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After the ashes - 65 years later, survivors reflect on school tragedy
Houston Chronicle ^ | JIM HENDERSON

Posted on 03/17/2002 2:07:17 PM PST by ValerieUSA

NEW LONDON -- Marie Challis, 73, doesn't complain about the arthritis that has gnarled her right hand and restricted the movement of her arm.
"It was just all those broken bones," she shrugs.
She's grateful to still have the arm that was crushed along with her leg and pelvis in the explosion 65 years ago, grateful to still have the eye that popped out of its socket; too grateful to be alive to complain.
Behind her, the front window of the London Museum and Tea Room frames a towering granite monument where the names of nearly 300 dead children are inscribed.
Nobody knows exactly how many others died that day, but Marie Challis knows that but for a few paces she and her sister would have been among them.
Because of a family emergency, her mother had picked her up at another school early that day and then sent her into the London School to get her sister out of class shortly before dismissal.
"We left her classroom and were walking down the hall, near the auditorium, when it happened," she says. "Everyone in that classroom was killed."

Sixty-five years after the school was reduced to rubble by a massive natural gas explosion, many of the survivors are able to talk about it with a certain detachment, to exchange fragments of memory of what remains the worst schoolhouse disaster in American history.
At 3:20 p.m. on March 18, 1937, a shop teacher at the nearly new, $1 million school built to accommodate a booming population drawn to Rusk County by an oil drilling frenzy, flipped the switch on a power tool and an electrical spark ignited 6,000 cubic feet of natural gas that had leaked from a pipeline, accumulated beneath the foundation and slowly seeped into the building.
In an instant, the walls of the two-story building blew outward, the roof was propelled upward and then crashed back to earth.

"We don't really know how many students were enrolled there," says Mollie Ward, a survivor who now runs the museum that houses relics and mementos of the tragedy. "We know from county records that 1,387 (students) were in the district on September 1. But that was during the Depression and there was a big oil boom here. People were flooding in every day and a lot of those records were destroyed."
Whatever the school's population, it was large enough to render a death toll unlike anything Texas had seen since the great Galveston hurricane of 1900.
Thousands of workers, most from nearby oil rigs and many from as far away as Dallas, began picking through the wreckage within minutes of the explosion, pulling mangled and dismembered bodies from beneath tons of debris. Churches, warehouses, schools and other available buildings as far away as Tyler were turned into makeshift hospitals and morgues. Parents went from venue to venue looking for their children, often able to identify them only by their clothing or personal items found in their pockets.

Doctors, overwhelmed by the workload, treated those they deemed salvageable and left the more critically injured to perish.
Marie Challis (her name was Beard then), an 8-year-old second-grader, was among the latter.
Unconscious from a concussion, she was removed from the rubble and placed in a bread truck that was one of many vehicles pressed into service to haul away the dead and injured.
"They put me and a little boy named Billy in that truck," she says, relying on accounts later told by her mother. "They thought we were dead and they started piling children on top of us. They unloaded us at a funeral home and went back to get more."
A Methodist preacher named R.L. Jackson, walking through the mortuary trying to help identify the victims, heard someone whimper. He felt Marie's heartbeat and then saw Billy move. He placed them in his car and drove to a hospital in Overton, where, again, they were placed with the growing number of dead children.
"Aren't you going to help?" the preacher asked a doctor.
"No, they can't live," the doctor said.....

TOPICS: Miscellaneous; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: 300dead; anniversary; explosion
There is more to the story -- follow the link
1 posted on 03/17/2002 2:07:17 PM PST by ValerieUSA
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To: Alkhin; MeeknMing
2 posted on 03/17/2002 4:26:45 PM PST by ValerieUSA
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To: ValerieUSA
WOW ... what a story .. I had never heard of this before... thanks for the post
3 posted on 03/17/2002 6:36:16 PM PST by Mo1
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To: ValerieUSA
4 posted on 03/17/2002 9:22:39 PM PST by MeekOneGOP
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5 posted on 03/18/2002 4:47:08 AM PST by ValerieUSA
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To: ValerieUSA

got a 404

6 posted on 03/14/2007 5:25:33 PM PDT by Charlespg (Peace= When we trod the ruins of Mecca and Medina under our infidel boots.)
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To: ValerieUSA

This must be a five year old article. 1937 was seventy years ago, not 65.

7 posted on 03/14/2007 5:47:49 PM PDT by exit82 (Defend our defenders--get off the fence.)
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