It’s been a long time coming, but Cincinnati is set to mark this week’s 36th anniversary of the 1979 Who concert tragedy with the dedication of a permanent memorial marker by the site.
On Dec. 3, 1979, 11 people were crushed to death outside Riverfront Coliseum (now U.S. Bank Arena) when entrance doors didn’t open fast enough or early enough for the waiting crowd. Most of the tickets were for festival-style general admission, putting a priority on arriving early. Reports at the time said some in the waiting crowd mistook the band’s pre-show sound check for the concert and tried to get in before the Coliseum’s management was ready.
A marker dedication will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday on the plaza between U.S. Bank Arena and Great American Ball Park. There will also be a lighting of lanterns in remembrance. Afterward, there will be a public reception at Historic Herzog Studio at 811 Race St., on the second floor. (That latter space is managed by Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that spearheaded the drive for the marker.)
Since 2009, the 30th anniversary, that foundation has been having solemn, reflective observances of the event. And it has been quietly working with families of victims, as well as survivors of the crush, on permanent remembrance. At last year’s observance, Mayor John Cranley said a marker would be in place by this anniversary.
Actually, this effort dates to the foundation’s beginning in 2007. At that time, there was considerable support to formally remember those who died or were injured that night.
“In the aftermath of that gathering, folks began to get together to figure out a way to have some kind of permanent memorial,” says Elliott Ruther, a founder of Cincinnati Music Heritage.
The two-sided marker, on a post anchored into the plaza at a site chosen by the city and the committee, will have its formal unveiling at Thursday’s observance. But Ruther shared its wording and noted it will mention that the event did prompt a crowd-safety ordinance that has proved an important and positive development.
One side will pay tribute to “Eleven In Memoriam”: Walter Adams Jr., 22, Trotwood, Ohio; Peter Bowes, 18, Wyoming, Ohio; Connie Sue Burns, 21, Miamisburg, Ohio; Jacqueline Eckerle, 15, Finneytown, Ohio; David Heck, 19, Highland Heights, Ky.; Teva Rae Ladd, 27, Newtown, Ohio; Karen Morrison, 15, Finneytown, Ohio; Stephan Preston, 19, Finneytown, Ohio; Philip Snyder, 20, Franklin, Ohio; Bryan Wagner, 17, Fort Thomas, Ky.; James Warmoth, 21, Franklin, Ohio. That side will end with “deepest respects to the families, many survivors, friends and first responders.”
The other side will contain a brief history of the events: “Eleven concertgoers, trapped in a crush of people, died at the southwest plaza entrance to Riverfront Coliseum waiting to see The Who. Many others were injured in what was the deadliest concert tragedy in United States history. The tragedy spurred passage of a crowd safety ordinance, which became a model for the world.”
This marker took a long time, partly because those involved attempted to reach as many families of victims as possible to seek cooperation. The foundation also had to privately raise the money — roughly $5,000.
One of those who will be at the dedication is Andy Bowes, 65, the older brother of Peter Bowes, who died in the crush. He is coming from his Naples, Fla. home for the ceremony. Among other things, he has been in contact with The Who’s management and said the band supports this project.
“I’m never going to stop thinking about my brother, and for me and my counterparts there is no end,” Bowes says. “But I think this is taking something that deserves some sort of permanent recognition and finally giving it.”
Throughout the process, Kasey Ladd of Anderson Township has remained a key supporter of this effort. He was just two when his mother, Teva Rae Ladd, died in the crush. “That was my mom, so it’s going to be emotional for me,” he says. “And I imagine it’s going to be emotional for the others who have a family member’s name on there.”
CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: [email protected]