Friday, November 15, 2019

CMU and the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam: 50 Years Later

by Bryan Whitledge

50 years ago, during the height of the Vietnam War, people from across the spectrum of American society joined in the nationwide Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. Moratorium had two major components: The first was local demonstrations and programming that took place in communities across the US on Wednesday, October 15. These were followed one month later by a large demonstration on the National Mall in Washington, DC. For the October 15 Moratorium, activists and students at CMU worked through the summer of 1969 and into the fall to organize local events in Mt. Pleasant.

October 15, 1969 Moratorium Event at Finch Fieldhouse
The organizers planned a day of teach-ins, lectures, films, music, arts, peace vigils, and activism. Support came from all corners of the CMU and Mt. Pleasant area—businesses, activists, Greek organizations, student government, the Young Republicans and the College Democrats, the student newspaper, and even the President of the University and chair of the Board of Trustees. IM sports were cancelled, freeing up students from having to choose between skipping their games or participating in Moratorium.

CMU President Bill Boyd (center) during
the candlelight march, October 15, 1969
By all measures, the Mt. Pleasant event was a success. The October 15 Moratorium in Mt. Pleasant brought out thousands—students, faculty, staff and administration at Central, as well as members of the surrounding community. Among the highlights of the day was the candlelight vigil and march during the evening (pictured).

The CMU organizers achieved their goal for October 15. The next step was supposed to be figuring out how to get those CMU students who wanted to go to Washington for the November 13-15 events to connect with the other Michigan delegations and head to the nation’s capital. The national organizers made those connections easier for the CMU activists—they asked Central students, led by Paul Puma, to head up the coordination of all of the activists in Michigan who wanted to go to Washington. Michigan State University organizers may have led a march to the State Capitol and the University of Michigan Moratorium may have brought in 50,000 to Michigan Stadium, but the Central students garnered the attention of the National Moratorium Committee for their energy and organization.

As the statewide leaders, on November 1, a conference was held at the CMU University Center, with 25 Michigan colleges and universities represented. Throughout the planning process, a CMU office and a Detroit office were established to provide services for Moratorium organizing efforts across the state. Signatures from people throughout Michigan who did not travel to Washington were collected on a 75-foot-long banner to be taken to the National Moratorium.

75-foot-long signed petition
For Central specifically, planning meant transporting activists from Mt. Pleasant to Washington, DC safely. Each student who was traveling was advised to pick up a sheet with information about where to go if one encountered trouble, the location of the meeting point for all Michiganders, who to contact in case of emergency, and more.

Planning also meant raising funds: Students could catch a round trip on a chartered bus for $24. The Moratorium committee sold photo books from the October event. They sold handmade holiday cards. They sold baked goods. Student government pledged a loan of up to $2,500 to fund travels if the money couldn’t be secured from other sources, but that pledge wasn’t needed because the Moratorium committee secured loans from other CMU students and faculty members in short order. The organizers hoped to host a “kegger” to raise money, but the police informed those planning the event that charging a cover fee to a venue serving alcohol required a liquor license—so, five bands showed up, day-glo body paint was suppied, and they held a dry party instead. Moratorium organizers also asked Greek organizations to donate the cost of one party to the Moratorium effort, and many came through with the funds.

Poster from Washington, DC, Moratorium
All of the planning efforts culminated on Friday, November 14, when five buses left CMU, to return on the 16th. Originally, organizers thought they had seven buses to use, but President Boyd made it clear that the two CMU-owned buses would not be used because Moratorium was not a CMU event and CMU didn’t operate motor coach company. While CMU couldn’t supply buses, the administration and staff supported the trip in other ways. Food services made sandwiches and snacks for every student on the buses—not enough for the whole trip, but enough to lighten the burden on the activists. President Boyd told students that a member of the administration, Harry Travis, was attending a different meeting in Washington, DC, and would be available to students in case of emergency.

