So, here I am at the beginning of the 1970s, in a room looking out on 42nd Street in New York City. The cat sits on the sill of the single window. In the bungalow back in 2021 she had eight windows to look out. She would go from window to window getting different perspectives. Eight perspectives. Here she has one. She watches the madness in the street below and listens to the noise of jackhammers during the day and the sound of gunshots at night.
I’m watching the news on a small black & white TV. It is May 4th, 1970. This image comes on the screen—
—and becomes a fixture in my mind, as it does in the collective mind of America for decades to come.
Students at Ohio State University were protesting Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War. The National Guard was called in. The guardsmen advanced on the unarmed students with fixed bayonets on their M1 rifles. Some of the protesters threw stones. One guardsman fired a shot from his .45-caliber pistol. That single shot exploded into a volley of 67 shots. Thirteen seconds later four students were dead—
—19 and 20 years old, their whole lives ahead of them, cut down on campus. Nine students were wounded, one of them paralyzed for life. The protesters retreated in horror.
The girl in the photo wasn’t a student. Mary Ann Vecchio was a 14-year-old runaway from a troubled home in Florida who had hitched rides north and just happened to be on the Kent State campus that day.
She was a mixed-up kid, a nobody, and suddenly her photograph was seen around the world in an iconic image of an American tragedy. That incident and that photo messed with her head, and her life became one of delinquency and juvenile detention centers. I wrote about Kent State and the aftermath here.
My cat and I are in the room on 42nd Street. She’s looking out the window at a drug deal in the street below. I’m looking at the slaughter of four unarmed kids on campus.
Welcome to America.