Monday, December 3, 2012

Welcome to MU Voices - Fall 2012

Letter from the editors:

We’re proud to share the fall 2012 issue of MU Voices, Madonna University’s literary blog. This issue features a record 97 submissions, and we’re confident you’ll find poems, essays, fiction and photography that will speak to you. In fact, we hope this issue will encourage you to share your own gifts in our winter 2013 issue. It’s easy: Just e-mail your work (or scanned images) to

MU Voices reflects the many distinct voices in our Madonna community. We come in all colors, all ages, both genders, and a broad range of political, religious, and philosophical perspectives. But one common value we share is our appreciation for the power of art, whether written, photographed, drawn, painted, or performed. A venue such as MU Voices shows us how much alike we are under the surface.

Why is MU Voices in blog form? We’d like to encourage our readers to share supportive comments to our writers and photographers. Please let your fellow Madonna community members know that you appreciate their hard work and unique vision. You do need to create a free gmail account to post comments here.

MU Voices is a culmination of efforts by Marian Woyciehowicz Gonsior, Frances FitzGerald, and our many valued contributors.

Marian Woyciehowicz Gonsior

Adjunct Assistant Professor and Writing Center Specialist


Frances FitzGerald

Writing Center Coordinator and Adjunct Professor

The Bromund Family and the Bath School Disaster by Angela Sherry

If you thought that the Columbine High School or Virginia Tech massacres were the worst acts of school violence/mass murder to take place on U.S. soil, you would be mistaken.  To this day, the worst atrocity remains the one that happened at the Bath Consolidated School, Bath Township, Michigan, in 1927, when 38 young people lost their lives.

It was a beautiful, spring morning in Bath, Michigan, a morning that started out like so many others for the pupils of Bath Consolidated School, but one that would end so tragically for a number of them.  On this day, at approximately 8:45 a.m., the north wing of the school that had been built just five years earlier would be completely destroyed by an explosion.  Many families would suffer multiple casualties, one of them being the Bromunds, who would lose two beloved family members, Robert and Amelia. This is the Bromund family story.

Wanda Schimke arrived in New York on September 28, 1908, at the age of 14, having sailed from the port of Bremen, Germany, in transit from Lipno in German Russia on the Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm. She was thankfully unaware of the personal tragedies that lay ahead.  She was probably very excited at the prospect of her new life, having travelled to the U.S. with her two younger half-sisters, Frederike Semrau (known as Freda) aged 10 and Marta Semrau (known as Martha) aged 8.  Of German ethnicity, their parents had come to the United States separately and ahead of the children.  Carl Semrau, their father, had presumably travelled ahead to find work in 1902, and his wife, Emilie, followed him four long years later.  Why Carl Semrau’s wife and children were left behind in what is now the Republic of Poland is still a bit of a mystery, but the following quotation from the Johnstown Area Heritage Association website may shed some light on the matter.  “Often men came alone, planning to return after earning enough, or hoping to establish themselves here before sending for their families”  (, 2011).  Carl and Emilie Semrau would ultimately have two more children (Albert and Clara), who were born as U.S. citizens in Johnstown.  Clara was my husband’s grandmother.

Current Map of Poland Showing Approximate Location of Lipno

Why Johnstown?

Economic hardship in the “old country” during the latter part of the nineteenth century meant great poverty for the people who lived in the small, rural communities of Eastern Europe.  The inhabitants of these regions came to the United States in the hope of earning a modest fortune to take back home.  A lot of these workers became dissatisfied, however, with the way things were back home and decided that the United States was the place they wanted to settle permanently. Because Johnstown had grown into a predominantly German ethnic town over the years since its founding in 1800, many German-speaking people were drawn there.  Many of the immigrants that ultimately settled in Johnstown were from the same area or village.  A foreign resident of Johnstown could save for a family member’s or friend’s passage by making periodic deposits with the steamship agency.  When the fare price had accumulated, the agency booked passage to Johnstown.  During my research into the Bromund family, I found that Rudolf may have done the very same for his half-brother, Ludwig Reder,  who travelled from Obory, Russia, to Baltimore in 1907.  He gave Rudolf Bromund as his contact in the United States, and the passenger list states that Rudolf paid his fare. 

