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  Recollections/Emails (Page 10)
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  Contributors  
     
  Abercrombie, Clotiele B.
Abercrombie, Loyd D. Sr.
Abercrombie, Virgie Blalock

Armstrong, John
Bain, Pamela
Bento, Lola
Box, Dorothy Womack
Campbell, Lu
Holbert, Pearl Shaw
Challis, James E. "Ike"
Cole, Beaver
Coleman, Howard
Cronkite, Walter
Degnan, Julie E.
Duch, Greg
Erikson, Charles Henry
Ezell, Alta Reigh
Farrell, Hal
Gregory, Doug
Grenley, Martha Rogers
Grigg, Horace
Grigg, William N.
Hannon, Bill
Harris, Howard
Johnson, Joe and Bobby
Kronjaeger, Jim
Lester, George
Lester, George - Playmates
Lummus, Darlene
Lummus, Don
Martinez, Nelma Cummins
Mayhew, Bessie
McAllister, Mark

Meissner, J. Raymond
Moody, Mildred
Motley, Pete
Nelson, Ron
Plant, Sally
Platton, Mike
Read, Osceola Jefferson
Robertson, William Judson
Robinson, Jimmie Jordan
Mack Thornton Rogers
Ryan, Terri Jo
Seacrist, Debra
Shaw, Marjorie
Stanley, Glenda G.
Taylor, Bob
Taylor, Jim
Thompson, Bill
Vail, Mary Lechtenberg
Vento, Eduardo
Vinson, Allen Earl
Vinson, Melvin
Williams, William B.
 
     
     
 
 
  George Lester  
     
  THE PHOENIX BIRD OF TEXAS
by George Lester
TexasEscapes.com
Wednesday, March 7, 2004
 
     
  Recently I took a trip to New London, Texas, the site of one of the most horrific disasters in history, to visit the museum. In 1937, the school was using natural gas from the oil fields surrounding the town. In its original state the vapor had no odor at all. When a leak occurred, no one knew about it until it was too late. Just before school let out for the day and parents were lined up to take the children home, the building exploded. Over three hundred children and adults died that day, and hundreds more were injured. I learned that our museum guide was a survivor of that fateful event. As she talked to us, my memory went back many years.

I was a member of the Union Grove High School band that made a trip to New London. We were there to participate in a band festival being held at their football stadium. As we were waiting in the parking lot for our turn to enter the stadium, the New London band marched up beside us and came to a halt. On the trip over, all the talk on the bus centered on the explosion and the horror it wreaked on the community. Each student had a story to relate. Not only were we awestruck by the magnitude of our historical journey, now we were standing right next to the New London High School band. Trying our best not to stare, we could not help but study the individuals and wonder what each had experienced that terrible day. As we scanned the band members, we noticed some had evidence of severe burns on their visible skin, others had deep scars showing, and some had limbs or digits missing. The compassion that flowed out to them was tangible. The picture lingered with us long after the band festival was over. Until then we had only read about the explosion or heard it chronicled by word of mouth numerous times. That day it became real.

The New London School sustained almost total destruction that horrible day. The events immediately after were described later in the newspapers. In a matter of hours, clean-up crews came from everywhere to start clearing out the debris and to search for survivors and, sadly, the ones who didn't survive. Before midnight the area had been virtually transformed. Hundreds of trucks had hauled off the rubble, and now very little evidence of the detonation remained. While they still were still grieving, the citizens pulled together and rebuilt the school at a seemingly impossible pace. Like the phoenix bird, life had sprung from the ashes once again.

For the young, time seems to move at a different pace. That day, as our band observed our counterparts standing next to us, I thought of the explosion as being long, long ago in the distant past. While reminiscing at the museum, it dawned on me. Less than three years had separated the two events.

George Lester
Reprinted by permission
 
     
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  George Lester - PLAYMATES  
     
  Kilgore, Texas during the oil boom was a prime example of chaos. Oil wells, as close together as hair on a dog's back, appeared in every direction. The muddy streets were clogged with stuck vehicles of every kind. Tent cities sprang up right next to old established neighborhoods, often causing social conflict. I witnessed such an incident as a child. My mother and I were visiting a family friend, whose house overlooked a sea of tents just across the street, in Kilgore. As the grownups socialized, I ventured into the forbidden territory of canvas houses. It didn't take long for me to find a friendly family with a boy and a girl about my age. We hit it off immediately, and the time seemed to fly by. Too soon, I heard my mother calling me for lunch. I waved a reluctant goodbye to my newfound friends and told them I would be back I bolted down my food and dashed out the door to continue my interrupted play. Our host lady stopped me at the door, saying, "You shouldn't be mingling with those shanty town kids. Find some nice children to play with." At my tender age I had no idea what she meant by "nice children." I thought these two were just great, and I was very disappointed to be denied their company.

I sat on her front porch, staring over into their domain, feeling sad, and wishing I could rejoin them. After awhile they came walking down the street in front of the house, carrying an empty can. "We're going to the store. Come go with us," they invited. I sprang up and started to join them, and then I remembered what I had been told by the grownup. I wish I could remember exactly what kind of excuse I gave them.

After my mother and I returned home, we received a letter from our Kilgore host. I'll never forget her words. "Remember those children Eddie played with while you were here? Well, their mother sent them to the store to buy some kerosene, and they must have mistakenly asked for gasoline. When the mother tried to start a fire in the cook stove, it exploded, and all three of them were burned to death."

I hope that, when I declined their invitation to play with them, I chose words that were discreet and kind. I would give anything to know for sure.

George Lester
Reprinted by permission
 
     
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  Mark McAllister  
     
  My mother witnessed the explosion from about 100 feet away.  
     
  Genevieve Langham was a primary school music teacher, 20 years old, in her first year of teaching. She and another teacher, Myrtle Braswell, were walking toward the main building a few minutes after three. They were headed for the PTA meeting, apparently unaware that the meeting was not being held in the usual location - the high school auditorium - but rather in the gymnasium behind the main building. When they neared the building "Myrt" realized she forgot her coat and went back for it while my mother stood and waited. (Myrt only wanted the cigarettes in the pocket, my mother said later. They were roommates and best friends.) My mother was not injured when the building blew, but she has never been able to describe her immediate impressions.

She was the regular organist at the New London Methodist Church, and played for thirteen consecutive funerals on March 20. Many years later she gave me her autographed copy of "Living Lessons of the New London Explosion" which was written by the church pastor R.L. Jackson.

She continued to teach at New London after the explosion and met Bill McAllister, a chemical engineer working for Hanlon Pipe Line Company, in 1940. They married in 1941 and lived in Overton. I was born in 1944 in Dayton, Ohio at Wright Patterson Field where my father was a test pilot. We lived in New London after the war for a couple of years, but I have no memory of those times. My boyhood was spent in an oil camp northeast of Gladewater, where my father was appointed superintendent of a gasoline plant in 1947. So I'm definitely an East Texas boy.
 
     
 
     
  Genevieve Langham   Myrtle Braswell  
 
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