Perspectives

Linda Wahlbaker studies Ken Steinhoff’s images as Albert Wahlbaker reads a placard at the Athens County Historical Society describing activism and police and National Guard intervention at The Ohio State University and Bowling Green State University. This curation of Ken’s work can be seen for free at the Athens County Historical Society and Museum through November 16, 2015. / photo by Margaret Sabec

Alumnus Exhibition Showcases Historic Photographs of OHIO Campus Riots from 1970


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By Maygan Beeler

A collection of black and white photographs taken by Ohio University alumnus Ken Steinhoff, BFA ’70, is on display at the Athens County Historical Society and Museum exhibit entitled “The Sky Has Fallen – Troops, Turmoil and Teargas,” which chronicles the OHIO campus riots in the days following the Kent State shootings in the spring of 1970.

Steinhoff’s relationship with the museum was sparked by a meeting with an Athens County Historical Society intern, during which he mentioned that he was looking for a home for his collection. Curator Jessica Cyders invited Steinhoff to bring his photos to Athens the next day. Since then, Cyders and Steinhoff have collaborated on multiple exhibits ranging from small window displays to major installations.

“Ken’s style is so raw and personal; even after working with these photos for almost three years, I still have an emotional response to them,” said Cyders. “I knew that people in Athens would react the same way.”

April and May of 2015 mark the 45th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State University, an event which led to protests at college campuses across the United States. While many universities in the state immediately shut down, Ohio University did not and stayed open for 11 days. Some photos featured in the exhibit capture National Guard soldiers occupying Court Street, graffiti and trash littering the Athens County Soldiers and Sailors Monument and hundreds of people gathering on College Green to protest.

“I think most Ohio University students know that the campus closed in 1970, but it’s much more disturbing when you see the images of National Guardsmen with rifles and bayonets at each parking meter on Court Street,” said Cyders.

While many students were protesting the Vietnam war in the spring of 1970, others focused on civil and women’s rights movements. A combination of the three eventually lead to the riots that forced former OHIO President Claude Sowle to close campus before the end of the term.

“I won’t say that it was ‘just another day at the office’ during the protest era, but a lot of those photos appeared on the same roll as high school sporting events, a daily feature called ‘Speaking of Women’, feature pictures, mug shots, service club grip ‘n’ grins, and weather art,” said Steinhoff, who worked as a Post photographer and later as a photographer for The Athens Messenger.

Andrew Alexander, Scripps Howard visiting professional in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and former editor-in-chief of The Post is responsible in part for the exhibit’s title. The same night university officials announced Ohio University was closing and 1,500 National Guard soldiers were descending on campus to keep peace, a staff member from The Post noticed the paper was missing a weather forecast.

“I didn’t know what the weather forecast was and we didn’t have time to find out because we were already way past our deadline,” said Alexander. “So, I said: ‘Just make it The Sky Has Fallen’ to make it to print.”

The exhibit at the Athens County Historical Society and Museum is free and open to the public through Nov. 16. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday from Noon – 4 p.m. For more information visit, http://athenshistory.org/.

“With all of our exhibits at the museum, we try to show that history is personal, complex, and sometimes messy,” said Cyders. “I hope that the exhibit provokes some discussion about the events that took place on campus during 1970 and the ones that are happening now.”

To see more photos of Steinhoff’s exhibit at the Athens County Historical Society and Museum, click here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/scrippsou/sets/72157656914331983.

More of Steinhoff’s work can be found on his blog, “Cape Girardeau History and Photos: Coming of Age in Cape Girardeau,” by using the link: http://www.capecentralhigh.com/.