The main sources of employment were the coal mines and the growing steel industry that was fueled by the coal mines.  According to the 1910 United States Federal Census Record, Carl Semrau was employed in a steel mill in Johnstown.  The family was  living in Lucas Alley, which was in a poorer part of the town.     
Little is known about Wanda’s early life in Johnstown, but she married Rudolf Bromund on August 8, 1912, in Zions Lutheran Church, Johnstown.  According to his naturalization papers (“Declaration of Intention, 1918”), Rudolf had arrived in the United States in April of 1906 at Baltimore, and stated that he too was born in Lipno, German Russia.  It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Rudolf and Wanda knew each other back in Lipno, as many family connections were made through the Lutheran church.  Rudolf’s older brother, Adolf, was already in Johnstown, working to provide for his wife and family back in Poland.  Rudolf and three others gave Adolf as their contact in the United States on the passenger manifest (, 2006) that was completed by a U.S. immigration officer at Baltimore. 

One of these individuals, Emil Tober, was still close to Rudolf in 1918 when the latter applied for naturalization while still living in Johnstown.  Both Rudolf and Emil were employed as mill workers, presumably in the steel industry  (“Declaration of Intention, 1918”).  At this time, Rudolf was living at 774 Fenn Alley, 9 Ward, Johnstown, which coincidentally (or maybe not) was the same ward that the Semraus resided in at the time of the 1910 census.  I could not, however, find Rudolf in 9 Ward on the 1910 census, nor does his name appear in the indexes.  I can only assume that his name was transcribed incorrectly, or he was not in the U.S. at that time, but I think that is highly unlikely given the distance he would need to travel and the amount of money required for passage back to the homeland.

Life in Johnstown must have been hard for the Bromund family.  They lived in an urban industrial city, and it cannot have been much fun for Rudolf, having to work in the hot atmosphere of a steel plant day in and day out.  It must have been unbearable during the summer heat.  The housing would likely have been sub-standard, and they must have missed the rural farming communities from which they had come.

Wartime brought its challenges, too.  The ethnic German population of Johnstown had mixed feelings about which side they should support when World War I broke out in August of 1914.  A lot of them had relatives in the German army as well as relatives living in the “old country” but realized that popular support in the United States was for England, France, Russia, and the other European countries involved in the fighting.  Life was quite unpleasant in Johnstown during WWI for people of German descent, and there was a general mistrust of all things German, especially once the United States decided to join WW1 on April 6, 1917.  However, some of Johnstown’s Germans were required to register for the draft, regardless of their U.S. citizenship status.  Every male living within the United States, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, was required to do so.  Rudolf Bromund was required to register but did not end up serving with the armed forces.  His World War I Draft Registration Card describes him as an alien, born in Russia.  He was of medium build, medium height, with brown hair and brown eyes.  He may have escaped service due to a problem with his left eye, which was said to be defective. 
Rudolf and Wanda had eight children, four of whom were born in Johnstown.  The youngest four were all born in Bath, Michigan, so the family must have moved to the Bath area sometime between January and May, 1920, because the family was living in Pennsylvania in January of that year, according to the United States federal census of 1920.
Investigation of the 1920 census for Bath, Michigan, reveals that just a few families of Russian/German ethnicity lived in the area at that time, and that quite a few of them were employed in the steel or auto industries.  There could be a number of reasons why the Bromunds relocated to Bath, Michigan, in 1920.  The most likely reason is that the family may have known someone living in the area who suggested that Rudolf could find employment in nearby Lansing in the steel or auto industry.  Bath would probably have had more appeal to the family, given its rural location, as opposed to industrial Johnstown.  Both Rudolf and Wanda came from rural Lipno in Russian Poland. 
It’s unclear what kind of wages could be earned in the steel and coal industries during the time period in question, but the lure of better wages and conditions in southeastern Michigan’s flourishing auto industry could have been the catalyst for a move from Johnstown.  Wanda’s siblings had all relocated to the Detroit area by 1930, and one of her brothers-in-law was employed in the auto industry.  Although I have yet to confirm the information for sure, I believe that Rudolf’s older brother (Adolf) had also relocated to Detroit.

Bath, Michigan

In 1927, Bath was a small village of approximately 300 inhabitants.  Most family heads were employed as farmers or agricultural laborers; the rest were mainly employed in the auto or service industries.  It was the kind of place where everybody knew everybody else and their business! 

Some years before, in 1922, Bath Consolidated School had been built, replacing the one-room school system that had previously been attended by the schoolchildren of Bath.  These were scattered across the school district and necessitated quite long journeys on a daily basis for some of the children.  The residents of Bath had struggled to find the funds to build and maintain the school, but they wanted to provide better resources for their children, which they believed should be housed under one roof.  Some Bath residents resented the continuing drain on their resources, one of these being a man called Andrew Kehoe, who was ultimately to become known as the notorious Bath School bomber.

