This is the family story passed on to me
regarding the school explosion:
My grandmother, Ola Parlee Ware Grosdidier, and
my mother, Juanita Mae Grosdidier, who was 5
years old at that time, were at the school
attending the PTA meeting. Mother said they
normally met in the auditorium, but because of
construction work being done in the auditorium,
the mothers were moved out to the Field House.
When the school exploded, my grandmother was
frantically searching for her 6y/o son, Leon
Grosdidier, but eventually learned that Uncle
Leon was on a school bus that had just left the
school property a few minutes earlier.
Although our immediate family was spared, the
overwhelming tragedy affected everyone deeply.
Mother always said that it would have been even
worse for the community if the mothers had been
in the auditorium that day.
Thank you for the opportunity to share our
My mother who is now 80 yrs old, was a child
when the tragedy happened, She remembers going
to the school once with her aunt, whom she had
not had the opportunity to visit much. (before
the explosion) and that is was huge school. My
mother's Maiden name was Majrorie Rhu Molsbee;
daughter of Pearla Bynum and A.D. Molsbee of
Terral, Oklahoma. Her aunt Euda Alice Walker
(Mrs. Alvin Walker) who had come for the PTA
meeting and 2 of her children - Herman Lawrence
Walker and Annie Morine Walker were all killed
My mother also said another cousin - Alice
Walker was seriously injured and was
hospitalized for a long time after. She said she
had a significant limp after that and was not
very involved with family after this incident.
Alice had lost her mother and 2 siblings (?) My
mom is uncertain why Alice was not with her
mother at the time of the explosion.
What many of the survivors and families lived
through is now referred to as PTSD (Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder) - dealing with the
memories and feelings as they forever changed
there lives ,actions and souls. (PTSED is what
is often referred to as what veterans experience)
Now we know and train helping professionals to
deal with the emotional wounds as well as the
physical, Back then that was not available -
leaving so many devastated souls in ash and ruin
along side their beloved children. No amount of
caring support can ever take away the pain or
devastation it is merely offered as a tool in the
healing process I think my mother's cousins
could very well have been so desecrated (an
example of sever PTSD) "leaving" may have been a
way she coped.
There are a great many other examples found in
the pages of your site as well. All of the awe
inspiring dedication that has gone into your
site, the museum and memorials are also a key to
the healing process.
There has been some good to come of this tragedy
- the odor put into natural gas created by a
survivor of the tragedy; the knowledge gleaned to
help deal with such tragedy on a number of
levels all now goes to save thousands of other
lives. However, May we never lose site of those
in so many ways did pay the cost of this wisdom.
When mother talks about her childhood growing up
in Southern Oklahoma and many of her family and
friends in East Texas she always mentions with
some sadness the New London explosion and her
mother's sister and her children who died there.
Thank you so much for your tender care and
efforts to preserve this peace of history so
those can be remembered.
I was born in Wright City, Texas in 1938 where
my mom and dad were living when the New London
School exploded in 1937.
My dad ( Harry H. Stiles ) was working in the
East Texas oil field, driving an oilfield winch
truck near New London when the school exploded.
My dad would only tell me that he had gone to
the school and assisted in the rescue by using
his truck to move the debris to reach the
injured children. He refused to say anymore
about the explosion and rescue of the children.
One of the photos of an oilfield winch truck in
one of the photos at the scene might possibly
have been his truck.
I remember having been told by an Aunt that she
and other students from another school had been
to the New London School earlier in the morning
but had left prior to the explosion.
I attended and graduated from Arp High School.
I learned of the web site recently of the New
London School explosion from my son Harry H.
Harry H. Stiles Jr.
May 9, 2006
I have been reading your guestbook and have
found several saying their relatives played
hookey the day of the explosion. That reminds me
of a story.
When we lived in New London, we had a neighbor
named Carl Byrom. He had a son, Owen, who died
in the explosion.
Mr. Byrom told me several times that the day
before the explosion, Owen came home complaining
about a headache and sick stomach. The next
morning, Owen got up to go to school but told
his parents he was still feeling bad. Since he
had done this before, they got him up and forced
him to go to school where he died. Mr. Byrom
blamed himself for Owen's death.
Mr. Byrom said several of the students had
complained the day before about headaches.
Others left for school but didn't get there or
played hookey. He believed the gas in the school
was not confined to the crawl space but had been
leaking into some of the rooms making some of
the children sick.
I remember Daddy saying he heard about children
getting sick in the building before the
Maurene Lancaster who taught history in London
Junior High for many years told us she had left
the building and was getting into her car. She
said she heard the explosion, and suddenly, a
big piece of concrete hit her car. She wasn't
hurt. That could be the 1936 Chevrolet in the
photos on your site.
By the way, Maurene Lancaster was first cousin
to Jeanette McDonald, the singer and movie star
in the 30's, 40's and early 50's. Jeanette
McDonald was in a movie called "San Francisco"
about the earthquake and fire, with Eddie
Albert. Mrs. Lancaster was a McDonald.
