Memorial planned to honor victims of '79 Who concert tragedy

CINCINNATI -- A new foundation wants to pay tribute to the victims of The Who concert tragedy that rocked the Tri-State nearly four decades ago.

Eleven people were killed Dec. 3, 1979 during the show at the venue formerly known as Riverfront Coliseum (now U.S. Bank Arena) in a rush for seating at the sold-out concert. The victims, three of whom were minors, died from compressive asphyxia, a medical term used to describe someone who was crushed or pinned under a large weight or force.

More than two dozen other fans suffered various injuries.

One of the 18,348 ticketed fans in attendance was Tom Brown who was 17 years old at the time. He was one of the 14,770 people who didn’t have an assigned seat.

"When the sound check started, the crowd shoved forward," he recalled."I could actually feel the bones in my chest starting to separate. You know how you have that internal hearing? Well, I could hear them creaking like they were getting ready to snap."

Brown told WCPO he believes the common belief the deaths and injuries were solely the result of a mad dash to get a quality seat isn’t accurate.

"We weren't trying for a better seat. We were trying to survive and that's why everybody rushed the doors as soon as they opened," he said.

The tragedy resulted in a longtime ban on festival seating in Cincinnati.

At the time that he was going to die and has put himself in the shoes of the victims. But now Brown and the Who Concert Foundation feel the need to construct a permanent memorial to honor those who died.

"I remember feeling ashamed of myself, ashamed of myself for not coming forward before now,” he said. “That it took a child of one of the victims to grow into a man before I would say, ‘yes, we need to build a memorial.’"

Browns said he has discussed the memorial with both the Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials about the project.

"We feel 100 percent confident that we can construct a memorial on the plaza level (outside U.S. Bank Arena)."

As of yet, there is no design, just an idea to honor the dead at the place where they lost their lives.

"We're looking for something bright and colorful, to celebrate their youth and enthusiasm," Brown said.

In addition to the proposed memorial, Brown hopes to establish scholarships at each of the area high schools the victims attended.

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