Tag Archives: Texas

Remembering the New London, Texas, Gas Explosion of 1937

John Davidson, head docent at the New London Museum, talks about some of the victims of the 1937 gas explosion at the school, including his sister, Ardyth. John was born three years after the explosion.

 

Twice a year, my mother and I visit my sister and her family in Texas, and we tour different areas of East Texas.  Last fall, I was fascinated to learn about the New London, Texas, school explosion of 1937, which killed more than 295 students and teachers. We visited the London Museum and cafe, which is across the street from the school complex that replaced the school destroyed in the explosion. It was so sad, especially to hear the story from John Davidson, a brother of one of the students killed in the blast. I can’t even imagine the pain that the community felt to lose almost a whole generation in one day.

On March 18, 1937, a natural gas leak caused an explosion, destroying the London School of New London, Texas, a community in Rusk County previously known as “London.” As of 2019, the event is the third deadliest disaster in the history of Texas, after the 1900 Galveston hurricane and the 1947 Texas City disaster. (From Wikipedia)

Northeastern Texas was a sleepy rural area until oil was discovered in 1930 in what turned out to be the second largest oil field in the United States outside of Alaska. The area suddenly boomed, attracting thousands of new workers and their families.  The area became very wealthy from oil, and a large new school complex was built to educate the children.

A model of the New London, Texas, school before the explosion.

By 1937, despite the Depression, the London Consolidated School District was very rich due to the “black gold” and provided well for its students, including sports uniforms, band instruments and buses.  Even so, despite this wealth, the school district decided to use a cheaper method to heat the school.

“Early in 1937, the school board canceled their natural gas contract and had plumbers install a tap into Parade Gasoline Company’s residue gas line to save money. This practice—while not explicitly authorized by local oil companies—was widespread in the area,” according to Wikipedia. “The natural gas extracted with the oil was considered a waste product and was flared off. As there was no value to the natural gas, the oil companies turned a blind eye. This “raw” or “wet” gas varied in quality from day to day, even from hour to hour.”

Natural gas is odorless and in 1937, natural gas was not treated with the “rotten egg” bad smell that is now added to make gas leaks noticeable. Gas built up throughout the school, and it’s thought that an electric sander ignited the gas, causing the massive explosion. The New London explosion prompted regulations to require a malodorant to be added to natural gas.  Carolyn Jones, a student survivor, led the crusade.

The gas explosion prompted the introduction of a malodorant in all natural gas. Natural gas doesn’t have a smell, which is why it can accumulate in dangerous amounts without warning.

Walter Cronkite, on his first major assignment, was one of the first to reach the scene of the explosion. He said of the experience: “I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.”

Thousands from throughout the world expressed their condolences, including Adolf Hitler, who was the German Chancellor at the time. Hitler send a telegram, a copy of which is on display at the London Museum. Ironically, oil from the East Texas oil fields was essential in fueling the U.S. military’s fight against the Nazis.

Survivors and their families meet every year now after years of not talking about the event.  In October 2018, I met John Davidson, head docent at the New London Museum, whose sister Ardyth was killed in the explosion.  Davidson said his parents said little about how his sister died. John Davidson is quoted in some of the articles linked below. The New London Museum is a fascinating look at the town, the history as well as the explosion. It’s officially called the London Museum because that was the name of the town when the explosion occurred. The town rebuilt the school complex, perhaps like a phoenix rising from the fire. Be sure to check out the slide show of photographs, which includes additional photographs.

The New London, Texas, school complex and the memorial to those who died in the 1937 explosion.

 

New London Museum Website.

About the New London School Explosion.

A Look Back at the New London, Texas, Gas Explosion.

About the East Texas Oil Field.

‘People Didn’t Talk About This’: New London, Texas Remembers The Day A Generation Died

Click on any thumbnail to start the slideshow.

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High Plains Traveler

Welcome to Dalhart, Texas.

In 2014, a friend and I drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico from Kansas City, traveling on two-lane highways in April. We took a different two-lane highway route on our return, including Route 66 and the Santa Fe Trail.

I’ve lived in the eastern half of Kansas most of my life, have traveled throughout the world, but there were many areas within a day’s drive or two of my house that I’d never seen.  It was a very enjoyable and fascinating trip. Although our primary destination was Santa Fe, I found the stark beauty of the High Plains on our route to be an unexpected pleasure.

In book club we recently read Timothy Egan’s  “The Worst Hard Time” about the Dust Bowl in the 1930s in southwestern Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, northeastern New Mexico and southeastern Colorado. which prompted me to revisit my photographs from that trip, which was a journey through that region. Although the area experienced a very harsh time, there is plenty to see of beauty and history to see there now.  We didn’t stay long, unfortunately, so I’d like to return and see more of the area, including the museum in Clayton, New Mexico. Perhaps, I could book a room in the historic Eklund Hotel, where my friend and I ate a delicious lunch in the beautifully decorated 19th century dining room. Another museum to visit would be the XIT Ranch Museum in Dalhart, Texas.

