Abercrombie, Clotiele B.
Abercrombie, Loyd D. Sr.
Abercrombie, Virgie Blalock
Box, Dorothy Womack
Holbert, Pearl Shaw
Challis, James E. "Ike"
Degnan, Julie E.
Erikson, Charles Henry
Ezell, Alta Reigh
Grenley, Martha Rogers
Grigg, William N.
Johnson, Joe and Bobby
Lester, George - Playmates
Martinez, Nelma Cummins
Meissner, J. Raymond
Read, Osceola Jefferson
Robertson, William Judson
Robinson, Jimmie Jordan
Mack Thornton Rogers
Ryan, Terri Jo
Stanley, Glenda G.
Vail, Mary Lechtenberg
Vinson, Allen Earl
Williams, William B.
Bill Hannon an email from his son Robert Hannon
Although I was not born until 1955, all my life
I heard my dad, Bill Hannon, talk about the New
London School Explosion.
At the time of the explosion in March, 1937, he
was 19 years old and lived in one of the oil
company camps outside of Arp, that were so
prevalent in the Texas oil fields. His dad was
employed as an crude oil tank builder by the
Prairie Oil & Gas Company, which was the
predecessor to what eventually became Arco.
My dad said that when the explosion occurred,
the windows rattled in the house they lived in.
He did not say how far it was from New London
but when word came down about the explosion, he
took his Boy Scout troop to New London, where
they pulled bodies out and helped move debris.
Hindsight wishes I would have quizzed him more
about the explosion and his role in the recovery
effort, but unfortunately, he passed away in
July, 1992. It would have been interesting to
learn more about the explosion and subsequent
activities from his perspective.
According to my mom, my dad's sister, Margaret
Hannon Scimeca, who was attending public school
in either Arp or Troup, was supposed to have
been at a scheduled ball game at the time of the
explosion. However, the game had been postponed
till later that afternoon because the gym was
occupied. (I believe the PTA was meeting in the
gym.) My aunt is still alive and we are sending
her a copy of the Dallas Observer article. I
would like to see what she has to say about it.
I have not yet been to the museum in New London,
but 4 or 5 years ago, on the local news, I saw a
film clip from 1937 in which news personnel were
interviewing people. It looked like it was for a
newsreel clip that used to be shown at the
movies. Anyway, one of the people they
interviewed appeared to have on a Scout uniform
and it appeared to be my dad. So hopefully, when
I do finally get to the museum, I will be able
to locate copies of newsreels from that time
period and will be able to review that clip. The
clip was on for just a few moments, so I did not
get as good a look as I would have wished.
Howard Harris from an email
MY NAME IS HOWARD H. HARRIS. AT THE TIME OF THE
DISASTER I LIVED IN LONGVIEW AND WAS IN
ATTENDANCE AT LONGVIEW HIGH SCHOOL FROM WHICH I
GRADUATED IN 1939. WHEN THE EXPLOSION HAPPENED I
WAS AT FOOTBALL PRACTICE AND THE BOY SCOUT
TRANSPORTATION CAME TO PICK UP ALL BOY SCOUTS
AND DELIVER US TO THE NEW LONDON SCHOOL TO
ASSIST IN ANY WAY WE COULD. THERE IS ONE STORY I
WOULD LIKE TO MAKE YOU AWARE OF IN CASE NO ONE
ELSE HAS. AT SOME TIME DURING ALL OF THE
CONFUSION AND MOURNING I SAW A SMALL BOY SITTING
ON THE STEPS AT ONE OF THE EXITS FROM THE
BUILDING THAT HAD ACTUALLY FALLEN DOWN AROUND
HIM. HE HAD WALKED DOWN THE HALL AND USED THE
FIRST EXIT HE FOUND (I AM ASSUMING THIS). I
LOOKED HIM OVER FOR INJURIES AND ALL I FOUND WAS
A VERY SMALL PIECE OF GLASS N HIS SHIRT POCKET.
THATS HOW CLOSE HE CAME TO BEING KILLED. I
WANTED TO TRY TO CALL HIS MOTHER BUT HE HAD NO
IDEA WHAT IS NAME WAS. ONE OF THE ADULTS TOOK
HIM AWAY AND I NEVER SAW HIM AGAIN. WONDERING
ABOUT HIM HAS HAUNTED ME ALL THESE YEARS.
I WOULD GIVE ANYTHING TO KNOW WHO HE WAS AND GET
IN TOUCH WITH HIM IF POSSIBLE. DURING ALL OF THE
TIME I WAS NEAR HIM HE DIDNT UTTER A WORD. HE
DIDNT APPEAR TO BE FRIGHTENED. I DONT GUESS HE
REALLY KNEW AT THAT POINT WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO
HIM. I HAVE PRAYED MANY TIMES THAT HE WAS
I AM LIVING IN FREDERICKSBURG VIRGINIA AT 200=B
WHITE OAK ROAD, 22405---TELE.NO. 540-899-9864.
AS I REMEMBER I WAS THERE FOR ABOUT 18 HOURS. I
WAS `14 AT THE TIME AND I AM 82 NOW. IF THERE IS
ANY WAY I CAN BE OF ASSISTANCE TO YOU JUST LET
ME KNOW. HOWARD
The Johnson Brothers Sentinel PlusWednesday,
April 28, 2004
4/25 New London: Hope from the shadows
By EMILY TARAVELLA, Sentinel Staff
In March of 1937, 6-year-old Joe Johnson watched
through the window of his school bus as the New
London School exploded.
"It went up in the air in one piece," he said.
"Then it disintegrated."
