Last Sunday was grey and dreary. Not heavy rain…just enough to keep us from the bicycle ride we’d planned. It was on a whim during a meandering Sunday Drive that we ended up at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Until passing it’s off ramp on the freeway earlier in the week, I honestly didn’t even know what state it was in other than somewhere in the Midwest. Sure, I’d heard about the shootings on the news, but on May 4, 1970, the day of the shootings, I lived in the small town of Ojai, California and was pregnant with my first son. My thoughts were busy with other details. I’ve never participated in a protest nor have I seen one in person. I mourned the death of a high school sweetheart killed in Vietnam, but marches and protests happened in “other” places to “other” people.
It’s summer, so our visit to the campus of Kent State was remarkably quiet. The parking lot near the memorial was almost empty. We saw fewer than ten people and some of those were there to see the memorial. To look at it now, it’s hard to imagine that such chaos amd violence took place on a campus so peaceful and serene. It’s lovely with rolling hills and beautiful landscaping. It’s clean and meticulously maintained. The morning rain turned into a grey afternoon mist, which seemed somehow appropriate. We thought there would be a single memorial for the four students who had been shot, but there is so much more … and it is so well done.
There’s a beautiful abstract memorial and an area for contemplative thought, kiosks scattered around campus and memorial plaques exactly where students fell. There is also a self guided tour that uses one’s cell phone as the tour guide. We dialed a number and touched the corresponding number to the kiosks. We were told where to walk, where to stand and what to look for and envision, as the narrator detailed events and tells the story–the whole story in chronological order. It came to life.
The shootings happened on May 4, 1970, but the unrest started on May 1, the day after President Nixon announced the Cambodian Campaign. The phone tour took us through all 4 days. The kiosks included photos — real photos of the real events. It’s possible for something to be horrible and beautiful all at the same time.
I’d like to say we thoroughly enjoyed it, but that’s not really the case. We certainly got a lot out of it and it encouraged us to read and watch more about it. I’m so glad we did it. It’s a very well done “tour” of a tragic historical event. It’s still a somewhat “fresh” wound. I can’t believe it’s been 46 years.