Click here to see photos of beautiful Hotel Eklund.

For more about the XIT Ranch Museum, click here.

Clayton, New Mexico, Grain Mill and Elevator Poster

Clayton, New Mexico, Grain Mill and Elevator

Oklahoma Panhandle Barber Shop Poster

Oklahoma Panhandle Barber Shop.

You’ll probably wait a long time for a haircut at this Oklahoma Panhandle Barber Shop, which seems to be permanently closed. In the background is a grain elevator. The stand alone building looks desolate, but next door is a thriving full service gasoline station next door that serves a busy highway.

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Historic Ben Wheeler, Texas

Pink Ben Wheeler, Texas, Hogfest Bus Photo Print

Pink Ben Wheeler, Texas, Hogfest Bus

Mailmen don’t usually get the attention they deserve. The founders of Ben Wheeler, a community in East Texas, did value its first mailman by naming the community for the man who carried the mail.

Benjamin (Ben) Wheeler, a late 19th century mailman, carried mail from the Van Zandt county seat of Canton to Edom, Texas.

In 1876, a post office was established in the home of George W. Clough.  This spot along the mail route was then named for Wheeler, who stopped to spend the night at Clough’s home on his route.  Clough’s house was about half-way between Canton and Edom.  At Clough’s, Wheeler also got water for his hard-working mail-carrier mule.  Clough later built the first store in Ben Wheeler, and he and his neighbors built a school house on his land.

 

 

The Ben Wheeler Pink Hog Bus has advertised the Ben Wheeler, Texas, HogFest by participating in the Tyler, Texas, Rose Festival Parade. Here is the bus when it drove in the 2011 parade.

Welcome to Historic Ben Wheeler Sign 24x10

Welcome to Historic Ben Wheeler Sign

 

Learn about the history of Ben Wheeler, Texas, and its many activities, including music and food and its annual Fall Hogfest, on the Ben Wheeler Official Website. Watch the video on the site, too! Ben Wheeler is known as the Best Hidden Small Town in Texas.

Ben Wheeler Facebook Page.

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Jacksonville, Texas — Tomato Capital of the World

Customized concrete tomatoes in Jacksonville, Texas, the “Tomato Capital of the World.”

Jacksonville, Texas, was once known as the Tomato Capital of the World in the 1930’s. The town still celebrates its tomato history with a Tomato Fest the second Saturday each June with many activities, including a tomato eating contest, tomato peeling contest, tomato packing contest, best home grown tomato contest, tomato archery — you get the picture! All things tomato. More than 200 vendors sell tomatoes.

A metal flamingo and a concrete tomato hang out at a Jacksonville, Texas, restaurant.

Visitors can take a tour of the at least 175 concrete tomatoes throughout the city, which were sold to businesses and other institutions in the city by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce to promote its tomato history.

It’s fun to see how each business and public office decorated its tomato, each of which weigh 665 pounds. A Dairy Queen tomato looks like an ice cream cone, a business with a tropical decor decorated its concrete tomato to look like a beach ball, the McDonald’s tomato looks like a box of french fries. Other businesses feature their logos on the tomato.

Love’s Lookout Park is north of Jacksonville, Texas, and is worth a visit, especially if you’re on your way to or from Tyler. The park features a landscaped rest stop, a great view and concrete tomatoes.

About Jacksonville, Texas, Tomato Fest.

See more tomatoes at Love’s Lookout Park, north of Jacksonville.
Love’s Lookout Park.

Jacksonville, Texas, Tomato Capital of the World.

Jacksonville, Texas, the Tomato Capital.

In the fall, this Jacksonville produce stand featured tomatoes along with pumpkins.

Click on the thumbnails to see a full size of each photo.

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The Hoggs of Texas

The Jim and Sallie Hogg Honeymoon Cottage is located in the Governor Jim Hogg Park in Quitman, Texas, which was the first home of Governor and Sallie Hogg (Sarah Ann Leannah Stinson).

Americans might not know the names of many governors from states other than their own, especially not from decades ago, but Governor James Stephen “Big Jim” Hogg (March 24, 1851 – March 3, 1906) of Texas could be an exception. Hogg was known to be a great governor, but non-Texans might recognize his name from the name he gave his only daughter: Ima.  Some joked that he had a second daughter named Ura, but Ima had only brothers, who had ordinary names — Will, Mike and Tom.

Ima’s name was taken from The Fate of Marvin, an epic poem written by her uncle Thomas Hogg.  Ima (July 10, 1882 – August 19, 1975) didn’t like her name, and had no middle name, so she often used only her first initial.   As soon as he heard of his new granddaughter’s odd name, Ima’s maternal grandfather raced to his son-in-law’s house to protest, but Ima had already been christened. She never married and kept her last name until she died.