Joe had just left the high school auditorium,
and he might well have been a victim if he had
stayed to play outside during the PTA meeting.
Instead, he got on the bus to go home.
So Joe lived.
But nearly 300 others died.
The New London explosion was one of the worst
disasters in this nation's history. It made
headlines across the globe and brought Walter
Cronkite to East Texas.
Sixty-seven years have passed since the tragedy,
and Joe Johnson's brother, Dr. Bobby Johnson, is
bringing the story to the stage.
"I was just a baby when it happened," Bobby
Johnson said. "But we all grew up in the shadow
of the explosion."
Joe remembers arriving home that fateful day.
"My mother was a woman given to hysterics," he
said. "She was out of her mind until she saw my
bus — until she saw me walking down the street."
Joe recalls that 18-month-old Bobby was in her
Johnye Johnson took her two sons to Oklahoma
until the initial horror of the disaster had
passed. Her husband, Harold Johnson, was among
the thousands of volunteers who dug through the
rubble searching for bodies.
Bobby Johnson believes his father was haunted by
the experience for the rest of his life. He
"When I conducted my first oral history project
on the East Texas oil boom in the summer of
1970, virtually no one would talk about the
disaster," Johnson said. "It was simply too
painful. An entire generation was lost."
Johnson touched on the explosion in a play he
wrote in the early 1990's: "East Texas
"The part about the explosion was the most
poignant part of the play," he said. "I've been
thinking about it ever since."
The explosion was traumatic and intense —
something Johnson kept in mind as he wrote the
But he didn't want to bring the story to stage
to sadden the audience. He wanted it to inspire
"I did try to end it on a positive note," he
The play examines why things happen, and Johnson
said he incorporated scripture from Psalms and
Lamp-lite Director Sarah McMullan will bring the
play to Lamp-Lite audiences in the Spring of
"This play will have about 25 actors, including
people of all ages," McMullan said. "Most of the
cast will be East Texas types, since the play is
set in New London."
In the process of writing this play, Johnson
studied with Jack Heifner, a successful East
Texas playwright, and SFA's playwright in
McMullan said the play is poignant.
"It's sad, but it puts things in perspective,"
she said. "It's religious. It deals with 'why'
tragedies happen, and how a person's faith can
grow out of a tragedy. It also examines why some
people die and others are spared. It finds a
purpose for the reasons things happen."
Johnson said his family continued to live in New
London until 1947. Joe Johnson still attends
reunions with his New London classmates, and
both brothers attended the dedication of a
memorial museum in New London several years ago.
Bobby Johnson wrote his play in "Raccoon Lodge,"
a custom-made writer's cabin in his back yard.
"It was not a chore," he said. "Though at times
it was emotional remembering my parents and some
gruesome events that we lived through. There's
not many laughs in this play."
At the end of the play one of Johnson's
characters quotes the Psalmist David saying,"
Where do shadows go?"
"Perhaps they reappear in some distant place,
like the echoes that linger long after the voice
is stilled," the character says. "Now I'm no
great theologian, but I am a man of faith, and
as sure as I'm standing here I believe that
those shadows come back to life in a better
McMullan calls the play "a story of hope."
Johnson said he has likely talked to 600 people
about this over the past 35 years. He conducted
about 25 formal interviews on which the play is
Emily Taravella's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
The following information came from www.nlse.org
In 1937 New London, Texas, in northwest Rusk
County, had one of the richest rural school
districts in the United States.
Community residents in the East Texas oilfields
were proud of the beautiful, modern,
steel-framed, E-shaped school building.
On March 18 students prepared for the next day's
Interscholastic Meet in Henderson.
At the gymnasium, the PTA met.
At 3:05 p.m. Lemmie R. Butler, instructor of
manual training, turned on a sanding machine in
an area which, unknown to him, was filled with a
mixture of gas and air. The switch ignited the
mixture and carried the flame into a nearly
closed space beneath the building, 253 feet long
and 56 feet wide.
Immediately the building seemed to lift into the
air and then smashed to the ground. Walls
collapsed. The roof fell in and buried its
victims in a mass of brick, steel and concrete
debris. The explosion was heard 4 miles away,
and it hurled a 2-ton concrete slab 200 feet
away, where it crushed a 1936 Chevrolet.
Fifteen minutes later, the news of the explosion
had been relayed over telephone and Western
Frantic parents at the PTA meeting rushed to the
school building. Community residents and
roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield came
with heavy-duty equipment. Within an hour
Governor James Allred had sent the Texas Rangers
and highway patrol to aid the victims.
Doctors and medical supplies came from Baylor
Hospital and Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled
Children in Dallas and from Nacogdoches, Wichita
Falls, and the United States Army Air Corps at
Barksdale Field in Shreveport, La. They were
assisted by sheriff's deputies from Overton,
Henderson, and Kilgore, by the Boy Scouts, the
American Legion, the American Red Cross, the
Salvation Army, and volunteers from the Humble
Oil Company, Gulf Pipe Line, Sinclair, and the
International-Great Northern Railroad.
Workers began digging through the rubble looking
for victims. Floodlights were set up, and the
rescue operation continued through the night as
Within 17 hours all victims and debris had been
taken from the site. Mother Francis Hospital in
Tyler canceled its elaborate dedication
ceremonies to take care of the injured. The
Texas Funeral Directors sent 25 embalmers.
Of the 500 students and 40 teachers in the
building, approximately 298 died. Some rescuers,
students and teachers needed psychiatric
attention, and only about 130 students escaped
serious injury. Those who died received
individual caskets, individual graves and
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