Memorializing May Fourth

Trent Pheifer

After the shootings on May 4, 1970, students and faculty began looking for ways to memorialize the four students killed and nine injured. Throughout the past 37 years, memorials and remembrances have taken a variety of forms. To name a few, the main May 4 Memorial was not finished as originally intended, daffodils representing American casualties in Vietnam were added and in 1999, the parking spots where the four students died were marked off.

Original May Fourth Memorial

It took 20 years to get an official university memorial to the events of May 4, 1970. Controversy abounded throughout the process, and some are still not satisfied with the outcome.

According to the Kent State special collections timeline, the May 4 Task Force first approached the university in 1982 with the idea for an official memorial to the four killed and nine wounded students. At the advisement of Board of Trustees, Kent State President Michael Schwartz appointed 10 members to the May 4th Memorial Committee. It held its first meeting in March 1984 to organize the design competition. In the summer of that year, the Ohio Veterans association wrote to then-Gov. Richard Celeste objecting to the memorial being placed on state property.

On Sept. 3, 1985, the committee announced the national design competition. The two basic criteria for the competition were the memorial could not be representational — it needed to be abstract — and there had to be a reference to four within the memorial, said Jerry M. Lewis, emeritus professor of sociology and witness to the shootings.

The design committee received 698 entries, 488 from individuals and 210 from teams, said Bruno Ast, architect of the winning memorial.

“To enter the competition was a challenge and an opportunity,” Ast said.

In April 1986, the judges chose Ian Taberner of Michigan and Michael Fahey of New York as the winners of the competition. Later that day, Taberner announced he was not a U.S. citizen and therefore did not meet the requirements expressed in the competition rules. In July 1986, Taberner was officially disqualified and Chicago architect Bruno Ast’s design was declared the new winner.

Later that month, the Fraternal Order of Police in Ohio passed a resolution objecting to the construction of the memorial.

“It basically boiled down to one issue (for those against the memorial) and that is that the students shouldn’t have been protesting,” Lewis said.

After more than two years of fundraising, the university failed to raise the money for the construction of the memorial.

In November 1988, Kent State limited the funds to $100,000. Ast soon agreed to redesign a new, less expensive memorial.

Lewis said a number of factors led to the failed fundraising effort. First, the university did not put its full effort behind it. People did not want to put money into “bricks and boards.” And, finally, people were trying to forget the Vietnam experience.

The May 4 Task Force criticized the move to scale the memorial down and decided to raise money for the memorial separate from the university. Kent State issued a statement declaring any fundraising not sanctioned by the administration would be “inappropriate and unethical.”

Lewis said in addition to the redesigned memorial, the words “inquire,” “learn” and “reflect” were added.

Ast said, “I would, of course, have preferred to have the project built as designed. What has been built is a fragment of the original design. There continues to be the hope that the project may one day be fully built. Conceptually, the meaning has not been changed, but the visual and tactile experience and understanding of the concept is lost.”

On Jan. 25, 1989, the university held the groundbreaking ceremony for the memorial.

It was dedicated on May 4, 1990, the 20th anniversary of the shootings. Lewis said the two most important things about the memorial were the university’s official recognition of the tragedy and then-Governor Richard Celeste’s apology to the families of the four slain students.

Although the memorial has already been dedicated, some still would like to see the original design completed.

“I still hold firm to my belief that there is that someone who will one day come forward to make the May 4, 1970, memorial complete,” Ast said.

Many are fine with the memorial as it stands, said Carole Barbato, a friend of two of the killed students. She feels it is OK that the memorial was never finished as originally intended.

“Any more would be intrusive on the site itself. It serves its purpose – it commemorates, but is not invasive,” she said.

Prentice Markers

The May 4 Task Force was integral in closing off the four spots where the students died.

“It broke the hearts of the four students’ parents that people were parking on the spots where their children died,” said Sarah Lund-Goldstein, former president of the May 4 Task Force.

On May 4, 1998, a group of students marched to the university administration offices requesting to speak with President Carol Cartwright about the closing of the spots, Lund-Goldstein said.

Cartwright agreed to look over the information and make a decision by July 1. Two months later, she agreed to close the spaces.

