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  Recollections/Emails (Page 16)
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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.
 
     
     
 
 
  Eduardo Vento  
     
  Memories of the 1937 London School explosion
By Eduardo Vento
Longview News & Journal Longview, Texas
March 18, 2001
 
     
  For many years, Amos S. Etheredge couldn't remember the name of the girl who sat in front of him in math class at the London School. It was that girl he helped to safety March 18, 1937, after a natural gas explosion jarred the entire campus. That explosion killed more than 300 people.

The blast's force caused the roof over Etheredge's math class to cave in. He escaped serious injury, but the girl in front of him, Doris Beasley Dorsey, was trapped underneath the rubble. She suffered a fractured skull and lost hearing in her left ear.

"I just remember waking up under some debris and I couldn't move," Dorsey recalled Saturday at a reunion assembly at West Rusk High School. "I heard some boys talking, and I called for them." Etheredge answered, helping Dorsey get out from under the debris. Both jumped from the second-floor classroom to safety.

Investigators found the explosion was caused by a gas leak from the school's gas-steam radiators.

Life has since taken Etheredge to California, where he retired. Dorsey remained in East Texas and lives in Kilgore.

It's been almost 64 years since the explosion. For 62 of those years, the two never realized the past they shared. It was at the London Ex-Students Reunion and Memorial Association gathering in 1999 that Etheredge and Dorsey finally made the connection. "We were just talking about (that day), and I mentioned (somebody) had helped me and he said, ‘That was me!’, Dorsey said. "It was just fun knowing it was him and being able to meet like that (after all that time)."

The two now ensure that they see each other every two years, when the reunions are held. But talking about the explosion at the reunions isn't always high on Etheredge's list. Though he remembers where he was and what he was doing when the explosion occurred, he said he'd rather talk about good times - such as how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren people have.

"I was sitting in my math class leaning over my desk ready to work on a math problem," Etheredge said. "It (the explosion) blew the whole end of the building off. But we just don't talk about it much. It's not that we don't want to, we just think there is no need for it."

Dorsey's and Etheredge's story is just one of many the explosion survivors have. Like Etheredge and Dorsey, Dorothy Box and Pearl Holbert share an experience from that day. Both were working in the school library checking out books when the blast occurred. "I was knocked under a counter. ... And a steel filing cabinet that was behind me (tipped over)," Box said. "That cabinet shielded me from the roof (debris)."

But Box said she wasn't able to get out from underneath the counter, and when she called for Holbert, she got no response. That's because Holbert also was under debris. "I felt a tremor underneath my feet. ... Then I was covered with cement blocks," Holbert said. "I felt guilty about not answering (Box) ... but it (cement dust) was like smoke. I just couldn't make a sound."

Holbert finally was able to free herself, and when finding a way out went back to help her friend. Both made it out without serious injuries. However, Holbert's 12-year-old sister died in the explosion, as did Etheredge's older sister.
 
     
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  Allen Earl Vinson from an email April 20, 2006   
     
  I am an 82-year old retired East Texas broadcaster. For over 40 years, I worked in Lufkin, Longview, Palestine, Jacksonville, Tyler, Midland, and Atlanta, all in Texas. Later was sales manager of Southwest CATV, serving fourteen towns in the Texas Valley. I now reside in my hometown, Lufkin. After retirement, I worked ten years in the Burke Center, a state MH/MR facility. The perfect end for a career in broadcasting.


Al Vinson
1812 Southwood Drive
Lufkin, Texas 75904
E-mail: radioalv@consolidated.net

My cousin, Melvin Vinson, retired in Dallas, TX.

This story, from my memory, is dedicated to my cousin, Mary Emily Lloyd  who lost her life in the New London School explosion in 1937.

It was spring, 1937, and I was on my bike, delivering papers in Southwest Lufkin. I had just finished delivery , and circled over to South First Street, when I saw an unusual sight.

At that time, the two lane Highway 59 from Houston traveled directly through downtown Lufkin on First Street. It continued north to Nacogdoches, Henderson and other points.

As I approached South First Street, I noticed several ambulances painted olive green travelling north. I thought perhaps it was part of an army convoy, but that seemed out of place in 1937, especially so early in the year. Several panel trucks came through with the Red Cross symbol on their doors. It was the middle of March, and the convoys were expected early in the summer. Once a year, large Army convoys came through the city enroute to Palacios, on the Texas coast, for summer maneuvers. This was always publicized in advance, and large crowds would turn out to see the trucks, tanks and fatigue-clad soldiers.

But on this day, the ambulances came through without escort and in a fairly irregular pattern. Nothing really spectacular about it, just not routine, but definitely noticeable on Lufkin's main thoroughfare. Then occasionally, I saw funeral home hearses in the line of traffic.

I returned home, before I found an explanation for the strange parade. My dad was home at 4:30 PM, and that was most unusual. He worked twelve hour days. Dad explained that a terrible thing had taken place at the New London school, and that he and my mother were going there to be with them. When I told him that I had seen Army ambulances on First Street, heading north, he said people from all directions were going to London to help. I went inside to stay with my brother and grandmother, as dad drove away at high speed. That, too, had never happened before.

