A Faded Funeral Map: A Memory of May 1970

by Elliot Newcomb

Mr. Jonathan Wallace,

I just read your Kent State, May 4, 1970: America Kills its Children article from the 25th anniversary of that galvanizing moment of America's history. Your article is very good writing about a very bad event, thanks.

I am 57 years old, an Interior Designer, educated at and graduated from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, in 1970.

One of my most prized possessions (and strongest memories and un-welcomed experiences) is a mimeograph copy of a map drawn to coordinate the shutting down of all traffic into Manhattan on the day of Jeffrey Miller's Funeral. As you know, it was Jeffrey Millers' body lying on the ground with the Woman screaming in the famous (infamous) picture of the Killings at Kent State.

After shutting down traffic for the rush hour, each gathering of students and other supporters would cross into the center of Manhattan, and travel by designated routes to Jeffrey's funeral.

The map shows all the river crossings and tunnels into Manhattan, and it shows which College or University was assigned to each crossing. Pratt was assigned the Williamsburg Bridge.

I was there, one among many. My biggest anxiety was not the police, but that we might fail in our task and not get across the bridge. We confronted Police on the Manhattan Side who were ready and waiting. We (only the early arrivals) were quickly sandwiched between them and Police on the Brooklyn Side. Angry commuters were out of their vehicles on each side as well. Late arrivals mixed into the angry commuters, temporarily unable to get past the Brooklyn Police. After the first shaky moments, it seemed that the whole crowd came together and we were not going to budge without physical confrontation. Whew, what a tense hour. There was lots of shoving to and fro. Communications by whomever to whomever, we only sensed that was happening. I vaguely remember some clergy members' presence and communication with the authorities and perceived at that time that they contributed to keeping the situation from getting out of hand.

Across the bridge we went, over to the Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue then) and North through the flower district. I distinctly remember that because I shot into a store to get some flowers. The shops were wholesale, not set up to sell directly, but gave many of us free flowers. We continued north through Rockefeller Center up to the funeral service. Who said flower power, not me?

The convergence of several separate groups at the Avenue of the Americas became a very large mass of protestors/marchers. It was generally a non-violent reverent mood due to the nature of the Funeral that would be held. Everybody desired to get north to the service and this kept things less confrontational than might have been, given the serious outnumbering of the Police. Imagine this happening at all these bridges and tunnels at the same time. .

After our success getting into Manhattan, the Police were both herding us, and protecting us, blocking streets to allow us to proceed north more quickly, just to get us out of there and the protest/march over with I think. By then there were lots of news crews with cameras present which helped to protect us as well. There must be lots of footage in the film vaults

The expansion of Rockefeller Center on the west side of the Avenue of the Americas was occurring. Both the Celanese and the Monsanto Buildings (they have changed names since) were in a state that many floors had been built, but not enclosed on the perimeters. The construction workers spat, threw coffee, cursed, made obscene gestures, and a few actually hurled dangerous construction scraps at us as we were passing in the street below. The Police were along the sides, and did their best to shield themselves and the crowd from the few objects that actually made it out to the street. The buildings were set way back, out of spit and coffee range to be sure, although they seemed directly over your head at the time. I have never known if anyone was injured during that part of the event.

I remember thinking that most of the students had draft deferments, (until Nixon cancelled those) or other methods to avoid the war, and it was mostly the workers of America who were actually going and dying in Vietnam.

I went as far north as 53rd Street, then, fearing I might lose my job, ran over to work at 53rd and 3rd. It had taken quite a while to get that far, and there was much doubt that we would make it to the service in time. I was going to Pratt full time, married, had a child, and working part time. Not exactly a position of independence, but, I was free, from my step-father at least. In addition to my own ambitions, there was no way that I was going to let him see me fail, period. I needed to be sure of full time employment after graduation which was to occur in a month. To his credit, my boss at the time, a WW II Paratrooper (in the unit that got dropped in the wrong place behind enemy lines on D Day, think Private Ryan), was fully supportive and actually proud of me for having participated.

I am not sure, but I think the service was held at Riverside Church, 120th Street, the church established by the Rockefeller family ironically.

