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.
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
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
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
Life has since taken Etheredge to California,
where he retired. Dorsey remained in East Texas
and lives in Kilgore.
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
"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
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.
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
1812 Southwood Drive
Lufkin, Texas 75904
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The Barber, Maxwell and Lloyd are on the Vinson
Mrs. Lena J.