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

Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History By David M. Brown, Michael Wereschagin Cover Image

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


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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.
David M. Brown is an award-winning journalist with thirty years’ experience writing for newspapers. He lives in South Fayette, Pennsylvania.
Product Details ISBN: 9781612341538
ISBN-10: 1612341535
Publisher: Potomac Books
Publication Date: January 1st, 2012
Pages: 328
Language: English
"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