New London Holds Explosion Reunion - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

3/18/07-Longview

New London Holds Explosion Reunion

Former students at an East Texas school return to remember the darkest day in their history,  a monstrous explosion that claimed hundreds of lives 70 years ago.  It was 3:15 in the afternoon on this day March 18th 1937 when a massive explosion rocked the New London schools. Nearly 300 students and teachers were killed. It was the day a generation died!

The survivors come back each year to remember those who lost their lives.  For them, the halls of the New London museum still house the memories and voices of their classmates that died.

"There were so many of the families that lost two children some three and it ruined their families basically it wasn't talked about," said New London alumni Barbara Smart.

"What would those kids had done what effect would they have had on the world if they had lived," said survivor John Davidson.

Seventy years ago today, a massive gas explosion tore the school apart, killing 298 people. Davidson's 14 year old sister died in the blast.

"This reunion has been significant to me because I have found more people this year who are willing to talk about it and tell me stories about my sister," said Davidson.

A massive effort was undertaken to save lives, but rescue technology just wasn't here.  Letters and telegrams of sympathy came from all over the world, from Eleanor Roosevelt to the then chancellor of Germany. There were no counselors to help deal with it.  Decades later, survivors were finally able to speak about the tragedy.

"People were afraid to talk about it, almost no family in this community was unaffected, and whenever people would tell us about the explosion it would be sort of in whispers and don't say anything in front of so-and-so because they lost a sister," said former New London student Judy Head-Susia.

Some lost several members of their family in the blast.  "I had two aunts two uncles in the explosion, then I had two cousins killed in the explosion.  I didn't know much about the explosion cause nobody ever talked about it," said alumni Ronny Gaudet.

But they come back each year so they don't forget.  "If we don't keep their memories alive the memories are going to die out," said Davidson.

Investigators at the time said the odorless gas ignited in the basement of the main building just minutes before the school was to let out.  Because of the disaster, a chemical odor was added to natural gas to detect its leakage.

Bob Hallmark, Reporting.  bhallmark@kltv.com

 

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