Hello and welcome back to The Hogue Connection! I was looking over the family tree this week and decided to write an article about a couple of our cousins we lost tragically about 80 years ago. In the process of my research about this event in New London, TX, I found a huge mistake in my tree, was able to make the necessary repairs to it, and learned a lot in the process. Sometimes paying attention to history gives you a new way of looking at the facts. First, we’ll look at a couple of Hogue families and how they ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, together.
John W. Hogue and Ernie Hogue
John William Hogue was the oldest son of my great grandfather, Charley Hogue by his first wife, Melinda (for more their history, go here, Chapter VIIII). He was born in Courtney, Indian Territory, in 1894. He married Ina Edwards in Jefferson County, OK in 1913. By 1920, they lived outside Dalhart, TX near his mother and brother. Dalhart is in Dallam County, near the top of the Texas panhandle. James Earnest “Ernie” Hogue, was the second oldest son of Charley’s brother John Calvin. Ernie was still in Jefferson County, OK in 1920, married to Laura Edwards and raising his family there.
Tracing family movements via the U.S. Census in 1930, we find John, Ina and their five kids have moved to Burkburnett, TX, just outside of Wichita Falls. Melinda remained in Dalhart with her third husband. Ernie, Laura and their three children followed Ernie’s father and younger brother north to Seminole, OK. The Hogue cousins moved around quite a bit during this time period, but ended up together again in Overton, TX, which lies on the border of Smith and Rusk Counties, about 125 miles east of Dallas, probably about 1936.
The Oil Fields and the New London School
In 1930, a new oil well was drilled near the community of New London, next door to the larger community of Overton, creating a boomtown situation in the area. Many oil companies flocked to the area, bringing jobs and workers to town, resulting in fast growth and excitement for this Depression-struck region of East Texas. About 1 million dollars of oil money was used to build the New London School, which consolidated all the local schools into one state-of-the-art building, to serve all of the families in the area.
Two new students at the school were second cousins Margretta and Earnestine Hogue, both 13 years old and in the sixth grade. Margretta was John and Ina’s daughter, fourth oldest. She was born in Burkburnett 31 Mar 1923, and attended the school with her younger brother, Johnnie. Earnestine, daughter of Ernie and Laura, was twin to her brother Earldene, born 10 Jan 1924 in Ryan, OK. I believe the girls rode the bus into New London daily. I’m sure they were excited about attending the school as it was one of the newest and finest schools in Texas at the time.
Oil production in the 1930’s was different than it is today; natural gas, a byproduct of oil wells, was burned off as waste. The school board made arrangements with one of the oil companies to run a pipeline of natural gas to the New London School to save money on their winter heating bills. Untreated natural gas is odorless, so when a leak developed in the 253′ by 56′ wide crawlspace of the new building, it went unnoticed, even when some children complained of headaches.
March 18, 1937 Was A Warm Spring Day
Classes proceeded normally as students prepared for an interscholastic competition with the neighboring town of Henderson scheduled for the following day. Elementary classes let out at 3:00 PM and about 100 students boarded buses for their return home. A PTA meeting was being held in the gymnasium, and about 500 students and 40 teachers remained on campus.
At about 3:17 PM, it is believed that teacher Lemmie Butler plugged in an electric sander downstairs in the shop class near the gas-filled crawlspace. A spark from the outlet ignited the air/gas mixture and the school exploded. Witnesses said that they saw the walls bulge, the roof lift in to the air, and the entire structure of the main building collapse into a pile of rubble, leaving only the gym standing. 296 children and teachers were killed and another 180 or so were injured. Only about 130 people escaped serious injury. This is but a brief description; please the source listing at the end of the article for more details.
Our cousins, Margretta and Earnestine were among the dead, killed instantly by the concussion of the blast. To see their listing on one of the memorial pages, go here. I can’t imagine the devastation felt by our Hogue ancestors in the wake of this tragedy. On a side note, my father, Chuck, was born about five hours later that same day, in San Jose, CA. Joy following sorrow and the complex mysteries of life will always intrigue us. Margretta was my first cousin, once removed, and Earnestine my second cousin, once removed. Margretta’s brother Johnnie likely went home earlier with the elementary students. I believe Johnnie is still alive and well, living in Bowie, TX. I have no information on how Earnestine’s twin brother avoided the blast, as he not listed among the people who perished.
A Family Tree Fix
While researching the short life of Margretta Hogue, I found a mistake in that part of the family tree. Somewhere along the line I had her father John set up with a second marriage and another group of children. Another woman by the name of Stella Mooney was listed in the Oklahoma marriage records in 1925 as marrying a John W. Hogue in Coal, OK. The timing fit, and other families on Ancestry.com also made the same connection. I should have never bought into it. There are many mistakes on Ancestry trees and I did not follow my due diligence in this case.
Turns out Stella married George Hogue around 1920 in the same area and he died young, which lead to her second marriage. The John W. Hogue mentioned in the marriage records was actually John Jefferson Hogue, and they raised a family in that area for several years. I don’t know if they are related to our Hogues, but I deleted them all anyway, just to fix the mistake. I can always add them back in later if need be.
Anyway, thanks for reading my blog! I’ve got another article I’m researching for publication on these pages in a couple of weeks. Hope you’ll come back and visit!
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Some sources and other articles about the New London Explosion:
Glad to know I have some kin around. Johnnie W. that was married to Ina Jewel are my paternal grandparents. My father Johnnie D. who was actually on the bus heading home when the school blew up. My uncle J.C. had either jumped or was blown out of the 2nd story window, later went to the Allen academy and became a Naval aviator during WWII flying Hellcats in the Pacific and later participated in the Berlin Air Lift. My father drafted into the Navy also as a cook. He passed away Feb. 6, 2020. I have more information should you desire to hear it.