From a posting in the NLSE.ORG Guestbook:
I've lived in Henderson, TX all my life and my
parents lived in Wright City, TX when the
explosion occurred. Dad worked for The Texas
Pipeline Company (Texaco, now). I wasn't born
until 1944, but I had 2 older brothers. The
oldest, Wesley, luckily, was going to Gaston at
that time. My 2nd brother, Jimmy was just 3
I was told about it. My dad helped in the
rescue, as all the oilfield people did. He never
talked about it, ever. I only learned more in
depth things of it later, but, not like I've
learned reading about it here on the web site.
We knew the Emberlings. I can remember going
with Mamma and my older brother to visit them
when I was about 12. Mrs. Emberling was the
sweetest lady you would ever want to meet.
I didn't know then the tragedy she and Mr.
Emberling had endured.
I'm so glad there are people who want to keep
their memory alive.
I thank you, Bill for this site.
I've had a hard time getting it off my mind
since reading and seeing all the pictures
yesterday. I can't ever imagine what those
parents had to go through. I cried.
From a follow-up email:
I've been to Pleasant Hill Cemetery and I've
seen the Emberling children's graves. It touches
your heart so to see all the children's graves
and what are on them. What caught my eyes, and I
won't ever forget are the little marbles around
some of the little graves.
I've taken my daughter there and my Mom, before
she passed away. My Mom has told me many times
about the day the explosion happened. They were
living in Wright City, but, for some reason my
brother was going to Gaston. Thank you, God.
Wes, my brother, rode the bus, and Mom had to
drive/walk to end of their road to meet the bus
every afternoon. She had just picked Wes up when
she met all the fire trucks, ambulances, she
started to follow them but, when she got down
toward the New London school, they told her she
couldn't go down there.
My Dad worked in the oilfield (of course) for
Texaco and he helped with the rescue/recovery.
He never ever mentioned that horrible sight to
me. There was no talk about it, ever. What I
told you is all I ever knew until your wonderful
web site to honor all those precious souls.
They paid a unbelievable price, but, not in
vain, we have to hold on to that. It saved
countless lives, we'll never know.
Sharon (Reeves) Collins
February 17, 2006
Pleasant Hill Cemetery, near New London. Is where
the Emberling children " George Lee Emberling"
& " Wanda Louise Emberling" are buried.
When you are entering the main gate and are
looking straight up at where the pollution is,
their graves are about half way up between the
gate and the Palladian on the left. And they
both stand out from all the rest. They are both
covered in white seashells.
I was reading a book this evening about Burring
Rituals. And it mentions graves covered with
Seashells. I found it to be very inters testing.
One belief for using shells over a grave is that
the departed was being compared to the sea, with
it's waves continuing through eternity. White
seashells covering the grave symbolize
everlasting life. Frequently, the barrow had
large shells neatly arraigned in horizontal rows
or in an artistic pattern.
The use of shells on burial sites is considered
African in origin. In parts of Texas the shells
are usually whitewashed and arraigned on a
concrete mound covering the grave.
you can see them here---->
My dad is the youngest of 8 kids, and they were
going to New London at the time (at least the
ones old enough were). The details are
fascinating to me...
Uncle Bud (Francis Myers) was in a room on the
lower floor (my mom thought it was the shop
class but I haven't verified that) and was blown
out of a window. He remembers landing on the
ball field I think. He was banged up but was ok.
Some friends took him home so he'd be safe,
though, and it was a couple of days before his
mom found him.
Mae Belle and Margie were twins, about 5th or
6th grade. They had both been sick and Mae Belle
stayed home. Margie went to school to get
make-up work. She and her older sister Shirley
were somehow in the same room when the explosion
occurred. No one in the room survived.
Mary Ann was in 3rd grade. She was sitting
outside the Grammar School building waiting on
the bus and playing jacks, and saw the building
explode "like a big bomb went off." The others
(Florence, David and my dad, Robert McChesney,
or Mc they called him) were home too young to be
in school and were home along with Mae Belle.
They lived out on a farm and didn't have a
phone, so it was hours before my grandmother
(Agnes Myers) found out what happened and was
able to contact her husband Francis who was out
of town on business. It was something like 2
days before they found out what happened to
everyone. She had scraps of fabric from the
clothes that Margie and Shirley were wearing
(she made all their clothes), and used that to
identify the girls.
This is all 2nd and 3rd hand info, but all the
surviving siblings are still alive. Uncle Bud
and Aunt MaryAnn are the big story tellers.
(Uncle Bud went on to join the marines and was
in the pacific in WWII, I think at Iwo Jima but
I'm not sure... ya think he has 9 lives or what?
He's a trip, still going strong!)
Rachel Myers Campbell
February 4, 2006