The spots were determined based on eyewitnesses and photographs. Lewis, who was on the marker committee, said Krause’s and Miller’s spots are exactly correct and Schroeder’s and Scheuer’s spots are as close as possible.

Construction took about three weeks and cost about an estimated $111,000. The dedication ceremony on Sept. 8, 1999, was attended by three of the four mothers of the killed students — each placed flowers on the site where her child died.

Barbato, also a member of the marker committee, said she believes the Prentice markers are the most significant memorial on campus.

“When folks come to the site everyone knows the pagoda and (the markers) emphasize how far the students were from the pagoda. They were not a threat,” she said. “The markers also keep that connection with that piece of ground.”

Hillel Memorial

The first memorial to the four fallen students was dedicated on the first anniversary of the shootings, May 4, 1971. The B’nai B’rith Hillel Jewish Services Center of Kent donated a cast-aluminum plaque “in loving memory” of the four killed. Three of the four students were Jewish. In 1973, the plaque was stolen, only to be returned one year later with bullet holes in it, Lewis said. Some Kent State faculty under the leadership of John Ohles decided to replace the plaque with a more permanent memorial. They raised money, mostly through faculty donations, and had a granite memorial made and placed where the aluminum one had been. It was dedicated on May 4, 1975. Four years later, during the annual prayer service, candles caught the woodchips around the memorial on fire. The heat from the fire cracked the memorial. Again, under the leadership of Ohles, money was raised to have the marker repaired. The damaged portion is currently in the May 4 Resource Room in the University Library.

The Kent Four

Sculptor Alastair Granville-Jackson created this piece in 1971. It was originally in the area between Stopher Hall and the Art Building, but was moved to the Commons area in Fall 2006. The plaque accompanying this sculpture states its meaning:

“After considering the manner of death, four rifle barrels, I took these symbols of destruction and turned them into four new emblems for the viewer to ponder:

  • A trumpet of deliverance, judgment, and freedom … the ancient Hebrew Ram’s Horn, Schofar
  • A dialogue between Man and God. The central unit of the memorial is the symbol I; it faces directly upwards, stating the unity of God, also our submission to his will. On the large outward-facing arms are small hooklike attachments which, together with the large forms, form the ideogram four times, another reminder of Him at the moment of death. El Shaddai, the All Nourisher …
  • (a) Signs of personal, private grief, four small flame elements enclosed by two large arms of steel; (b) Signs of public grief, four outward flame elements;
  • Individual, but grouped memorial flame containers, indicating that man dies alone; however, in this instance, death was identical and communal.”

Candle Light Vigil

Jerry M. Lewis and several students started the candlelight vigil on May 3, 1971. It has continued since then. The march is held in silence. Lewis said the silence is a “way to remember the four students killed and hope that nothing like this happens again.” The vigil walk begins at 11 p.m. at the Victory Bell on the Commons. The walk lasts about an hour and ends in the Prentice Hall parking lot where a prayer service is held.

A silent vigil is held for the next twelve hours at each of the spots where the four students were killed. It ends at 12:24 p.m., the moment the National Guard shot at the students.

Barbato said she attends the service almost religiously. “There is a feeling of camaraderie at the vigil, a respect for friends that were killed and a time for self-reflection. It is important for healing,” she said.

Vietnam Daffodils

When the memorial was dedicated in 1990, 58,175 daffodils to symbolize those U.S. lives lost in the Vietnam War surrounded it. The suggestion for planting daffodils, which bloom each spring prior to May 4, came from Brinsley Tyrrell, emeritus professor of art.

“Some of us wanted three million daffodils for all the casualties in the Vietnam War,” Lewis said.

When the daffodils first were planted, they covered the hillside beside Taylor Hall, leading to the Kent State Commons area. They have since become more scarce. Heather White, manager of campus environment and operations, said over time the daffodils will diminish because of various reasons, but that the grounds crew is committed to maintaining the number of daffodils.

“Last fall, a group of students and faculty planted 1,000 daffodils,” White said. She added that they hope to do so again this fall.

Contact design editor Trent Pheifer at [email protected].