In Washington, approximately 1,000 Central students joined hundreds of thousands of other activists in the national Moratorium events. With so much going on, Central students came back with a variety of experiences. Some remember the hospitality of families who opened their doors and gave them a place to stay. Others returned with ephemera from the event (pictured above). Others were caught up caught up in DuPont Circle when police broke up a conflict with tear gas. And some remember Pete Seeger leading hundreds of thousands in singing “Give Peace a Chance” near the White House.

Michigan Delegation in Washington, November 15, 1969
Back at Central, President Boyd acknowledged that missing classes was not something that should go without consequences, but he urged professors to lighten up on punitive action for those who missed class to participate in Moratorium events in Washington or on the CMU campus. At Central, students placed 1,900 crosses on the Warriner Mall to mark each Michigan service member killed in action. A documentary film was shown and lectures were given by activists, religious leaders, politicians, and community members.

In October and November of 1969, the “fired up and focused” activists and students at CMU stood up for what they believed and made a lasting impact in Michigan, Washington, and beyond.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Bath School House Disaster Presentation


Frank Boles

When people talk of violence in a school setting, most people think of places like Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two teens went on a shooting spree in 1999. Michael Moore’s film, Bowling for Columbine, used this tragedy to discuss guns in America. In a presentation Moore made about this film, he challenged his Michigan audience by saying, “but I bet not one of you remember the Bath School House disaster, do you?” noting that more people died in the Bath disaster than at Columbine.




George Robson was in Michael Moore’s audience that night, and he did remember Bath, vividly. After Moore’s talk, Robson approached him and told Moore what he knew of the events at Bath. After listening for a few minutes to Mr. Robson, Moore said simply, “you’ve got to tell people this story!” Which is what George Robson did on October 2 in the Sarah and Daniel Opperman Auditorium in the Park Library. 

On May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, the 55-year-old school board treasurer in Bath, Michigan, used timing devices to set off an explosion that devastated the north wing of the Bath Consolidated School building, killing 36 schoolchildren and two teachers. As rescuers began working at the school, Kehoe drove up in his truck, stopped, and detonated dynamite inside his shrapnel-filled vehicle. He killed himself, the school superintendent, and several others nearby, as well as injuring many bystanders.

What made Mr. Robson’s story more poignant was that both his parents were survivors of the disaster. That day, his mother had been in a second-story classroom when the bomb went off. After the explosion, the hall in front of the classroom door was gone. The door opened into the air. The building on the other side,  including the hallway, was gone. Eventually, people with ladders helped her and the other students stranded on the second floor to the ground.

George’s mother remembered that Mr. Robson’s father, the president of the senior class who had asked her to be his special guest at the coming commencement ceremony, had walked through that vanished hallway only seconds before. He was on his way to rehearse his commencement speech at a church next to the school. As he walked by, he had waved and smiled at her. A little more dynamite underneath the building or a few seconds delay in the hallway, and either or both could have been among those who died.

Although the disaster received significant coverage in newspapers, it soon was eclipsed by other news. 

On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris, having flown solo across the Atlantic from North America. As the papers turned their coverage to Lucky Lindy’s exploit, Bath was forgotten. In Bath itself, there was a reaction that many today would find curious. Today when disasters strike, there is a tremendous urge to remember and memorialize. But in Bath, the goal seemed simply to move forward. There were no vigils or memorial ceremonies, and only one, ambiguous memorial was created. 

In 1928, artist Carleton W. Angell presented the community with a memorial statue entitled Girl With a Cat. The statue was funded by pennies collected by schoolchildren throughout the state.

The statue, however, did not document the event or list the victims. Nor was the statue prominently displayed in the community. When George, as a youngster, first saw it tucked away in a corner of the school building that had been constructed to replace the destroyed Bath Consolidated School, he asked his mother about it. She simply said it memorialized a terrible tragedy.  

In 1991, a Michigan Historical Marker was established in Bath that recalled the facts of the incident. A separate marker listing the names of those killed was also installed in 1991.

