Recollections

William Judson Robertson


I am attaching a transcript of my father's account of the New London School explosion. My father 84 and is living in Groveton, Texas.
Barbara Robertson Hardison

[The following transcript is exactly as we received it. The words and phrasings are those of a man who lived through this terrible event in our history, and is sharing his recollections.]

Mary Etta and I, we married in February and we moved to a place there called the Hale Farm. It had one well and a three-room house. We didn’t have a car and hadn’t been there very long, and we didn’t know anything about the surrounding country. I was sitting there one day reading a magazine, and I heard an explosion. It scared me, and I jumped up and run to the back door.

There two 500 barrel tanks behind our house there, and I thought one of them had blown up, but it hadn’t. I run back, and up in the air was a lot of dust. This dust was coming from an explosion at the school. It was over behind some pine trees, about ¾ of a mile, and I didn’t know there was even a school there. It was one of the richest schools in that part of the country, because they had oil land of their own. This school had blown up because it was made with hollow bricks, and the Superintendent and the janitor cut off the Lone Star Gas Company’s gas and hooked onto a line they called a "drift line." This just went through the field picking up old gas and flaring it up at the Parade Refinery.

They left a leak in a union where it went through the wall, and several days the kids had been talking about having headaches. They complained about it and nobody paid much attention to it.

What happened was, a kid down in the basement - it wasn’t his fault - he plugged in a sander and caused a spark. That entire school blew up.

We stood around there a little bit, Mary and I did, and in a little bit we saw a kid come running up the road and we went out there and asked him, "What happened?" He said, "The school blew up."

Well, about that time - we lived on the road from Henderson to New London. There were fire trucks, ambulances, cars - every kind of vehicle - emergency vehicle - come by there at high speed. So we decided we’d walk up there, and we went up there it was a pretty bad mess. There was over 300 teachers and kids killed. I saw them pick up a roof there that - they picked this roof up that had fell down on over 20 kids and a teacher and killed them.

The Arp ambulance was a brand-new ambulance, and the school ground was terraced. The ambulance backed down in there and loaded a bunch of kids in there to take them to the hospital. When it went over that terrace, I saw blood run out the end of that thing. It was pretty bad. That was - everybody knew, of course, in a little while, and there was all kinds of things went on.

Humble Oil Company, the biggest oil company around there, they sent a man down there and told him, said, "Anybody that needs a funeral paid for, you pay for it." Gave him authority to pay for it from the Humble Oil Company. They came down there and they buried a lot of kids, and there was a lot of things went on. A lot of kids they didn’t find for a day or two.

There were some kids picked up the body and carried plumb to Jacksonville. Every funeral home around there was picking up bodies and taking them. Of course, they were in it for the money - it was a sad thing.

They buried one casket that had five body parts in it that they couldn’t identify. It was a pretty said thing. It tore up the whole community.

There was a fellow come down there - there was a spring close to the house Mary and I lived in. Real good water. People would come down there and get water. There was a guy come down there. He had two daughters in that explosion and one of them was killed outright. The other one came home. She didn’t look like she was hurt, but she just walked about two days kind of in a daze, and one day she just fell dead. Never did really know.

The superintendent that hooked up this gas line, he lost a daughter in that. So it was a pretty sad thing altogether.

One little-known fact is that Adolph Hitler sent flowers over there to the funeral to some kids. I don’t know which ones or anything like that, but he sent flowers over there. At that particular time, in 1936, he wasn’t known to be that mean.


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