Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History

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Overview

At 3:17 p.m. on March 18, 1937, a natural gas leak beneath the London Junior-Senior High School in the oil boomtown of New London, Texas, created a lethal mixture of gas and oxygen in the school’s basement. The odorless, colorless gas went undetected until the flip of an electrical switch triggered a colossal blast. The two-story school, one of the nation’s most modern, disintegrated, burying everyone under a vast pile of rubble and debris. More than 300 students and teachers ...
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Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History

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Overview

At 3:17 p.m. on March 18, 1937, a natural gas leak beneath the London Junior-Senior High School in the oil boomtown of New London, Texas, created a lethal mixture of gas and oxygen in the school’s basement. The odorless, colorless gas went undetected until the flip of an electrical switch triggered a colossal blast. The two-story school, one of the nation’s most modern, disintegrated, burying everyone under a vast pile of rubble and debris. More than 300 students and teachers were killed, and hundreds more were injured.

As the seventy-fifth anniversary of the catastrophe approaches, it remains the deadliest school disaster in U.S. history. Few, however, know of this historic tragedy, and no book, until now, has chronicled the explosion, its cause, its victims, and the aftermath.

Gone at 3:17 is a true story of what can happen when school officials make bad decisions. To save money on heating the school building, the trustees had authorized workers to tap into a pipeline carrying “waste” natural gas produced by a gasoline refinery. The explosion led to laws that now require gas companies to add the familiar pungent odor. The knowledge that the tragedy could have been prevented added immeasurably to the heartbreak experienced by the survivors and the victims’ families. The town would never be the same.

Using interviews, testimony from survivors, and archival newspaper files, Gone at 3:17 puts readers inside the shop class to witness the spark that ignited the gas. Many of those interviewed during twenty years of research are no longer living, but their acts of heroism and stories of survival live on in this meticulously documented and extensively illustrated book.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The 1937 New London explosion was a great American tragedy that once again demonstrates the courage, basic decency, and resiliency of American citizens. Gone at 3:17 will bring tears to your eyes, followed by a sense of pride, as you read this well-documented, absorbing, and poignant story."—Dr. Cyril Wecht, past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American College of Legal Medicine

"Based on scores of interviews and an intimate understanding of a community torn by tragedy, Gone at 3:17 is the definitive study of the 1937 New London school explosion. This engrossing narrative of sorrow and survival burrows deep inside one of the greatest disasters in American history. Readers will come to view the Depression-era residents of Rusk County as neighbors and friends."—David Welky, author of The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937

"Using recollections of survivors, witnesses, and journalists to tell this painful story in excruciatingly vivid detail, Brown and Wereschagin allow us to get to know the children, their parents, and their teachers. The story needs to be a part of our national legacy because there are lessons still to be learned."—Ellie Goldberg, educator and creator of the Lessons of the 1937 Texas School Explosion campaign to promote awareness of chemical hazards in schools

"I have finished my first reading, but it will not be my last. I commend the authors on an excellent book that will help many people continue to work through the horror of it all."—Ben Meador of Dallas and witness to the New London School explosion that claimed his brother’s life

"Gone at 3:17 is the most compelling nonfiction I’ve read since In Cold Blood. The detail is incredible. The story line is gripping. The writing is stellar. The chapter on the explosion will make you cry."—Brad Bumsted, state capitol reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

"Brown and Wereschagin fully understand that to richly describe, one must first vigorously report. This mesmerizing book reads like a novel not only because of their lucid prose but also as the result of their painstaking research and respect for the truth. Gone at 3:17 serves as a stunningly gracious tribute to the victims and survivors."—Chuck Plunkett, politics editor, Denver Post

"Gone at 3:17 is a book that hits home, especially for anyone who has held his or her child moments after birth. It makes you realize nobody controls the future."—Rob Pratte, talk-show host, KDKA radio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612341538
  • Publisher: Potomac Books Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/1/2012
  • Pages: 328
  • Sales rank: 402,565
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

David M. Brown is an award-winning journalist with thirty years’ experience writing for newspapers. He lives in South Fayette, Pennsylvania.

