School Hazardous Materials Accidents Are Preventable

Glenn Cook

The power of an image sticks with us all.

Remember the footage of the Hindenburg? On May 6, 1937, the German Zeppelin—then the largest aircraft ever built—exploded into flames as it tried to land at New Jersey’s Lakehurst Naval Air Station. Thirty-six died, and a reporter’s eyewitness account of “the humanity … the horror” is played on The History Channel and in U.S. history classes to this day.

Six weeks earlier, another tragedy occurred, with a far greater loss of life. But unless you live in East Texas, or follow education history, chances are you won’t know much about the United States’ worst school disaster, one that then-22-year-old reporter Walter Cronkite described as “the day a generation died.”

An underground natural gas explosion at the London School, 125 miles southeast of Dallas, killed more than 300 students, staff, and townspeople on March 18, 1937. ASBJ, in an April 1937 editorial, called the explosion “the most distressing disaster in the history of American school life.”

How did such a tragedy fade from memory? Why is so little known about it today? And why, only in the past few years, are people trying to raise awareness about it again? 

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