Parallel Earth: 262320
Exhibition: the Apocalypse
Parallel Historians: Oyemina Eskhator, JJ Darling, Gabriel Lee, and Ben Tumbling.
Atwell Tigers Bat
Gabbie May (b. 1955, Columbus, Ohio, USA), 1968
Pigment on wood
“Batter up, ladies!” It’s a motto as potent and as popular as any in history. It’s been printed in big, bold letters on everything from lunch boxes to movie posters. It’s been quoted in commencement speeches, at political rallies, and at countless ball games around the world. When female Iraqi soldiers, some of them former child brides and sex slaves, attack ISIS forces, local news reports claim they shout “Batter up, ladies!” before they rain bullets down on their enemies. Improbable, but appropriate. Such is the legacy of the Atwell Tigers, and their now legendary battle cry.
October 3, 1968, only two days after the first verified report of a person infected by LYV321, the contagion had already spread outside Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the news media and local authorities were slow to respond. That all changed after a school bus, front grill stained with blood, rolled into the parking lot of St. Romero Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. The softball team, thirteen girls aged 13 to 16, and their coach, filed calmly into the emergency room and relayed their story.
Stranded overnight in a farmhouse on a country road along the Pennyslvania-Ohio border, they were besieged by monsters. But instead of waiting for rescue, for heroes that would probably never come, they became heroes. That night they decorated their bats, taking solace in activity, in self-expression, in each other. And in the morning, they fought their way to freedom.
Atwell Tigers Bats
Atwell Tigers: April May, Pauline Medina, Patty Buffalo, Mary-Louise “The Truck” Bambi, Team Captain Gabbie May, and Coach Teri Tufts (est. 1966, Columbus, Ohio, USA), 1968
Pigment, wood, aluminum, canvas, and rubber
The six shown here comprise the most number of original bats publicly displayed together. Each one, a trove of historical information. For example, Ohio schools were still widely segregated in 1968 and budget shortfalls for predominantly black public schools, like Atwell Elementary, were common. School supplies for extra-curricular activities were usually donated so almost no two bats were alike, even before the girls started working on them. It’s apparent that the bats were customized not only with things the team brought with them (grip tape, ballpoint pens, markers) but also materials found in their temporary sanctuary (house paint, whittling knife). However, the most noteworthy tools used in the bats’ construction were the minds of these young women. Drawings and bright colors you’d expect to see on casts and textbook margins cover these weapons.
Through their courage and clarity of purpose, the Tigers helped warn the rest of the country about the horror to come. It’s difficult to speculate the number of lives they saved beyond each other’s, but they surely count in the millions. And so, in that season of fear and in the years after, the story of the Atwell Tigers, their symbols, and their words, have been hallmarks of many causes. They are passed down to us as cultural shorthand for dauntlessness, bravery, discipline, teamwork, diversity, sisterhood, creativity, and hope.
For more images from the Atwell Tigers collection, click here. Click on the + icons below to leave a comment, ask a question, or receive updates.