Delau, Ida
Detluff, Marcia
Dolton, Adabelle
Echstruth, Iva
Echstruth, Raymond
Echstruth, Marian
England, Josephine
Foster, James
Frederick, Aletha
Fulton, Dorothy
Fritz, Mr. F.M.
Geisenhaver, Kenneth
Gutekunst, Miss Leona, teacher
Gubbins, Miss Eva, teacher
Hart, Elva
Hart, Perry
Hobert, Helen E.
Hobert, Ralph R.
Hollister, Carlton E.
Huffman, June Rose
Huffman, Donald J.
Hunter, Florence Edith
Komm, Helen
Komm, Florence
King, Lester
Matson, Miss Nina, teacher
McCoy, Pauline Mae
McCoy, Willis
McKenzie, Harold
Mast, Lee Henry
Medcoff, Thelma
Nickols, Ruth
Nickols, Ottelia
Perrone, Mrs. J
Proctor, Earl Fred
Proctor, Ralph Edmund
Reasoner, Lee
Reed, Lillian M.
Riker, Oral
Richardson, Virginia Blanche
Richardson, Martha Harriete
Rounds, Jack
Sage, Norman
Seeley, Ivan Freemont
Stolls, Lester
Stebleton, Gail Edmund
Stivaviske, Steve
Sweet, Ava Thelma
Wilson, Ardis
Witchell, Kenneth
Zavistoski, Cecelia

The book never said how much dynamite was used in total, but it did say that 504 pounds of unexploded dynamite was recovered from the basement of the school during the rescue effort.

If any of the above names are of interest to you, it might be a good idea to buy the book. Almost the whole second half of the book is dedicated to short biographies of the people that were injured and killed in the disaster.

Bath now is a quiet bedroom community.

The fact that such an attrocity happened in this little town is not in the least apparent, except for the little memorial in the park in town. I wouldn't be suprised if a large part of the population isn't even aware that it ever happened.

After the Oklahoma City bombing occured, the major networks did segments on Bath, and the after effects, in fact even though I knew of the Bath School Disaster, I didn't know that it had been the largest single event mass murder until I saw it on the national news.

A correction from Eric Williams:
"A minor correction: On your web page you note:

It's a little known fact that on May 18, 1927 at 9:45 am, in the farming community of Bath Michigan, a man named Andrew Kehoe caused what would be America's largest single-event mass murder in history.

Bath would hold this title until the time of the Oklahoma City bombing.

In fact, in 1959 a man named Julio Gonzales set an arson fire at the Happy Lands Social Club in New York City which killed 87 people.

I just wanted to add a correction to the correction on the Andrew Kehoe story. The Happy Land Social Club fire occured on March 25, 1990 NOT in 1959. The person probably got the 1959 from the address of the club which was 1959 Southern Boulevard. Just wanted to let you know. Love the website:) Sincerely, Monica Sockwell

A correction from Trudy Ann Leyrer:

I would like to make a comment about Andrew Kehoe, the man who bombed the school in Bath on May 17, 1928. I was born and raised in Bath and for the past 14 years I have been researching this event. In your website you mention Andrew Kehoe killed his second stepmother at the age of 14. The fact of the matter is, he killed her when he was 40. She had sons, and he was afraid he'd lose his inheritance to her sons or at the very least, have to share it.

I just wanted to clear this up. A lot of people think he was 14. He left Tecumseh when he was 30, moved to St. Louis and fell off a large pole and went into a coma for quite some time. He came out of the coma, and returned to his home, but was never the same. He studied electricity for a while at some kind of trade school or college in St. Louis and was working as a lineman at the time.

Thank you Eric & Trudy.

Philip Viges Jr. Family

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