Michael Wereschagin is an award-winning reporter with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He lives on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Preface xiii

1 3:16 p.m. 1

Part I Calm

2 Daybreak, March 18 11

3 The Superintendent 19

4 Sweet Chariot 23

5 Pleasant Hill 27

6 American Dreams 30

7 Wildcats' Pep Rally 35

8 Farmer's Boy 40

9 The Black Giant 45

10 Lunchtime 51

11 Fateful Afternoon 55

12 Last Dance 59

Part II Terror

13 3:17 p.m. 63

14 Thunder on a Clear Day 75

15 Newshounds 82

16 Holy Sisters 86

17 Radio Man 92

18 Into the Ruins 96

19 Newsflash 113

20 A Blue Patch of Sky 127

21 Valley of Death at Sundown 138

22 Mother Frances 147

23 Midnight of the Soul 163

24 Dawn, March 19 178

25 Hard News 183

Part III Aftermath, March 20-29

26 Coffin Train 203

27 Reckoning 210

28 Lament 220

29 Amazing Grace 225

30 Survivors Assembly, March 29 232

Part IV Epilogue

31 Reunion 239

32 A Final Word 254

In Memoriam 257

Interviews 267

Notes 271

Selected Bibliography 287

Index 291

About the Authors 297

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 8 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 14, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    Just got through reading the book.

    I found it exciting to read, but also very emotional. I've followed the NLSD since 1973, but I've never found myself getting as emotional as I did reading some of the chapters. There were a few nights I couldn't sleep, thinking over and over about the explosion, the children and the hardship families had to endure.

    The New London School Disaster still haunts me today, and I lost no family members nor do I have any connection with the explosion. I just wanted to express my thanks to David Brown for writing the book. I believe it will go down in history as an accurate testimony, forever telling the world about the true emotions and sacrifice of that day.

    Robert E. Hilliard

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2013

    As the child of a survivor of the New London School explosion, I

    As the child of a survivor of the New London School explosion, I am so very grateful to the authors of this book for their extraordinary reporting of this story. My father never spoke of that day, and now I know what he lived through. What makes Gone at 3:17 so exceptional is not only the story itself, but the manner of telling. The masterful use of imagery made me feel as if I were there. Kudos too for the structure of the book--a magnificent piece of craftsmanship. It took me a long time to finish as I found myself reading and re-reading, savoring paragraphs, sentences, and even single words. It is clear that a great deal of effort went into researching and then relating the events in a caring and respectful way. My favorite paragraph was the one describing how the men of the oil patch left their work trotting toward "another explosion", then breaking into a full run when word trickled back that it was the school. I could see their faces. I could feel their terror. So many times, I found a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. A must read for anyone with a connection to the event, or for anyone else interested in the history of the time.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2012

    A Thoroughly Detailed Account

    In spite of almost mind numbing detail, this is a quick read. It would be hard to imagine anything that could be added to this account of a horrible disaster which should not be allowed to slip from our memories.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 2, 2012

    A superbly written, visually crafted masterpiece. Gone at 3:17

    A superbly written, visually crafted masterpiece. Gone at 3:17 is a true story that reads like a suspenseful, emotionally charged novel. The authors have expertly put the reader at the epicenter of the tragedy, weaving the nearly 300 visctims' stories into one powerfully told narative. A must-read. I couldn't put it down. I hope the authors are working on the screenplay.

    CK McC

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2012

    Beautifully written, enthralling book

    Aside from the hundreds of typos (flew for few; flather for father), it was an incredible book. As a resident of East Texas, this is an important part of our history yet it is not something most residents know a lot about.

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  • Posted April 26, 2012

    Amazing Read!!

    I absolutely love this book! "Gone at 3:17" has expanded my knowledge about the school explosion much more than any other thing I have read. The authors manage to bring tears to your eyes in their novel style writing as well as present you with a historical, true life depiction of what happened on that tragic day. I cannot wait to start reading it for a second time!

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  • Posted March 12, 2012

    I read this book and like Mr. Hilliard, I have no family connect

    I read this book and like Mr. Hilliard, I have no family connection with the tragedy. I do however, have friends whose families were affected by loss of a loved one. Mr. Calvin Corrie, was one of those friends. He lost a brother in the tragedy and he himself had to find a way out. He was forever changed. The book was amazing...and I am sure if Mr. Corrie were still alive, he would think so as well.

    Thank you for bringing us such a good book! History..good or bad its something we all should pay more attention to.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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