DAR chapter learns details of New London School disaster

Dinkins Chapter DAR member Judy Carpenter gives guest speaker Fred Parsons a certificate of appreciation.
Dinkins Chapter DAR member Judy Carpenter gives guest speaker Fred Parsons a certificate of appreciation.

The Samuel Paul Dinkins Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution held their January 2017 meeting on Jan. 14at the Meadowbrook Golf and Event Center.

Regent Sylvia Nelson called the meeting to order and led members in the opening ritual. Pledges were given to the American and Texas flags. The American Creed was read in unison and the national anthem was sung. Chaplain Evelyn Banda gave the opening prayer.

Carroll Bolton introduced guest speaker Fred Parsons. Parsons spoke on “The New London School Explosion” tragedy.

During the late 1930s, New London had one of the richest rural school districts in the country. Because of the Depression, poverty stricken families came from all over the United States looking for work in the oil field and the best school for their children. The New London School, because of revenue from 15 oil wells on the district property, was considered the best.

At 3:17 p.m. on March 18, 1937, a natural gas leak caused an explosion, destroying the New London School. On that day, the instructor of manual training turned on an electric sander. A spark from the sander’s switch ignited the natural gas-air mixture. The force of the explosion lifted the building and then it crashed back down and the main wing of the building collapsed.

Oilfield workers came from miles around to dig through the rubble looking for survivors. Roughnecks brought in heavy equipment to help with the removal of the debris. The rescue continued through the night. Hospitals filled up quickly with the injured.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a statement asking the Red Cross and all the government agencies to come to the aid the victims.

Of the 500 students and 40 teachers present that day, approximately 298 died and approximately 300 were injured. It was impossible to determine an accurate number of deceased, because some families were so devastated that they immediately moved from the community. The stories of survivors are heartbreaking. Although they survived, they had survivor’s remorse, because of friends and family who were lost in the tragedy.

Because the explosion was so hurtful to the community it was not a topic of conversation for a number of years. The physical and mental devastation was so great no one wanted to talk about it. It was 40 years before there was a reunion of the explosion survivors.

Parsons invites everyone to visit the New London Museum and see the monuments dedicated to the victims. A large granite cenotaph on the median of Texas State Highway 42, across from the school site, erected in 1939, commemorates the disaster. The museum keeps the names of those lost from being forgotten.

Following the program, the business meeting was held. Virginia Wallace read the minutes of the previous meeting. They were approved as corrected. Debra Albertson reported the treasury balance and activity and it was accepted as presented.

Judy Carpenter gave the National Defense Report. She presented the words of General Vo Ngugen Giap, Commander in Chief of the Vietnamese Army, from his memoir “How We Won the War.’’

Members in attendance: Dorothy Brooks, Virginia Wallace, Judy Carpenter, Carole Culver, Francye Phillips, Debra Albertson, Elaine Hall, Sylvia Nelson, Evelyn Banda, Mary Layne Douglas, Karlene Gunn, Carroll Bolton, Merian Eakin, Sue Brown, Gretta Sharp. Hostesses were Jan Mobley, Rachel Brian and Liz Lockhart. Guest present was Joe Eakin.