Memorial service to honor victims, survivors on 84th anniversary of New London School explosion

New London School explosion

RUSK COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) - A memorial service to mark the 84th anniversary of the deadliest school disaster in American history is planned Thursday in Rusk County.

On the afternoon of March 18, 1937, nearly 300 people, mostly schoolchildren, perished after a gas explosion at New London School.

It was later determined a spark from the wood shop ignited natural gas leaking in the school.

Injuries were so numerous, Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler opened its doors a day early.

Many of the gas safety measures in place today, including odor additives, were a direct result of the investigation of the tragedy.

Immediately, the community went to work to honor the victims.

A year later, in 1938, a 20-ton, 32 ft. high monument was constructed near the site.

A 20-ton, 32 ft. high monument was constructed in 1938 to honor the victims of the New London School explosion.
A 20-ton, 32 ft. high monument was constructed in 1938 to honor the victims of the New London School explosion. (Source: New London Museum)

“The sculptural block of Texas granite depicts twelve life-size figures, representing children coming to school, bringing gifts and handing in homework to two teachers,” according to the New London Museum.

Through the years, the London Ex-Students Association has organized reunions for the survivors and their families.

The New London Museum features artifacts from the disaster and preserves the stories of the survivors, all while honoring the past.

Thursday’s memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. at the cenotaph on South Main Street in Overton.

According to the museum, the program will include a short talk by Fred Parsons, a moment of silence at 3:17, followed by the playing of Taps by London graduate Terry Dorsey.

Students from the West Rusk High School shop class have placed 298 crosses in the area near the cenotaph in memory of the victims.

Becky & Jean took a few pictures as some West Rusk High School students set out the 298 crosses the shop class made. ...

Posted by New London, Texas School Disaster Museum & Cafe on Tuesday, March 16, 2021

A ribbon-cutting to dedicate a new bridge at the Raider Cafe will follow at 4:00 p.m.

“The Wilson family gifted the bridge in honor of Steve Wilson,” a new release stated. “Weir Wilson, Barry Wilson and Charlotte Harwood Wilson will be in attendance.”

The museum is open on Saturdays through the end of August.


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