Four dead in Ohio

It’s been a month and a half since my last post. In the interim, I’ve packed, moved to a new house, and unpacked, and been very busy. However, this is a year of some significant anniversaries of historical events that produced ruins of some kind or another. One of them is coming up in two days: the fortieth anniversary of the Kent State shootings.

This is a bullet hole that survives to this day in a sculpture outside Taylor Hall on the Kent State campus. There are some other relics and ruins to be seen at the site of this tragic event, but first, my own history of this event.

Of course, I don’t remember it. I was three at the time. But as I grew up, I became aware that the governor of Ohio, James Rhodes, had played a part in the events. Jim Rhodes lived in Upper Arlington in a big white house on Tremont Ave., even while he was governor (eschewing the traditional Governor’s Mansion in Bexley). No one really talked about it, other than mentioning that some rioters had gotten killed when the National Guard was sent in. The mere name “Kent State” had a whiff of scandal about it. Kids from my high school generally didn’t go there. And I wasn’t really inclined to find out more. As an 80s kid, I felt very much different than the hippies and protesters of the late 60s and 70s. That was a different era. This was despite the fact I was fairly liberal (much more so than most kids at my high school)

I ran across a copy of James Michener’s book on the events sometime well into my grad school years, and ended up reading it from cover to cover in one sitting. Even though I’ve since learned it has its detractors, it put a human face on the events, particularly on the students who were killed. I’ve since looked at many photographs and read and listened to various accounts of what happened. The part that struck me over and over was how far away from the Guardsmen the students were when they were killed or wounded. All of them were in a parking lot downhill from where the Guardsmen took aim.

This shot was taken from the hill where the shots were fired. You can see the sculpture with the bullet hole on the right and several pillars erected as a memorial to one of the slain students in the parking area (just beneath the red car). The distance is about the length of a football field. The trees in the photos blocking the sitelines to the parking lot were not there at the time of the shootings.

More of the parking lot memorials showing where the students were killed:

These memorials were only put up in 1999, 29 years after the events of May 4, 1970. The shootings are unusually well documented in photographs, partially due to the fact that Taylor Hall housed the school of journalism, and therefore a large number of eyewitnesses that happened to have cameras. The small photograph above was one of many that helped pinpoint the spots where the memorials should go.

Oddly enough, I’ve never been to Kent. I’ve driven past the exit many times driving on I-76, or caught WKSU on a trip down or back to Columbus. Some day, if I have a reason to be there, I may stop by, if only to see the lay of the land and catch some echo of a warm May day 40 years ago.

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