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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Tragedy: The 1937 New London School Natural Gas Explosion

Monument to a tragedy
The official marker
sumajman & Mr. Davidson
The high school building that was built over the same ground
It happened 76 years ago tomorrow! Possibly the touring highlight of our trip to east Texas was our rainy day visit to the New London Memorial and Museum commemorating the deaths of many children and teachers on 18 March 1937 when the school exploded because of a natural gas leak. On our way from Houston to Carthage with our friends we asked about the region. That is when I heard about this tragic event some 76 years ago. When our friend offered to take us there we were quick to accept. A few days passed while we attended to other business. Finally the day to tour with our friend came. We arrived just before lunch. Pastor Ken Hylan of the New London Baptist Church and his lovely wife came to meet us at the small community restaurant that sits in front of the museum. We enjoyed a meal together before we were taken on a guided tour of the museum by docent John Davidson. According to the report after the investigation it appears that a natural gas leak (cause not certain) filled the crawl space below the floor of the new, modern school. Just a few minutes before school was to let out an electric sander was powered up. It sparked, setting off a terrible explosion. There was very little fire involved. The concussion wave and flying debri did the worse damage. Very few of the children and teachers survived. They know that 293 have been officially counted among the dead but are certain that there are more whose bodies were carried away by their grieving parents after the accident. The town was an oil town, thriving off the wealth that came from the production of natural gas and oil in the area. This part of Texas is oil field country. Many of the children belonged to the families of oil workers. Most had come in from outside the area in search of jobs. With the death of their children many were said to have taken their children's bodies and left the area for good. Many of the children are buried in a nearby cemetery. The museum tells the whole story. It includes old footage of the children practicing for a special dance just hours before the explosion that killed many of them. What moved me the most was our guide. Mr. Davidson's 14 year old sister was killed that day. His parents only planned to have one child. They had him after the tragedy. He wishes he could have known his sister but is assured that one day he will meet her in heaven. This is, after all, our greatest hope in Christ. We enjoyed learning about this day that has so marked this small town, even so many years later. Just across the street stands the newer school building. It was built soon after the explosion and was said to be the safest school building in America. In the median between the school and the museum/restaurant stands a memorial to those killed. It bears the names of each person. Nearby it is hidden a geocache entitled,  March 18, 1937 (GC34BCZ).

When we came out of the museum/restaurant the rain had stopped. We crossed to the median and tracked to the micro. It was sumajhuarmi who made the find while I was looking in all the wrong places. We signed the log and replaced the cache. We are thankful that caching and friends have brought this place to our attention. What a tragedy it was and what a good thing it is to remember those who suffered so much in this great loss.
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