May 4 Memorial site added to the National Register of Historic Places

Jenna Staul

Visitors Center to open on 40th anniversary

English professor Laura Davis was on her way to speak to a group of theater students about the events surrounding May 4 yesterday when a startlingly appropriate song came on the radio.

“I got in the car and ‘Ohio’ came on the radio,” Davis said. “The DJ started talking about how the 40th anniversary of May 4 was coming up. It was just such a coincidence.”

Later that day, Davis, who was present at the shootings, learned that the May 4 memorial site was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places.

“I was quivering all over,” Davis said of the moment she found out of the site’s new designation. “I couldn’t talk. It was amazing.”

Three years ago, a group of professors began the formal nomination process for the site, which included a detailed physical description and documentation of both the site and its historic context.

The group received endorsements from Gov. Ted Strickland, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and the Kent State Board of Trustees, culminating in yesterday’s announcement that the grounds next to Taylor Hall would be nationally recognized.

Anthropology professor Mark Seemen headed the effort. Seeman, who has a background in historic preservation, said the grueling application process was worth earning the site national recognition.

“From my standpoint, the National Register was designed by the federal government to designate those places where history happened,” Seeman said. “It’s meaningful to go to the site and see where history happened; see it from the perspective of the guardsman or the students and try to understand.”

According to the National Register of Historic Places’ Web site, when a place is designated as part of the register, it is eligible for federal preservation grants and federal investment tax credits, among other things. However, if federal money is attached to the property, then the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation must be allowed to comment on any changes.

Davis and Carole Barbato, communications studies professor, who together teach the May 4 history course, said the site’s new designation could have a significant impact on the area.

“You know, there have been studies done that show the second main reason people come to an area to visit is to see historic sites,” said Barbato, who was also present at the shootings. “And we already know that people will see the Kent State sign on the freeway and come just to visit the memorial.”

This May will mark the 40th anniversary of the shootings, a milestone that will also be commemorated with the opening of a May 4 Visitors Center and a new walking tour of the grounds.

“America knows about this. The world knows about this,” Davis said. “This is a story that marks an important turning point in American history.”

Contact administration reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected].