Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Time Immemorial

Since Rosanne Cash was playing in Kent the other night, I took Denton down a few hours early - as he had never been. He had not seen the town or the university.

Kent State evokes one thing to many people, as well it should. CSN&Y made sure of that. But most don't live near it, let alone ever been to the school or the town, so to others, it is not just about May 4th, 1970. And while I could have called this post "Ohio" a.) it would have been too damned easy and, b.) I think I used it before a few years ago.

I grew up less than 20 miles from Kent State. One of my sisters finished her last two years of college there. One of my high school teachers was shot and paralyzed there. One of my sister's teachers brother (follow that?) was also shot there, and they are two, who to this day, organize the on-going protest at Kent State each year. Oh, I also took my SATs there.

But it is also a college town. Let's make no bones about it. And when you're 18 (and the law was still such that one could drink at that age), it was a place to go get loaded after working at Sea World all day. And we did. Often.

But I will be honest - except for going to my sister's apartment or to the proctoring room for the SATs, I never ventured much past The Loft (you know - the bar!). Maybe once in awhile I'd get to Filthy McNastys. Yes, such a name-place existed. Denton wondered aloud if it had a 'back room'. It did not. At least that I was privy to. It wasn't even a gay bar.....at least that I was privy to.

Never once did I make it to the site of the shootings. Shut up, I know! So on this trip, we decided to go. I hate to say it, but 39 years after the fact, it seemed more like history than when you live near it daily.

Kent does not make it easy to find though. The campus is not the same - though the town is. Lots of new buildings and an administration that continually fought to play down the events for years after - even once planning on building a football stadium over the site.

It was odd driving back there. And odder being on campus. For a bit there were signs directing you to the May 4th Memorial.....and then they just stopped. Like they didn't really want you to find it, or get to your destination, at all. I'm not sure they did.

I think I can see why too.

If you're familiar at all with not just went down at KSU, but where, you will understand my initial thought of "well....ok....." ...and then you become kind of immediately horrified at how this 'remembrance' now exists.

The four who were killed (many more shot, of course), were within a few yards of each other and in a parking lot. The parking lot still exists today - as a fucking working faculty/staff parking lot!

Yes, their sites are marked and cordoned off by ugly-ass Home Depot driveway lights., but other than that, if you're making your way to the Bursar's office and have a valid parking permit - you can place your car where their blood flowed.

Denton mused: "What, Maya Lin wasn't available?"

The absolute worst is poor Allison Krause's space. A big-assed light pole and parking signs attached to it. Like that couldn't have been moved to another area? ANY other area?

I get that the students were shot dead in a parking lot. I have worked on universities and parking can be at a premium. But this isn't one of these land-locked campuses, a new parking lot could go many places if they need that parking that badly.

A much better idea would have been to leave the space as a parking lot memorial - open to foot traffic, not the internal combustible engine kind. Or a space that had better displays where people could walk around and reflect and educate. Not one where they can park their Escort on and traipse to Econ 101.

There could have been plaques where each person was - not just the dead. There could have been markers where the National Guard stood. Information on the protests. But there is none of that.

Oh - and want to know who were killed at each of these four sites? Good luck reading the poorly chosen granite and it's colour, which makes the barely etched names almost impossible to read.

That picture was not just because of the camera. I went at it from multiple angles with and without the camera and I could barely read this one and some of the others, not at all. What a disservice. What a slap in the face.

But oddly enough, there are bigger slaps in the face with this site - believe it or not.

The signs are nice enough and I think cover both sides of the story fairly well, for a plaque. Of course, I'm always struck by James Rhodes quote of "eradicate the problem".

So just imagine the outwardly egregious thought process that went into a named street only a few hundred yards away:

Yes, it is named for the former governor. Yes, it may have been named that before 1970, but doubtful. And even if it had been: change it! It is not like they don't rename roads all the time. (and really - Rhodes Road? Not even Drive?)

The hill is still there. There had been talk years ago of leveling it. I forgot to take a picture of it, even though I walked down it. The parking lot is on the other side of Taylor Hall, which is at the top of that hill.

At the base of the hill, years ago, they put in this bell - which they ring annually for all shot and killed on May 4th.

The University switched from Quarters to Semesters years ago, purposefully scheduling finals on or around the first week of May and hoping to deter any student events around that history making day. In a way it has worked - for them.

Next May will mark the 40th anniversary of the shootings. I would hope someone would rethink this half-assed memorial and redo it in a proper fashion.

One can argue who was right and who was wrong, but paving over that day - literally and figuratively - does not help the discussion or the history. I wouldn't think that is what you would want from an institution of higher education.

Song by: Crowded House


Larry Ohio said...

Intense post, Blobby, and thanks for the pics of the parking lot where the massacre took place. I wonder how the faculty members who have to park in the immediately adjacent spaces feel about it every morning. I wonder if they all avoid those ones unless the lot is full.

To me it seems like walking though a cemetery. I'm very careful not to walk across anyone's grave. It's just simple respect.

cb said...

Kids were shot at Kent State?? Was it like the Virginia Tech or Columbine shootings?