Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Day a Generation Died

On 18 Mar 1937 a natural gas leak caused an explosion at the London School in New London, Texas, destroying the school and killing more than 295 students and teachers. Of the 600 people in the school only 130 escaped serious injury. It remains the deadliest school disaster in American history. Many call it the day a generation died.

London School after the explosion; photo courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

A variety of decisions and actions led to the explosion and the Wikipedia article does a good job explaining the more technical reasons behind the accident. Another good website that includes information about the victims is New London School.

Many parents had been on the 10-acre school campus attending a PTA event. After the explosion, they reacted immediately and began digging through rubble with their bare hands. One mother had a heart attack and died when she found out her young daughter died in the explosion.

In 1939 a large granite cenotaph was erected in the median of Texas State Highway 42, across from the school site, commemorating the disaster.

London School memorial cenotaph; photo courtesy of Wikipedia

At least two of Charlie and Belle Walker's daughters attended London School that day. One, Mary Inez, died in the explosion.

Mary Inez Walker was buried at Huffines Cemetery in Cass County, Texas
Photograph courtesy of

Ludie Mildred Walker, the surviving daughter, was born on 25 April 1923 at Snow Hill, Arkansas. She married Kenneth Albert Pharr, my 6th cousin once removed and they had three children. Ludie died on 22 October 2005 at Houston, Texas. It's clear from her obituary that the explosion left a lasting impression on her:

"Born in Snow Hill, Arkansas to Charles E. and Belle Hayes Walker and went to Heaven in Houston, Texas, her home of 40 years.

Mildred had many fond memories of her childhood playing with her cousins around her grandparent's home in Cass County, Texas. She was schooled in New London, Texas, and survived the 18 March 1937, New London explosion, where her sister, Inez, was killed. Mildred was a 1947 graduate of TSCW (now TWU).

Ludie Mildred (Walker) Pharr

She joined Gethsemane United Methodist Church in 1966 and was a member of the Beacon/Friendship Sunday School class. Mildred has many beloved friends and family who will miss her greatly. No finer wife, mother, sister or friend can be found."


  1. That's so tragic to know that an entire generation were killed. It understandable that many persons would have traumatised by this. It's the first time I'm reading about this, but will also remember it, based on the content and pictures. AtoZer

    1. Thanks for reading my post! I discovered it when reading the obituary and wanted to learn more. Hard to believe in this day an age that it is still the worst school disaster in the country's history, but thankfully so, too.