To hear Mr. Robson’s presentation click on this link: https://chipcast.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=aba2d6ec-b19a-4d53-82f4-aad9011779f2

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Shaping Memories Through 3 Lenses


Frank Boles

Thursday, September 26 the Clarke Library opened its current exhibit, “Shaping Memories through 3 Lenses”. The show features photographs from Peggy Brisbane, Robert Barclay, and Steve Jessmore, who from 1980 through 2018 served as CMU’s campus photographers, and who collectively have contributed over one million images to the CMU University Archives.

At the exhibit opening each of the photographers was asked to select and describe a few of their favorite images. The images, and the stories each photographer shared, made for a fascinating evening.


Peggy Brisbane told one story of one of CMU’s most iconic photos: the toilet paper toss that once was a part of every CMU home basketball game. For reasons that were never quite clear, in 1986 students began to toss rolls of toilet paper into the air when a member of the CMU basketball team made the team’s first basket. Thousands of rolls of toilet paper would go flying – so many that local stores had toilet paper sales on the day of home basketball games. Janitors also noticed that bathrooms in the residence halls and other CMU buildings were emptied of toilet paper in the hours before the game.

Sports Illustrated picked up Peggy’s picture of the toilet paper toss and ran it in a small corner of the magazine. Without telling Peggy, a student submitted an article about the toilet paper toss to People Magazine. People’s editor loved the story, but also wanted a picture. Peggy filled out a standard PR request from the magazine for the image with little thought. She was shocked when the picture ran across two pages in the magazine.

The student who submitted the article received a small stipend from People, and sheepishly asked Peggy if he should share it with her. Peggy responded that taking the picture was her job – and she was quite happy with settling for “merely” a by-line in a national magazine. The “tradition” came to an end in 1987 when frustrated basketball officials decided that the 10-15 minutes needed to clean up the mess on the court constituted a “delay of game,” and began to assess CMU a technical foul for the behavior of its fans.

Robert Barclay shared a story about a photo he had taken of the late Dick Enberg. Robert had just been hired in 1980, and was excited to learn he would be photographing Dick Enberg at the spring commencement ceremony. Enberg was a CMU alumni and one of the country’s leading sports announcers. He was also a veritable legend to Robert. 

Robert was there when a student passing by Enberg shouted out, “I’m from Armada.” Armada, Michigan, with a population of about 1,700, was also Enberg’s home town. When Enberg heard the student he smiled broadly and gave him a big thumbs up, an image Robert caught. Enberg liked the photo, and asked for a dozen or so for his personal use.

In 2012, a bust of Enberg was donated to the university’s Kulhavi Events Center. Enberg was invited to campus for the unveiling of the art work. Enberg reminisced that the bust was based on one of his favorite photos, a picture taken by a photographer here at CMU when he spoke at the 1980 commencement. In a private moment with Enberg, Robert told him, “that’s my photo,” to which Enberg replied, “you’re still here?” 

Steve Jessmore spoke of how serendipity and patience could play an important role in his work. He displayed an image of a young man, wearing a gold hoodie, walking in front of Warriner Hall, framed by maroon and gold. Steve started by noting that he always tried to take a different route to and from his appointments on campus, looking for pictures. As he walked by Warriner Hall that day, he realized the autumn leaves and chrysanthemums would frame a perfect shot of a student walking by Warriner. There were two slight problems – the student needed to be wearing school colors for the picture to work, and to get the angle he wanted he had to push his way into the bushes. He felt like a stalker, waiting to leap out at a passerby dressed in maroon and gold. Forty-five minutes later however, his ability to envision a picture and his patience in waiting for just the right moment had created a photo that would appear on the cover of the CMU Bulletin.



To enjoy the full presentation please click this link: http://clarke.cmich.edu/threelenses. The exhibit, curated by Janet Danek and Peggy Brisbane, will remain open until February.