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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir

THE PHOENIX BIRD OF TEXAS

by George Lester
George Lester
Recently I took a trip to New London, Texas, the site of one of the most horrific disasters in history, to visit the museum. In 1937, the school was using natural gas from the oil fields surrounding the town. In its original state the vapor had no odor at all. When a leak occurred, no one knew about it until it was too late. Just before school let out for the day and parents were lined up to take the children home, the building exploded. Over three hundred children and adults died that day, and hundreds more were injured. I learned that our museum guide was a survivor of that fateful event. As she talked to us, my memory went back many years.

I was a member of the Union Grove High School band that made a trip to New London. We were there to participate in a band festival being held at their football stadium. As we were waiting in the parking lot for our turn to enter the stadium, the New London band marched up beside us and came to a halt. On the trip over, all the talk on the bus centered on the explosion and the horror it wreaked on the community. Each student had a story to relate. Not only were we awestruck by the magnitude of our historical journey, now we were standing right next to the New London High School band. Trying our best not to stare, we could not help but study the individuals and wonder what each had experienced that terrible day. As we scanned the band members, we noticed some had evidence of severe burns on their visible skin, others had deep scars showing, and some had limbs or digits missing. The compassion that flowed out to them was tangible. The picture lingered with us long after the band festival was over. Until then we had only read about the explosion or heard it chronicled by word of mouth numerous times. That day it became real.

The New London School sustained almost total destruction that horrible day. The events immediately after were described later in the newspapers. In a matter of hours, clean-up crews came from everywhere to start clearing out the debris and to search for survivors and, sadly, the ones who didn't survive. Before midnight the area had been virtually transformed. Hundreds of trucks had hauled off the rubble, and now very little evidence of the detonation remained. While they still were still grieving, the citizens pulled together and rebuilt the school at a seemingly impossible pace. Like the phoenix bird, life had sprung from the ashes once again.

For the young, time seems to move at a different pace. That day, as our band observed our counterparts standing next to us, I thought of the explosion as being long, long ago in the distant past. While reminiscing at the museum, it dawned on me. Less than three years had separated the two events.

George Lester

3-7-2004
Related Articles
  • New London, Texas
  • A Tragedy's Museum by Bob Bowman (From "All Things Historical" Column)
  • New London School Explosion by Archie McDonald (From "All Things Historical" Column)
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