Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Day a Generation Died—The New London School Explosion by Mike Cox



We go through life and are often unaware of historical events or tragedies in our own back yards. While researching the oil fields of Texas in the twenties and thirties for my time travel, A Way Back, I ran across the mention of the New London School Explosion.

Later at a book signing somewhere in Texas, I purchased a book titled TEXAS DISASTERS TRUE STORIES OF TRAGEDY AND SURVIVAL by Mike Cox. His chapter on the New London School Explosion detailed the horror in detail. Most of the information here is paraphrased from his words or quoted. Thank you Mike. I love your book.

The tragedy occurred on Thursday, March 18, 1937, in New London, a community about 120 miles east of Dallas in the booming East Texas oil fields. Their new school was three years old.
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The final bell rang each day at 3:30. The elementary students had been dismissed earlier. A PTA meeting began at 3:00 in the cafeteria. At 3:15, a muffled explosion heard 12 miles away, lifted the front portion of the 30,000 square foot school into the air. "In the words of one witness, the building began collapsing from north too south like 'a row of dominoes falling.'"
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The band director, unharmed, loaded as many injured children as he could into his car and sped to Overton. He stopped at the Western Union Office. "The London school is blown to bits...hundreds killed and injured! Get help." Via Morse code and telephone, the nation's news services issued a "flash" on their wires, a term for only the most monumental events. Texas Governor Allred ordered all available highway patrolmen and Texas Rangers to New London. President Franklin Roosevelt asked the Red Cross and all federal agencies to stand by to offer assistance.

Even Adolph Hitler was touched by the tragedy and sent a telegram with his condolences.

By 6 P.M more than 2,000 men, many of them rough necks from nearby oil fields and fathers themselves were on the site removing debris and rescuing trapped individuals and removing bodies.

Martial Law was declared by Governor Allred at 8:30. The National Guard with fixed bayonets enforced a perimeter around the the school. Boy Scouts with unloaded rifles worked with them.

Walter Cronkite, a young press reporter from Dallas recalled, "It was dark and raining by the time I arrived. I'll ever forget the scene as I drove into the little town. I can still see those flood lights they had set up and the big oil field cranes that had been brought in to help with the removal of the rubble."
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"Hysterical mothers fought over young bodies crushed beyond recognition, each claiming a dead child as her own."

In the last classroom, only body parts were found of the twenty-seven students. In total the bodies of 280 children and 14 adults had been found. "As the blood-covered volunteers filed away from what had been the school building, National Guardsmen stepped back and snapped crisp salutes."

A thorough investigation was conducted. It was discovered gas had been leaking from pipes under the building. At that time, gas had no odor so the leak went undetected in the 64,000 cubic-foot poorly ventilated crawl space. An electric spark from a sander in the basement industrial art triggered a flash fire that spread through the crawl space at 1,000 feet per second. "In a instant the pressure built up to at least ninety pounds per square inch, far more than any structure could endure."

After the tragedy, several laws were instigated, the most important was the requirement that natural gas intended for domestic or industrial use be odorized. Sillers and Clarke developed a device called a metering gas odorizer. It injected a precise amount of a pungent chemical into natural gas flowing though it into transmission lines. They filed for a patent on June 18 1939. (Peerless Manufacturing)

Here is a little about my time travel set in the oil fields of Kilgore. I can see the rough necks from the area on the scene doing their part to relieve the agony of parents, families, and people of the community of New London.


http://amzn.to/2aRTBkg 
Amber Mathis, a Wall Street investment banker, returns to her office after burying her grandmother. Distraught, tired of the rat race, she's determined to make a career change. In the elevator she falls and rises to find herself in a vintage lift.  The date is February 25, 1930, and a man stands on the window ledge in her office ready to jump.

Wellman Hathaway, owner and CEO of Hathaway Bank in New York struggles to pay his depositors half their losses. A woman claiming to be from the future appears in his office and involves him in a scheme that forces them into marriage. With Amber's knowledge of the financial history of the 1930s, they travel to the oil fields of Texas to recoup Wellman's funds.


Two people from different centuries are thrown together to survive a difficult time. Will they find more than A Way Back to prosperity?

Thank you for stopping by today and reading. I know this is a sad topic, but that so needs to be remembered.

Linda LaRoque
www.lindalaroque.com

11 comments:

  1. HI really enjoyed the post. You unearthed such a sad but riveting bit of history. Really like the premise of your book. Sounds good!

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    1. So glad you stopped by, Gini. Thank you for your comment and thoughts.

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  2. My father had a cousin that died in the tragedy. Also, Mother Frances Hospital had scheduled a grand opening on March 19th. This was canceled, as the hospital opened their doors early for the injured. (Native Tylerite and East Texan.)

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    1. Sorry for your father's loss. It's hard to imagine that we didn't learn about this in school. I grew up in Waco, and if we did, I have forgotten it. It had an impact on the entire area. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

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  3. I'd never heard of this tragic event. That is so sad. In the 1911 there was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NY and that didn't didn't kill as many people. So very sorry for those children and staff in the school fire and the families who lost children, and other family members.

    On the positive side, your new book sounds fascinating. Best of luck.

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    1. Elizabeth, I blogged about the Shirtwaist Factory fire. It was tragic also. One thing about the New London tragedy, I think death was instantaneous, at least I hope it was. The Shirtwaist Factory fire was not and had to be horrifying for those trying to escape.
      The book isn't a new release, but thank you. It's one of my favorite time travels.

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  4. That tragedy has been forgotten by most people. I'm glad you reminded readers. Your cover of your new book is gorgeous.

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    1. Yes, it has Caroline. As I mentioned above, I don't remember ever hearing about it. Of course that doesn't mean I didn't forget.
      Thank you on the cover but it's not a new release.

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  5. Old release or not, the cover is lovely! And the story sounds fascinating.

    The school explosion is still horrifying. Scented gas or not, I think what makes it worse is that something like that could happen today. It's not as likely, but...

    Thank you for the great blog post about a tiny obscure tidbit of history that seems to go unnoticed in history books.

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    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. Diana Carlile with The Wild Rose Press did the cover.

      Yes, it could still happen, but my nose picks up on that smell mighty fast.

      I have a great deal of respect for Peerless now.

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  6. I'd not heard of the New London School tragedy before, Linda. So sad. Thanks for sharing. Your book cover is lovely.

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