School violence is not merely the province of modern times. In fact, one of the greatest attacks on American soil can be attributed to violence at school.

In the village of Bath, Michigan, in the year 1926 Andrew Kehoe fought a valiant battle against a tax increase that was levied to pay for the township’s new school. His battle was a noble one, going through the right means of battling government imposed injustice, or it was noble until he lost. He ran for and won a position as treasurer of the school board, but despite his effort the city opted to retain the tax. Kehoe argued, pleading that with the added burden he would lose his farm, but was unheeded. Thus Andrew asked that he be allowed part-time work as the school’s custodian—to make ends meet. The school board agreed.

Then things seemed to lapse into a peaceful state for several months. Kehoe was seen around the school at various times. He was noticed doing electrical work in the building, but this went wholly unremarked for the fact he was an infamous miser—people just thought he was running repairs since he was too tight to hire an electrician.

But this innocuous events culminated on 18 May 1927. Just after morning bell at the Consolidated school, 300 pounds of dynamite wired in the basement exploded.

There were two separate explosions—but no witnesses to say which was the larger. The north wing of the school was entirely demolished. People in the town four miles away reported hearing the blast. People working at farms nearer the school had to follow the columns of smoke to find the epicenter of the explosion. Radios and phones were scarce, and runners had to be sent to fetch help. It was after noon when a full scale rescue effort was underway. A third explosion occurred at Kehoe’s car. He pulled up to survey the scene, and spotted the superintendent, Emory E. Huyck, aiding with the rescue, and called him over. When Huyck neared Kehoe pulled a rifle from his truck and fired into a bundle of dynamite in his truck. The resulting blast killed him, Huyck, and 7 others. At first reporters considered his demise an impulsive act by a deranged man, but a later discovery would revise that opinion.

As rescuers were digging bodies out of the wreckage they came upon a startling discovery: not all of the dynamite had detonated, and what remained was still wired to explode. The rescue was halted while a group of volunteers (they had no bomb squad) raced in and defused what was left of the bomb. It turned out that less then half of dynamite went off; 500 pounds remained.

The backside of the school house after the explosion.
The backside of the school house after the explosion.

By the end of the day there were 44 dead. 30 of those were children. Another 50 to 90 were wounded. Not a family in the area was without injury or fatality. The massacre of Bath Michigan made the front page on 20 May, along side news of Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight.

But the story wasn’t ended yet. That day they discovered the Kehoe farm had also been destroyed. Andrew’s wife had been slain. Horses in the stables had been hobbled with bailing wire so they couldn’t escape. There was a sign hung waiting, which read “Criminals are made, not born.” It was at this point that speculation began that perhaps Andrew’s own death had not been impulsive, but rather a part of his plan.

The Bath School Disaster held the title of the worst bombing incident in the US up until 1995’s Oklahoma City bombing, and suffered a small historical revival in the time after the Columbine School incident.