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The New London Story

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Published on Mar 4, 2012

March 18, 1937 started out like any other day in the small east Texas town of New London. Students at the school were busy preparing for the next day's Inter-scholastic meet in Henderson. In nearby Tyler, preparations were underway for the opening of the brand new Mother Frances Hospital, scheduled to open on March 19. The peaceful day was soon shattered, when a massive gas explosion ignited underneath the school, immediately causing the school to implode burying it's victims under a mass of brick, steel and concrete debris.

John Davidson was born and raised in New London. He had an older sister, Ardyth, who was killed in the explosion that day.

"Daddy would not talk about her at all, my mother would make casual statements sometimes about teaching her to drive, how pretty she was and how talented. It just hurt for them to talk about."

For the New London community talking about the tragedy was something that took time to deal with.

"People did not want to talk about what happened here for 40 years. They had their first organized reunion 40 years later. People came back, they started talking about their experiences and they started to heal. They finally got closure. It was just easier in those days I guess to block it out of your mind than to talk about it."

Miles Toler, a 1958 graduate of London high is the current museum director at the London museum. He explains what that day means to him.

"It means for us it was a day a generation died. It means for us so many young people left behind their parents and as many have told us you're not supposed to bury your children, but what it means to us is that those kids who died and those adults that died was not in vain because after the explosion you started smelling gas because we put the odor in it. So how many people now say, what's that smell, it all came right out of here."

Of the 500 students and forty teachers in the building, approximately 298 died. Those who were wounded were taken to nearby Mother Frances Hospital, which opened its doors a day early to care for the victims of the London school explosion. Through this tragedy, Mother Frances Hospital has always held a special place in the hearts of New London residents and they feel gratitude for the care their children received that day.

"Just two words. Thank you. That's all you can say. You don't have to elaborate. You just realize that they opened their arms, their doors and their hearts. They knew the need was there so they reacted to it. You just say thank you."

"I think what is so very important to me that so many people know how our hospital began, that it was open a day earlier in 1937 because of the great explosion in New London and the sisters were ready to open in the very next day, but knowing the tragedy happened, they didn't wait, they didn't say we have opening the next day so please wait. No, they knew they needed to respond. I like how sisters and the staff, doctors and the community of Tyler and surrounding corresponded to that tragedy."

Toler and the staff at the museum they continue to share the stories of those individuals from that day.

"What we try to do here at the museum is to let people in east Texas know the story and you'd be surprised at how many people have never been to the museum. It's a story they don't know anything about. We want people to know that we're here and that we have a story to tell and not just us at the museum are telling the story, but the parents, the survivors and those who lost their lives are telling a story."

The museum is always looking for more untold stories to share.

"If they've got stories to tell us, that's the secret. We want as much information, as much stories as we can get out to the public because it's a story that deserves to be told."

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