We were not to hear from Mother and Dad until late the following night. I remember, as soon as I went inside the house, after they drove away, I tuned the radio to 820 kilocycles. That was the magic number in this area for news. It was WFAA, a clear channel radio station that offered remarkable coverage. Since very few stations were on the air in 1937, WFAA had an excellent signal in Lufkin. The instant the tubes were warm in the set, the news was on, without interruption. We heard the news of a devastating explosion at New London High School, with early reports of many dead and injured. The scene of destruction was being described by newscasters in Dallas throughout the night. They didn't have mobile units, satellite trucks or two- way radios in that era. Most of the reports were on-the-scene descriptions called in by reporters on the telephone. These calls were made from pay phones near the scene, and were occasionally interrupted by an operator asking the reporter to please deposit more money. Although the reporters were hard to hear clearly on these long distance calls, they left no doubt that massive destruction was being observed. At home, we began to really have concerns.

My grandparents, R. J. (Bob) and Musia Vinson, lived on what had been a farm, just four miles from the New London community and school complex. I say "had been a farm" because the farm had become an oil field. Over twenty wells had been drilled on the homeplace, and that left little room for a farming operation.

One of Dad's sisters, Annie Lloyd, had a daughter and son in school in New London. Aunt Annie and her husband, Emory Lloyd lived on a farm just a few miles from the Vinson place. The daughter, Mary Emily, was in high school and their son, Kenneth, was in the elementary school located maybe fifty yards north of the high school. Earlier, I called the school a "complex." Well, that it was. In those days, two buildings was a complex. Oil money had come to East Texas, and funded a brand new building for both the high school and the elementary programs.

The more news we heard that night, the worse things seemed to be. The count of children failing to return to their homes was now mounting. So often, when disaster occurs, the original reports seem to exaggerate the toll. But in this case, because New London was a small community without major medical facilities, the injured and deceased, were being carried, likely by those same ambulances and hearses I had seen that afternoon, to Tyler, Henderson, Longview, Gladewater, Kilgore and other surrounding towns.

Unknown to us at that time, my father, uncles and friends, were conducting a search for Mary Emily in hospitals, makeshift morgues and funeral homes. The search also continued at the scene as workers removed tons of debris. One blessing, Dad had four brothers and four sisters, and they formed a strong fortress of support . They suffered together, as well.

According to WFAA, the school had literally blown apart, leaving partial rooms open to the front, and only portions of the back wall and south wall standing. Concrete slabs bigger than a car had been blown free of the high school. Debris piled high on lower floor classrooms. Emergency workers, aided by oil field workers, were using heavy equipment to clear areas to be searched. Chaos reigned through the night, and the days and nights to follow, as these heroic men desperately searched the wreckage for victims.

The following night, Mother and Dad returned to Lufkin. It was obvious the news was bad. Mother took my younger brother and me to our room, and told us that they had found Mary Emily, and that she had died in the explosion. Dad didn't talk to us that night, but the following day he said we would all go to see Aunt Annie, Uncle Emory and Kenneth on Sunday. Kenneth, a student in the adjacent elementary school, had been in a classroom facing the high school, and while debris from the explosion came into his room, he was thankfully uninjured. Looking back now, I cannot say that any of that dear family was ever the same.

I saw the school building on Sunday, following a visit to the Lloyd home to pay our respects. Dad said he thought this should assure my brother and me that we had many blessings and should be thankful for our blessings and safety every day. We were overwhelmed with the loss of our dear Mary Emily, but I think I found a new way to look at life on that Sunday afternoon in New London. And in looking back to that scene, it definitely helped me accept some of the views of disaster I was to see later in life, in World War Two and in my own radio news coverage of disasters.

The New London story, by now, is known to all. That was sixty five years ago. The toll was nearly 300 killed and scores injured. The cause was a buildup of natural gas in the hollow tile walls of the school building, ignited by an electrical spark. It was after this horrible explosion that legislation was passed to add an odor to natural gas. This would let people detect the fumes when present.

The Neal family, who lived just up the pine covered red clay hill from my grandparents, lost a daughter. She was a teacher at New London. In accounts I heard then, she had complained of a headache most of the day, and about thirty minutes before classes were to end, she went across the highway to get a coke and aspirin from a small store. The men at the store said she had just reached for the door at the moment of the explosion.

Today there is a country church at Pleasant Hill. Not even a community any longer. And then there was a small cemetery, now large for a country place of rest. My family and I, attended Mary Emily Lloyd's funeral at Pleasant Hill cemetery a few days after the disaster.

Three or four family processions passed her grave as final rites were said. And because all funeral homes were totally overwhelmed, each family was responsible for carrying their loved ones to the cemetery. The coffins were transported in station wagons and pick-up trucks, and moved to the graveside on the shoulders of the pall bearers. In the evergreen pine thicket behind the church, a trumpeter played "Taps" after each service. Every time I pass that way, I can hear the mournful sound of that trumpet among the pines.

These are our cousins from his Mother's family (Hunt) and from the Vinson family.

The Hunts, Harringtons and Johnson are on the Hunt side.

The Barber, Maxwell and Lloyd are on the Vinson side.

Louise Maxwell
Henry Maxwell
Blondell Maxwell
Kenneth Johnson
Ruby Hunt
Mrs. Lena J.
Charles Hunt
Ollie Barber
Arden Barber
Mary Harrington
Betty Harrington

 
     
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