Emotional letters rest in May 4 archives

Tim Magaw

Photo by Leslie Cusano

Credit: Ron Soltys

Soon after the May 4, 1970 shootings, 9-year-old Jonathan Pannor sent a letter to Kent State. The letter’s penmanship was slightly sloppy and slanted to one side, but the young writer made his point clear.

“I have heard about the fight you all had,” Pannor wrote. “I think that we would live better without the National Guard. All they do is KILL. It’s stupid to be paid to kill. I am very sorry about the people that died.”


This is just one of the letters found in the May 4 Collection in the special collections and archives on the 12th floor of the University Library. The box containing the letters is just one of more than 250, which are packed with various materials about the shootings that left four students dead, one paralyzed and eight others wounded. The materials range from the iconic photographs from the event to the original FBI documents with J. Edgar Hoover’s signature.

Steve Paschen, university archivist, has been at Kent State since July, and he’s still getting oriented with the May 4 Collection.

“It’s taking a while,” he said. “It is a large collection. There are lots of parts to it, and it’s a primary goal to get to know the collection in order to collect further.”

Cara Gilgenbach, head of special collections and archives, said Kent State has the largest May 4 collection and Yale University has the other significantly large one. However, she said many universities have smaller collections that document their campuses’ own response to the shootings.

In one letter in the archives sent to the university from a group of French students, the letter X in President Richard Nixon’s name is replaced with a Nazi swastika. However, not all of the letters sent are laced with sentiment in support of the killed students.

One letter written by a World War II and Korean War veteran was addressed to “the stupid students” at the university.

“Your stupid demonstrations cannot (and) will not stop a war, but it will bring and start a small, meaningless riot and bloodshed,” the veteran wrote. “You stupid students cannot overcome an armed guard and expect to accomplish and settle a war.”

In another letter sent from California the day after the shootings, one man wrote that the population is fed up with the students’ “antics.”

“I do not regret one bit the deaths of the 4 students yesterday,” the man wrote. “I only wish a hundred had been killed.”

Gilgenbach said the archives receives about 2,500 requests for information each year, and she could safely say they receive two or three requests a week about May 4 materials.

Paschen said this week has already been an exceptionally busy week for the archives because of all the media coverage regarding May 4 victim Alan Canfora’s announcement that he had audio evidence of order for the National Guard to fire on the unarmed student protesters.

“It’s a particularly fascinating thing for me to see it all happening,” Paschen said about the recent events.

Paschen said the archives offer a different and unique opportunity to do research on the shootings, especially because the collections are located at the place where the shootings happened.

But if there was one thing missing from the May 4 collection, Paschen said it would be the National Guard’s side of the story. There have been a few additions since the campus visit by Lt. Colonel Charles Fassinger, one of the commanding officers on campus that day, but there should be more.

“We want people like him to know that they can preserve what they have as well,” Paschen said.

The archives are open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. An index of the entire May 4 Collection is available at http://speccoll.library.kent.edu/4may70/index.html.

Contact administration reporter Tim Magaw at [email protected].