East Texans remember lives lost in New London School explosion

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OVERTON, Texas (KETK) – Friends and members of the McMillan Memorial Library community gathered for a presentation and lunch to inform and discuss the tragic events of March 18, 1937.

That day, an explosion occurred at New London School in Rusk County, killing 298 students and teachers.

It is known as the worst school disaster in the United States, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

“I graduated from West Rusk and so this is the new name for the New London School,” said McMillan Memorial Library branch manager Jennifer Bender.

It has been 85 years since the building was destroyed in an explosion caused by a natural gas leak.

Jimmy Piercy, chairman of the New London Museum, said remembering the tragic event is vital for the community.

“My parents lived there and my dad worked for an oil company,” Piercy said. “So it’s part of my childhood, but it’s also the people. I knew many people who lost children.

Over lunch, Book Talk members were able to watch a documentary of people sharing their stories. As a guest speaker, Piercy shared her insights from that fateful day.

“My grandfather and my father were both lifeguards that night. So, not only my only family, but also families that I knew and children that I played with. They had all lost siblings they didn’t even know,” Piercy said.

Since the explosion, chemicals have been added to the natural gas to create the rotting smell we know today.

“We do a monthly program called Book Talk where we ask local authors to come talk about their book. So we asked Jimmie Piercy from the New London Museum to be our subject for the month of March,” Bender said.

From historical fiction to reference books, the McMillan Memorial has literature to educate about the explosion that affected East Texas.

“I highly recommend anyone to come to New London and visit the museum. It’s just such a great museum that’s so rich in local history,” Bender said. A day the city of New London and East Texas will never forget.

On March 19, relatives of those who died will hold a reunion at West Rusk High School to honor those lost in the tragedy.


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