Son of an Irish Catholic immigrant farmer, Andrew Kehoe was born on February 1, 1872, in Tecumseh, Michigan, where he was raised with his siblings, and where he would subsequently farm his father’s property before and after he married Nellie Price on May 14, 1912. It was thought he originally met Nellie while studying at Michigan State University to be an electrician and a mechanic.  Nellie’s childhood home was in Bath, Michigan, which would ultimately become the home of the newly married couple.  The land and outbuildings totaled approximately eighty acres, which would be farmed by Kehoe.  He soon became renowned in Bath for keeping a neat and orderly farm, attributed in part of the use of dynamite and pyrotol, which he used to remove offensive stumps and boulders on the land.  He had learned this process whilst assisting his father in Tecumseh.  

Despite the fact that some of the residents of Bath Township considered Kehoe to have some questionable personality traits, he was nonetheless elected to the School Board in July of 1924 and subsequently elected as treasurer by his fellow trustees.  This was presumably because of his perceived fiscal conservatism.  He loudly vocalized concerns over increased property assessments required to pay for the new school, and it was no secret that he considered the school board to be somewhat inept at handling the school finances. 
The superintendent of Bath Consolidated School was a man named Emory E. Huyck, who had been appointed when the school first opened in the fall of 1922.  In May of 1925, Huyck was successful in securing accreditation for the school by the accrediting body, the University of Michigan, which was considered to be no mean feat.  Huyck was a very popular individual, loved both in the community and as a professional in the field of education.  Kehoe apparently deeply resented the fact that Huyck attended school board meetings and tried to have Kehoe banned, considering his presence to be disruptive.  “Kehoe and Huyck openly loathed one another.  It was a strange relationship, one that escalated over time”  (Bernstein, 2009).

Several things may have served as the catalyst that set off the ticking time bomb that Kehoe was to become.  Despite serving as township clerk in a temporary capacity in 1925 due to the unexpected death of the incumbent, Kehoe was not permanently elected to the position approximately one year later.  He had probably offended too many people with his forthright manner and penchant for confrontation, which he seemed to enjoy.  Not to be deterred, he ran for another position, county justice of the peace, but was again unsuccessful.  His wife, Nellie, became very sick during the summer of 1926 and had to be hospitalized several times with severe asthma, which must have been a drain on the family resources.  The Kehoes were obviously having money problems, as evidenced by the fact they fell behind with their mortgage payments.  Kehoe blamed all of his money problems on the school taxes he was forced to pay, which in his opinion were astronomical. 

Resentment continued to fester in the mind of Andrew Kehoe.  He started to plan his revenge and stockpile dynamite and pyrotol, both of which he obtained from various sources under the pretence that he needed the explosive materials for use on the farm.  Kehoe wired together 1,000 pounds of explosives under the floors of the school, having started his plotting shortly after being appointed to perform various maintenance tasks at the school, which made it easy for him to gain access at practically any time of the day.

That Fateful Day

On the morning of Wednesday, May 18, 2927, at least three of the Bromund children set off for school as usual.  Rudy, Robert, and Amelia were all due in school that day and were probably excited that it was the last day of school and examinations before the summer holidays commenced.  Only one of them would eventually return home, but certainly not in the way he  expected and without two of his beloved siblings. 

Robert and Amelia were in the fifth grade at the time of the explosion.  Amelia was said to love school and to be a very quick learner.  Her teacher was Mrs. Blanche Harte, who also died as a result of her injuries.  Robert was the opposite of Amelia and didn’t much like going to school.  He was far happier working on the farm.
These two little ones must have been in the fifth grade classroom in the north wing, onto which the roof of the building is said to have crashed at the time of the explosion.  This classroom then fell on to the sixth graders who were below that.  “Ada Belle Dolton, a fifth grader, was knocked out of her desk.  It didn’t hurt; instead it felt like she was floating.  Above her she could see her classmates and their desks hurtling through space”  (Bernstein, 2009).  Not much was left of the north wing after all was said and done, as the picture below reveals.

This photograph is in the public domain.

This photograph is in the public domain.
Rudy Jr. was fourteen years old at the time of the explosion, and his half-brother, Gus Hassenrik, explained that Rudy was one of the high school students who jumped out of a second story window at the school, breaking both of his legs in the process.  Rudy is thought to have run all the way home on his broken legs, too terrified to worry about anything but getting away from the scene of the explosion.  He ran past his house and would have kept on running if his father hadn’t given chase in his car and driven him back home.  His parents, obviously also in a state of shock, admonished him later for not staying at the scene of the explosion to help his younger siblings. However, he must have been in shock and absolutely horrified at the death and destruction he had witnessed that morning.  Gus says that Rudy walked with a limp for the rest of his life, probably as a result of running all that way on his broken legs. 

