March 18, 1937
The Day The Clock Stood Still
When I was in television, I wore many hats. One such hat was as a video photographer. In 1973, I was privileged to be one of the photographers for a 30 minute documentary that was being produced by Michael Brown for KLTV, Channel 7 about the New London explosion. It was entitled, "New London: The Day The Clock Stood Still". We researched and photographed for days. We interviewed survivors of the incident and talked with several eyewitnesses.
Men, women and children died in that blast which originated in the basement of the school. Natural gas filled the basement undetected from a pipe believed to be exposed from a first floor auditorium. Through interviews with some of the survivors, we found that as children entered the auditorium, they would kick the pipe eventually causing it to crack and leak into the basement below. Another theory is that since the New London School tapped into and used waste gas from nearby oil wells for heating, pressure was not regulated properly which caused the pipes in the basement to leak. The explosion was later ignited by a spark from a person using an electric sander in shop class. Almost all of the
Immediately after the explosion, everyone in the community rushed to the scene to try and help. School buses took the surviving children to their neighborhoods only to greet tearful mothers waiting, hoping to see if their child would step off the bus. Many didn't. Volunteers and workmen from the east Texas oil fields started digging through the rubble trying to find survivors. These men were also fathers and sadly, many found what they were looking for, the broken bodies of their children.
A temporary morgue was set up near the school as well as nearby Overton and Henderson. Many burials were made in the local Pleasant Hill cemetery that to this day, still symbolize the great loss that families endured. Many of the grave sites display porcelain pictures of the victims. Marbles that were once played with were pushed into the cement border outlining the graves. Epitaphs on the grave markers were etched with phrases trying to comfort as best they can.
It's estimated that 294 people died that day.
As March rolls around each year, I am again reminded of the horror, the suffering and the magnificent courage that was displayed.
It was the day a generation died. A day that whole families were changed forever. A day the clock stood still. For many years, survivors couldn't talk about it, the pain was too horrific. But now stories are being told and memories relived for the purpose of healing. This website page was created in memory of those who died on that fateful day...and for those who survived.
- Robert "Trip" Hilliard