84 Years Ago: New London School Explodes in East Texas
There are so many unbelievable moments in our state's history that you may not remember studying or reading about. When I look at the calendars each week to see what's coming back, I also check Texas anniversaries or dates in history. Over the weekend I was reminded of one of the worst accidents to ever take place at a school anywhere in America.
294 people died in New London, Texas in the year 1937, after the newly erected school building was blown apart by a natural gas explosion. Approximately 40 teachers passed away as a result of the blast, the rest were students. The accident happened on March 18th of that year.
The community of New London was doing comparatively well considering it was the Great Depression era, but the oil fields of East Texas kept them afloat and the new school was going to house students from 5th grade all the way to 12th grade. The thought of being able to provide heat to the school in the winter was considered a very modern idea in 1937, as KCEN reports the community decided to run a natural gas line to the school. At the time, natural gas remained odorless, and a large gas leak in the basement of the school went undetected.
It would end up being remembered as a tragic mistake by the community. At the time, a young reporter by the name of Walter Cronkite would cover the explosion. The story would end up in his book year's later called "A Reporter's Life" published in 1996. Cronkite would report that the school was a mere two minutes away from dismissing its students that day when the explosion occurred.
To this day, a museum in the town continues to remember the tragic accident that some say stole an entire generation of students away from the community.
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