Florence was only nine and thankfully survived the events of May 18th.  Family lore has it that Florence had so much blood, cement, and dust in her hair when they got her home, that her hair had to be cut short because it was the only thing they could do to remove the debris.  Other than that, she was unhurt.  However, Gus Hassenrik tells a different story that he heard growing up.  He says that Florence stayed home from school that day to help her mother with the younger children, who were seven years, three years, and five months.  Whichever version of events is the correct one, Florence had a very lucky escape.

Shortly after their funerals at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, 1927, Robert and his sister, Amelia (or Robbie and Melly as they were affectionately known by their family), were laid to rest in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Bath, which is not too far from the site of the school where they met their untimely deaths.  Brother and sister were buried side by side, and a few short years later, their father would be laid to rest just a few feet away from them.  Also buried at Pleasant Hill that day was Emma Nichols, who had a joint funeral with Robert and Amelia, and her final resting place is nearby.

I took these photographs (below) during a recent visit to Bath of Robert and Amelia’s graves.  Seventeen young victims in total were buried at the cemetery. 

Merlene R. Sherry (cousin to Amelia and Robert Bromund) standing at their grave site

The massacre’s final death toll was 45, which included a total of seven adults.  In addition, 56 people were injured in the blast.  Before setting off the dynamite at the school using a time bomb, Kehoe had beaten his wife to death and set fire to his house and outbuildings, tying up the poor animals inside.  Miraculously, a second time bomb, which had been placed under the south wing of the school, never went off along with the accompanying 504 pounds of dynamite, wiring and detonators.  Had it done so, the carnage would have undoubtedly been much worse, if that is possible. 

Kehoe’s final callous act was to load more explosives into the back of his car and cover them with tools that would ultimately produce shrapnel.  He drove his car down to the school, beckoned over his arch-enemy, Emory Huyck, and fired into the back of the car, instantly killing Superintendent Huyck and other innocent civilian rescuers.  The shrapnel flew everywhere.  Nellie Kehoe’s blackened and charred body was later found in a cart by a chicken coop, which is where Kehoe must have placed her body before setting fire to the farm.  

The Bromund family was understandably devastated by this tragedy, which must have been so terribly hard to bear.  They eventually had another child, Marion, who was born in 1931.  In yet another terrible twist of fate, Rudolf Bromund Sr. (Robert and Amelia’s father) died on May 29, 1932. In a tragic accident,  he fell down some cellar steps, fracturing his skull and suffering internal injuries.  Not only had poor Wanda lost two of her beloved children, she now found herself a widow.  Rudolf is buried near his two children in an unmarked grave.

For many years, Robert and Amelia’s graves were not marked in any way.  In fact, they were the only two victims of the Bath School Disaster whose final resting places were unmarked.  Thanks to the generosity of the Seifert Foundation, they were given the recognition they so fully deserved on November 11, 2008. This generous gesture ensures that visitors to Pleasant Hill are now able to locate their graves and pay their respects to the children without having to guess where they are buried.  A service was conducted by the Pastor of the Lutheran Church at which their funeral services had been conducted all those years ago.

References  (2006).  Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 [database online].  Retrieved from  (2006).  1910 United States Federal Census [database online].  Retrieved from www.  (2006).  1920 United States Federal Census [database online].  Retrieved from
Bernstein, A.  (2009)  Bath Massacre:  America’s First School Bombing.  Ann Arbor, MI:  The University of Michigan Press.
Donnelly, F. X.  (2007, April 28).  Haunting Massacre – 80 Years Later, Survivors in Bath Still Trying to Forget School Bombing.  The Detroit News.  Retrieved from
Ellsworth, M.  (1927)  The Bath School Disaster.  Find out what happens when no publisher.
Hixson, James W.  (1999).  A May Day to Remember:  May 18, 1927’s Bath School disaster, Bath, Michigan.  Michigan History Magazine, 83(3), 34-5.  Retrieved February 10, 2011, from General One File.  (Document ID:  A166849376).
U.S. Department of Labor, Naturalization Service.  (1918).  Declaration of Intention, (Form 2203).  Washington, D.C:  U.S. Government Printing Office.
Whittle, R. (2005).  Johnstown, Pennsylvania:  A History.  Charleston, SC:  The History Press.