Ima Hogg, around 1900, from Wikipedia.

Ima was known as “The First Lady of Texas.” She was an American society leader, philanthropist, patron and collector of the arts, and one of the most respected women in Texas during the 20th century,  Her father  was a lawyer, state attorney general and the 20th Governor of Texas.  He was the first Texas governor to have been born in Texas and was governor from 1891 to 1895.  I first thought of writing about Jim Hogg when I saw a highway named after him near Tyler, Texas, which I often visit.  Other places in Texas are named for him, too.

 Jim Hogg County in southern Texas is named after him.  There is a Jim Hogg Historic Site near Rusk, Hogg’s birthplace.

In 1906, Governor Hogg asked that a pecan tree be planted at his grave instead of a traditional headstone, requesting that the seeds be distributed throughout the state to make Texas a “Land of Trees”.  His wish was carried out and this brought more attention to pecan trees. In 1919, the 36th Texas Legislature made the pecan tree the state tree of Texas.  The Texas town of  San Saba claims to be “The Pecan Capital of the World.”

Governor Jim Hogg became his political career in Wood County, a county located in the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 census, the population was 41,964. Its county seat is Quitman. The county was named for George T. Wood, governor of Texas from 1847 to 1849.

Wood County Courthouse, Quitman, Texas.

 

To learn about the Hogg family’s contributions to the state of Texas, as well as what Ima thought about her unusual name, click on these links:

About Ima Hogg of Texas.

About Texas Governor Jim Hogg.

About Governor Jim Hogg Park in Quitman, Texas.

Jim Hogg Historic Site, Rusk, Texas.

About The Jim Hogg Highway, near Mineola, Texas.

Another famous name associated with Quitman, Texas, is the actress Sissy Spacek, who was born in the town and has a street there named after her.

A street in Quitman, Texas, is named for the actress Sissy Spacek, a native of the town.

Click on any thumbnail to see a larger size of the photo.

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That’s a Lot of Bull

Three cowboys round up bulls after their purchase at an auction in Texas.

Cow looking for relationship:  Loves sunset strolls in the pasture, adores hay breakfasts at dawn, enjoys afternoon naps in the shade of an oak tree, likes hanging out with my friends around the water tank.

Finding the right bull for a cattle herd isn’t quite as romantic as that.  Sale brochures list the bull’s assets, which include parentage, size of various body parts, weight and statistics on various aspects of parenting success.  Looks do count, too.

Livestock trailers are lined up at a cattle auction in Texas.

I recently went to a cattle auction at a ranch in northeast Texas, where about 80 bulls and 80 cows were auctioned.  Buyers can read the details about each bull and cow online, in addition to a large, informative brochure.  Each animal has its own video, which is displayed on several screens in the sale barn when the animal comes up for auction. The auction is a labor intensive endeavor, including the auctioneer staff, the barbecue lunch crew for the meal beforehand, people who create the extensive marketing materials, crew to care for the animals and cowboys to round up and load the animals.  Buyers come from hundreds of miles away.

Four auctioneers take bids at a cattle auction in Texas.

Bulls for sale at an auction in Texas.

 

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The Hottest Pepper in the World

The harvested crop of Carolina Reaper hot peppers are a brilliant scarlet. We’ve probably picked a peck of peppers, and there are more on the plants!

Last year, a friend gave my husband one Carolina Reaper hot pepper, considered to be among the hottest peppers in the world.  After my husband used the pepper very sparingly in chili and other dishes, he saved and planted the seeds.   The seeds sprouted and prospered.  He repotted the plants as they grew.  He kept four plants and gave away several more pots of pepper plants to friends and family, who said they liked hot peppers.  As the plants grew even larger, he gave away two more.  The remaining two plants produced enough hot peppers to destroy the taste buds of the population of our county.  The peppers didn’t seem to be as hot as the original pepper (the Scoville Scale link below explains why that might be the case), but they were still very hot — too hot for me!

Half of the ripe Carolina Reaper peppers have already been picked from these plants. Very prolific!

Many people do enjoy really hot peppers.  Last year, I attended (as an observer) the Hot Pepper Eating Contest in Palestine, Texas.  This year (2017), the Palestine Hot Pepper  Festival is Oct. 21. Links to the festival and my blog post about 2016’s festival are below.

The early growing stages of my husband’s Carolina Reaper hot pepper crop.

 

My husband kept four Carolina reaper plants, but eventually gave two more away. Like many pepper varieties, the Carolina Reapers start green, then turn yellow. In their ripe stage, they are a beautiful brilliant red color.

 

 

The City of Palestine, Texas, Hot Pepper Festival.

The Scoville Scale Measuring the Hotness of Pepper Varieties.

The Hottest Little Festival in Texas.

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