80 years ago, school blast killed hundreds
Gas leak blamed for tragedy at East Texas’ New London School.
Otis Bryan was filling an inkwell on March 18, 1937, when suddenly the fifth-grader’s art class in his school in the East Texas town of New London was shaken and invaded by a dark cloud of smoke.
Although Bryan said he didn’t hear anything or understand what was happening, he started running and was able to exit from the back of the school down a staircase.
He recalls running about one mile to get home, where he noticed he was bleeding and had small pieces of debris in his skin.
A steady stream of ambulances and first responders passed by his home, Bryan told the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
“Everyone was hollering, ‘The New London School blew up,’ ” said Bryan, now 91 and living in the nearby town of Overton, a little more than 120 miles south- east of Dallas.
Saturday was the 80th anniversary of the tragedy.
At 3:17 p.m. that day, Lemmie Butler, an instructor of manual training, turned on a sanding machine in an area that he didn’t know was filled with a gas, according to information provided on the New London Museum’s website.
The switch is thought to have ignited the mixture of gas and air and carried a flame under the building, seemingly lifting the building into the air and smashing it back to the ground.
News of the explosion traveled quickly, and residents of the community, oil field workers, the Texas Rangers, highway patrol officers and others dug through the rubble looking for victims, according to the museum.
Of the 500 students and 40