Gone at 3:17 brings to life the real people who lived through the explosion and it's aftermath. Gone begins with the story of the discovery of oil in Rusk county in 1930. That discovery resulted in a boom that brought thousands of people to the area. Kilgore, Henderson, and other small towns in the area became big towns overnight. New London became rich with oil money and was able to build a new state of the art school in 1934 - a school that would be blown to bits in 1937 on March 18th, at 3:17 p.m., when a teacher flipped a switch, which ignited a spark and set off the explosion.
The chapter detailing the actual explosion is hard to read, but reading about the aftermath was even more difficult. As soon as the explosion occurred, people from miles around began heading toward the school. Men and women began digging through the rubble, pulling out survivors and victims. Many parents found their own children in the debris. More and more victims were pulled from the site and were taken to several towns in the area as both hospitals and morgues were filling up. Parents made the rounds of all the places where kids were taken, hoping to identify their children. Mother Francis hospital in Tyler was slated for its grand opening on Friday, the 19th, but opened a day early to receive victims. Reporters, including a very young Walter Cronkite, showed up hoping for a scoop, and instead found themselves pitching in. Many would say it was the worse scene they ever reported on, including those who reported later on WWII. The total death toll remains uncertain, but is somewhere between 300 and 350.
|Monument at the site of the explosion.|
Gone at 3:17 is a very difficult book to read, but also an important one. So many of the safety measures that are in place today in our lives were precipitated by unfathomable tragedy. The oil boom of the early 30's brought wealth and prosperity to many people during the Great Depression, but countless lives were lost in the process. It is important to remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. So many of the luxuries and technologies that we enjoy today were purchased with the lives of those who worked to bring them to existence.