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Bath Massacre

America's First School Bombing

Arnie Bernstein

Publication Year: 2009

With the meticulous attention to detail of a historian and a storyteller's eye for human drama, Bernstein shines a beam of truth on a forgotten American tragedy. Heartbreaking and riveting. ---Gregg Olsen, New York Times best-selling author of Starvation Heights "A chilling and historic character study of the unfathomable suffering that desperation and fury, once unleashed inside a twisted mind, can wreak on a small town. Contemporary mass murderers Timothy McVeigh, Columbine's Dylan Klebold, and Virginia Tech's Seung-Hui Cho can each trace their horrific genealogy of terror to one man: Bath school bomber Andrew Kehoe." ---Mardi Link, author of When Evil Came to Good Hart On May 18, 1927, the small town of Bath, Michigan, was forever changed when Andrew Kehoe set off a cache of explosives concealed in the basement of the local school. Thirty-eight children and six adults were dead, among them Kehoe, who had literally blown himself to bits by setting off a dynamite charge in his car. The next day, on Kehoe's farm, what was left of his wife---burned beyond recognition after Kehoe set his property and buildings ablaze---was found tied to a handcart, her skull crushed. With seemingly endless stories of school violence and suicide bombers filling today's headlines, Bath Massacre serves as a reminder that terrorism and large-scale murder are nothing new. A native of Chicago, Arnie Bernstein is the author of The Hoofs and Guns of the Storm: Chicago's Civil War Connections and Hollywood on Lake Michigan: 100 Years of Chicago and the Movies. He is the winner of a Puffin Foundation Grant and Midwest Regional History Publishing honors.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page and Copyright

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pp. vii

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Prologue: April 16, 2007

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pp. xi-xvi

The morning of April 16, 2007, dawned clear and bright over central Michigan. In Dewitt, a small town about twenty miles from the state capital of Lansing, ninety-six-year-old Willis Cressman woke at his usual time, ate breakfast, then puttered around the house. A lifelong resident of the...

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One - A Community in Michigan

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pp. 1-5

One idea leads to another. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was a bold step in the development of the American landscape. Entire areas of wilderness, ‹lled with miles upon miles of uncut forest, home to pristine rivers, teeming with wildlife and mysterious indigenous peoples—popularly...

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Two - Andrew P. Kehoe

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pp. 6-15

“He was the nicest man,” recalled one survivor. If he was at the school when children arrived in the morning, he would always smile and say hello.1 A neighbor swore that “he never saw a saner man” than Kehoe.2 Another survivor remembered that as Kehoe drove up on his way to the...

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Three - Dawn of a Decade

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pp. 16-19

The 1920s really started on January 16, 1919, when the U.S. Congress rati‹ed the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Section 1 of the new law read “After one year from the rati‹cation of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of liquors within, the importation...

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Four - New Man in Town

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pp. 20-24

A few old-timers remembered Nellie when she was a little girl living on her uncle’s property, and later as a loving surrogate mom to her siblings after their mother died. Although years had passed, Nellie was a welcome face in familiar climes....

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Five - The Bath Consolidated School

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pp. 25-38

But standard subjects—reading, writing, arithmetic—were better served by an organized system, no matter how rudimentary or sparse that education might be. In 1840 Bath’s ‹rst schoolhouse, a one-room log cabin, was built by Peter Finch, whose wife was trained as a teacher....

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Six - A Growing Storm

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pp. 39-54

April came and went. May slipped by. June, July, August. No payments. It continued through the rest of the year and into 1922. Not a word was said, not by the Price family or Joseph H. Dunnebacke, the attorney representing the estate. Finally a letter arrived from Kehoe stating...

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Seven - Electricity

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pp. 55-87

The morning of May 18, 1927, began with electricity. Lightning hovered over Bath during an early morning rainstorm, piercing the sky with occasional crackling bolts. It was a good spring shower, the kind that cleanses the land and refreshes crops....

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Eight - A School, a Farm

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pp. 88-114

Ugly smells fouled the air. The fragrant aroma of morning lilacs was overpowered by the stench of dynamite, smoke, ›ame, gasoline fumes, blood. As the sickly fumes lingered in nostrils throughout the killing zone, the collective understanding of Bath changed. It wasn’t an exploded...

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Nine - The Valley of the Shadow of Death

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pp. 115-126

School grounds littered with vestiges of the bombing. Buckets ‹lled with blood-soaked rags. Coats and hats, shoes and socks like broken ›owers strewn across the lawn. One girl’s bloodstained coat and hat hanging from a tree limb. Schoolbooks, pages ›uttering in the breeze. The inside...

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Ten - Requiems

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pp. 127-137

An initial plan was made to hold a communal funeral service for the children. “[B]ent parents and forlorn relatives will wrap themselves in reticent black, and follow some 50 small caskets to the graveyard for the commencement of eternity for the school children and for the commencement...

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Eleven - In the Matter of the Inquest as to the Cause of Death of Emery E. Huyck, Deceased

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pp. 138-143

William Searl, prosecuting attorney for the county, initially planned the inquest for Thursday morning at nine o’clock, just twenty-four hours after the bombing. He quickly realized this would be a terrible mistake. The dead were not yet buried. Potential witnesses undoubtedly would be...

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Twelve - Summer

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pp. 144-156

The silence about Dean drove Ava just about crazy. Day after day passed, and the topic remained taboo. She felt left out, as though the grownups were protecting her, shielding her from something terrible. Ava was empty inside and led her to one conclusion: Dean was dead....

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Thirteen - Tulips

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pp. 157-176

After the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings in 1999 and 2007, respectively, shooting victims, families, other students, and school faculty and staff members were offered counseling, understandably and with compassion. They had lived through an inexplicable hell. Psychological...

Victims’ Names

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pp. 177-179

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pp. 181-183

When I initially learned about the Bath School bombing, it seemed like a great tale for any author. My first visit to Pleasant Hill Cemetery profoundly changed that perception. This was a tragic reality punctuated by the graves of so many children. I am humbled to chronicle the tragedy of...


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pp. 185-198

Selective Bibliography

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pp. 199-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780472024704
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472033461

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bombings -- Michigan -- Bath (Township) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Bath (Mich. : Township) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Students -- Crimes against -- Michigan -- Bath (Township) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Murder -- Michigan -- Bath (Township) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Suicide bombers -- Michigan -- Bath (Township) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Kehoe, Andrew P. (Andrew Philip), 1872-1927.
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