TexasEscapes.comTexas Escapes Online Magazine: Travel and History
Columns: History, Humor, Topical and Opinion
Over 1800 Texas Towns & Ghost Towns
NEW : : TEXAS TOWNS : : GHOST TOWNS : : TEXAS HOTELS : : FEATURES : : COLUMNS : : ARCHITECTURE : : IMAGES : : SITE MAP : : SEARCH SITE
HOME
SEARCH SITE
ARCHIVES
RESERVATIONS
Texas Hotels
Hotels
Cars
Air
Cruises
Kilgore Hotels
Find Hotel Deals in
Kilgore, Texas
Book Here & Save
 
 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

NEW LONDON SCHOOL EXPLOSION

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
Dr. Bobby H. Johnson, my long-time colleague at Stephen F. Austin State University, has written a play based on the New London School Explosion which occurred on March 18, 1937. The play premiered at the Lamp-Lite Theatre in Nacogdoches in the Spring of 2005, and each performance drew a capacity crowd to the theatre. Someone from New London, including some now quite mature survivors of the explosion, attended every performance.
Scene of Now London School Explosion, March 18, 1937
Scene of London School Explosion
Mar. 18, 1937
Photo courtesy texasoldphotos.com

The residents of New London, located in northeast Rusk County, had monies to erect a new school building because of the boom economy produced by the EasTex oil field. To save money, however, they ceased obtaining natural gas to heat the building from United Gas Company and connected directly to a line transmitting "green" gas from the field. The gas, which was odorless, leaked from a faulty connection and collected beneath the schoolhouse.

As school ended for the day on March 18, about 500 students and teachers remained in the building, and a PTA meeting was in progress in the gymnasium. At 3:05, shop teacher Lemmie Butler turned on an electric sanding machine, sparking an explosion of the natural gas. The blast lifted the building, which then settled into rubble.

Rescuers responded immediately, and kept coming from as far away as Dallas. Mother Francis Hospital, a new medical facility in Tyler, had scheduled ribbon cutting ceremonies that day but cancelled the celebration and devoted their efforts instead to caring for injured students and teachers.

Governor James Allred sent public safety officials to help, and twenty-five members of the Texas Funeral Directors Association arrived to provide their professional service. Searchers continued to look for victims by floodlight all night.

The explosion cost the lives of 298 students and teachers and altered the lives of everyone in New London; indeed, in all of Texas, because after the tragedy the Texas legislature required natural gas companies to add an odor to their product so that leaks could be detected more easily.

Bobby's play left audiences quiet, many in tears. It would have been even more poignant if all had known how much of the play was autobiographical. Bobby, only two years old in 1937, had not yet started to school in New London, where the family lived. His father was one of the men who looked all night for other men's sons and daughters.

Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
September 25, 2006 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.

More About New London School Explosion

  • A Tragedy's Museum by Bob Bowman
  • New London School Explosion by Archie P. McDonald
  • Phoenix Bird of Texas by George Lester
  • New London, Texas
  • Kilgore Hotels
    Find Hotel Deals in
    Kilgore, Texas
    Book Here & Save
     
    HOME | TEXAS ESCAPES ONLINE MAGAZINE | TEXAS HOTELS
    TEXAS TOWN LIST | TEXAS GHOST TOWNS | TEXAS COUNTIES

    Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast
    TRIPS | STATES PARKS | RIVERS | LAKES | DRIVES | MAPS

    TEXAS FEATURES
    Ghosts | People | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Black History | Rooms with a Past | Music | Animals | Books
    COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

    TEXAS ARCHITECTURE | IMAGES
    Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Stores | Banks | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Drive-by Architecture | Old Neon | Murals | Signs | Ghost Signs | Then and Now
    Vintage Photos

    TRAVEL RESERVATIONS | HOTELS | USA | MEXICO

    Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Recommend Us | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
    Website Content Copyright 1998-2008. Texas Escapes - Blueprints For Travel, LLC. All Rights Reserved
    This page last modified: January14, 2010