Pratt was a small 'ART' school, but we did our part. I had recently won a contest complete with funding to design and build a kiosk in the center of the campus. Coincidentally, a huge protest demonstration was planned in Washington DC. The big one, you have seen it on the news and in movies over the years. Buses were rented to get lots of college students there. I got permission from the Faculty involved to scrap the kiosk project and donate all the contest and construction money so 3 more buses full of demonstrators could be added.

Having accomplished that, I went to work and missed the March, as I had missed Woodstock the year before. Talk about student poor, that was me. I had declared myself financially independent, got a combination of student and private loans, and we ate with the income from my part time and summer jobs. No disposable income then or for many years afterward, until the loans were paid. Luckily, just memories of poverty now, some fond, others..I weighed 125 lbs then (mono freshman year, then 3 more years of a poverty diet) and am down to 225 lbs now.

Remember those fat cats over 30 that couldn't be trusted? To my credit, when I bought my house, at age 30, I went out the front door at night, looked up at the stars, and said 'God, please don't make me a Republican'. I knew it was easy to be liberal when you did not have anything, and much harder when you start to get possessions. You start to want the Pigs, I mean Peace Officers to keep the riff-raff away from your door, using equipment always at their sides. Peace is at Hand. Anyway.

The President of Pratt at the time, after some loud demonstrations had occurred on campus, went to the press and infamously said that it had been a 'TOUCH OF SPRING'. People in authority were so disconnected from the reality of the events and changes going on, and so busy defending their establishment, they said and did things they came to regret.

'TOUCH OF SPRING' was printed in big bold letters on the cover of a rushed out issue of the school newspaper. It was such an insult to us that it set off more powerful protests that resulted in the school being shut down and closing early for the year. Eventually, it was announced that grades would not be given, but that a passing grade would be issued, just go home. Such a fuss was made that he was forced to resign. When he is on his last breath, I suspect he will mumble 'touch of spring' to whoever he believes made him. I have muttered it many times since.

In case anyone forgot, we were 'long haired, druggies, filthy, spoiled, unpatriotic commies, rabble-rousing, east coast liberals, eggheads, cowardly, lazy, ruined by rock and roll, ingrates, sex deviates, summed up: 'riff-raff that needed a haircut and a bath'. Not the model citizens that Nixon, Kissinger and Agnew were, no way.

Like other generations, we don't seem to have taught the children well, despite intentions. Weren't we going to change things when 18 year olds got the right to vote? It would be McGovern, not Nixon again. Yeah, right. Peace is still at hand, seems it always will be.

It is my opinion that America is 'CAPITALIST 1st, democratic 2nd' and DON'T you FORGET it' If you put any system under conflict at home or abroad, America's response will be to preserve Capital at the expense of life and liberty. Oh, how the Conservatives must love to hear their creed so clearly stated. Spare me. Other than that, you have confused me for someone who gives a . I digress, sorry.

So, let's get back to the map. It has been fading for 35 years, and is almost unreadable. Today, I decided to make a copy and trace and recreate the map so the history of the event can be preserved. I made a traced version, staying as faithful to the original as I could. (Editor's note: due to the size of the file, I decided not to post the map online, but will be happy to put anyone requesting it in touch with the author.--Jonathan Wallace)

Thinking about all this, I wondered about some facts. Perhaps your or your readers can answer some of these questions:

  1.        The date of the service ________________________?
  2.        The location of the service______________________?
  3.        The location of Jeffrey Miller's Grave Site__________?
  4.        Who drew the original map_____________________?
  5.        Who had the idea to do this____________________?
  6.        How long was Pratt shut down__________________?
  7.        Anyone have a properly preserved copy of the map    ?
  8.        Was every entry to the city blocked as planned?
  9.        Did every group succeed getting into Manhattan?
  10.        Was there a switch of bridges at the last moment, something to do
  with Pace?

I suspect the answers to 4 & 5 are people from Columbia, as I remember them being the center of protest action in NYC those days. I have a vague memory regarding 10 above.

I hope some answers and stories come of this.....

Regards, Elliott Newcomb