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.
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.
This is a slideshow of cats at the emergency tornado shelter annex in the care of the Joplin, Missouri, Humane Society. As of June 3, 2011, nearly 1,000 pets had been rescued and almost 300 had been reunited with their families. The shelter is caring for animals whose families are currently unable to house them along with those animals who are missing from or have lost their families.
In Joplin on May 22, a powerful EF5 tornado killed at least 138 people and injured more than 900 people, some critically. It also destroyed or damaged about 18,000 vehicles, more than 8,000 homes and 500 commercial properties, which was about 30 percent of the town. Among the buildings damaged was a hospital that employed 1,700 people. The tornado was the deadliest single tornado in more than sixty years in the United States.
The YouTube slideshow above includes photos published by Joplin Humane Society on June 1 to give the public an inside view of the facility’s cattery section. Thanks to Life With Cats TV for the information. For links on how you can donate click on Joplin Tornado Cats.
Wayside Waifs is a Kansas City, Missouri, no-kill animal shelter. Staff members and volunteers from Wayside Waifs helped with the animal rescue and brought some of the animals who had already awaited homes in Joplin before the tornado to the Wayside Waifs shelter.
On June 1, the Joplin Humane Society director detailed the massive operation that took place. Below are excerpts from that letter. Many of the people helping were also dealing with the loss of family members and their homes and businesses.
“I can’t thank everyone enough for their offers to help and words of
encouragement. Many of you have offered assistance and asked what you can
do. Here’s an update:
Our shelter was not hit and we are intact. The ASPCA (I will refer them
here on out as the A) had their emergency response team on the ground THE
NEXT MORNING! One of JHS’s benefactors owns the property next door and
there are three empty warehouses. I called them and they were more than
willing to allow the use of those warehouses…
We just put the third warehouse into use to house the animals. There are pictures up on our facebook page which can be found by going to our website:
At my and the A’s request, American Humane Association (AHA) deployed a team to help us out at the emergency shelter and at JHS so my staff can rotate a
day off. HSUS teams are also here at our request. PETPOINT sent a team out
immediately and they are taking care of all of the documentation of the
almost 600 animals we have received since Monday. We are at real time in
putting pictures up on our website. I’m guessing it will hit 600 today. We
have reunited more than 150 pets with their families.
Petsmart Charities sent two tractor trailer loads of supplies and equipment
so the emergency shelter could be set up and we are prepared to handle up to
1200 animals. We have everything from goldfish, hermit crabs, birds, boas,
33 chickens, rabbits, you name it!
We called regional shelters to empty the JHS (Joplin Humane Society) shelter
of adoptable animals so we could use ours for tornado victims. The triage
center is at JHS and we have had an army of volunteer vets taking care of
injured animals. JHS is also the hospital ward.
We are contracted with 17 municipalities and already intake about 12,000
animals each year so the surrounding areas keep bringing in more animals who
are not tornado animals. We are continuing to send them out to other
shelters as their stray hold expires.
We are so grateful to all of the national groups that have responded, all
the local groups who have helped, the food and supply companies that have
equipped the operations and all of the wonderful people who have offered and
actually come in to help. We are humbled and so appreciative.
I think we have enough supplies at the moment. Truckloads of food have
arrived along with sheltering supplies and droves of volunteers. We are
opening a food and supply bank for families affected by the tornado. What
we need now is money for medical supplies and equipment.
Some wonderful, anonymous person sent a swamp cooler for the warehouse.
That was met with applause as the warehouses are heating up. We have lots of
industrial fans but warm air is warm air.”
The director, who lost a step-daughter to the tornado, asked “So many in Joplin have lost so much. If you pray, please
pray for them.”
June 17, 2011, update on status of animals at the Joplin Humane Society, from the AP:
900 pets still homeless after Joplin tornado
By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER and JIM SALTER
The Associated Press, June 17, 2011
JOPLIN, Mo. | Hundreds of dogs and cats peer out from their cages at the Joplin Humane Society, some with cuts, infections and broken bones from the deadly tornado that turned their lives, like those of their owners, upside down.
Since the tornado, the Humane Society has found itself overflowing with animals, with about 900 now calling the shelter home — three times its usual inventory. One way or another, the pets became separated from their owners in the chaotic aftermath of the May 22 twister that tore through this town, killing 153 people. In some cases, the owners — scrambling to find housing for themselves after 7,000 homes were destroyed, leaving nearly one-third of the city’s 50,000 residents homeless — have simply given up their pets.
But the Joplin Humane Society is determined to find a home for every cat and dog. To that end, it plans an “Adopt-a-thon” the weekend of June 25-26, when animals that haven’t been claimed by their owners will be given away free to good homes, after being spayed and neutered.
“The reality is, a lot of these people aren’t in a position to come get these animals,” said Joplin native Tim Rickey, a field investigator for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “They’ve lost everything.”
Executive director Karen Aquino said it’s not that the Humane Society hasn’t tried to find the owners.
“We feel we’ve exhausted every avenue to get the word out,” Aquino said. “We’ve placed 250 yard signs. We have posters at food and donation distribution points, public service announcements on radio and TV, ads in the newspaper — everything we could think of to let people know their pets might be here if they’re missing.”
To handle the additional cats and dogs, the organization fixed up two vacant warehouses next to the shelter into air-conditioned kennels. A gravel parking lot outside a former used appliance store has been converted into an owner’s waiting room, with plastic chairs and Polaroid snapshots of unnamed animals stuffed into thick three-ring binders.
Aquino said none of the pets left homeless by the tornado will be euthanized.
“If all of them aren’t adopted, we’ll start looking to rescue organizations and ways to get some of them to larger cities, where they have a better chance at adoption,” she said.
More than 100 volunteers from across the country, many from other shelters, are in Joplin helping out — cleaning cages, providing veterinary care and exercising the animals. On most days, a half-dozen veterinarians are at the shelter tending to the wounded.
The work is exhausting, the plight of the animals sad. But spirits are buoyed by good news, such as the recent story of a cat found alive by its owner 16 days after the tornado.
“We’ve heard some amazing stories,” Aquino said. “Animals are pretty resilient.”
When Steven and Debbie Leatherman found their lost dog, Sugar, at the shelter, her back legs were paralyzed. Someone had apparently dropped off the 10-year-old cocker spaniel after finding her in a drainage ditch and about to drown. The University of Missouri said the Leathermans’ son, Daniel, drove the dog to its veterinary hospital in Columbia, where veterinarians performed spinal surgery that gave Sugar back the use of her legs.
But some owners, such as 47-year-old Linda Head, still haven’t been able to find their pets. Since the storm, Head has been looking for 2-year-old Isabel, a Labrador/Great Pyrenees mix, and 5-year-old Puddles, a cockapoo.
Both dogs hunkered down with Head, her 23-year-old son and a third dog, Max, in and around a bathtub in their home that was obliterated by the tornado. Head lost Puddles when the dog jumped through the shattered window of a car as Head’s son was driven to seek medical care. Max also jumped out in the tumult, but he turned up nearly two weeks later at a Kansas veterinarian’s office. Isabel hasn’t been seen since the tornado, though Head’s hopes were briefly buoyed when a neighbor thought he saw the dog running loose. He was mistaken.
Head visits the shelter twice a week, hoping her dogs will turn up.
“Honey, when I left here the first time, I bawled all the way home,” Head said during a recent visit to the shelter. “I’ll bawl all the way home today, because I don’t have my buddies.”