"By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
In pondering the shooting at Virginia Tech a few numbing days ago - the latest in a string of April calamities - I seem to be in good company.
No, I don't mean the pundits, the second-guessers or the blame-everyone-but-the-shooter crowd. While searching for my customary opening quote, I was surprised to find so many sources from which to choose. The Emerson verse won out, but I could just as easily have chosen Longfellow's, "On the 18th of April in '75, hardly a man is still alive," about Paul Revere's "midnight ride" before Emerson's "embattled farmers" fired the first shot of the American Revolution.
Or perhaps I should have quoted T. S. Eliot who, in a pessimistic poem about death and the futility of life, wrote, "April is the cruelest month... a heap of broken images... fear in a handful of dust." (The Waste Land)
But April writings are few when compared to the number of tragic events that have taken place almost entirely in the middle two weeks of what the poet may rightly have called "the cruelest month."
- 'Twas another "shot heard round the world" on April 12, 1861, when Confederate troops fired on Union forces at Fort Sumter near Charleston, S.C., and ushered in the American Civil War.
Major hostilities ended in mid-April four years later, just days before a lone gunman added President Abraham Lincoln to the more than 665,000 casualties of the war.
- Spain declared war on the United States on April 4, 1898, beginning a brief but deadly four-month confrontation when more than 5,000 Americans fell to combat or disease.
- Registering 8.3 on the Richter scale, America's deadliest earthquake and resulting fires rocked San Francisco on April 18, 1906, killing some 3,000 people and leaving a half-million others homeless.
- Pleasure turned into unbelievable pain when the steamship Titanic, en route from Southampton, England, to New York, collided with a submerged iceberg on April 14, 1912. Of the 2,223 passengers and crew who began the vessel's maiden voyage, Augusta native Archibald Butt was among the 1,517 who died.
- On April 19, 1993, following a 51-day siege, 80 members of the Branch Davidian religious sect, including leader David Koresh, died in a fire at their compound near Waco, Texas. Whether the fire was started by the Davidians themselves, or caused inadvertently by the tanks and tear gas ordered to the scene by Attorney General Janet Reno, has never been positively determined. More than two dozen victims were children.
- Until the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, was the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. Timothy McVeigh and accomplices caused the deaths of 168 people, including 19 children in the day care center housed inside. McVeigh might have chosen the April 19 date to avenge the Waco fire two years before.
- On April 20, 1999, 12 students and one teacher were shot to death by two other students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The shooters then killed themselves.
- April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., a student shot and killed 32 students and staff members, including Columbia County's Ryan Clark, before turning the gun on himself.
Barbara Seaborn is a local, free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.
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