The nation was rocked on March 18, 1937, when a gas leak caused a massive explosion and the worst school disaster in the history of the United States. That school was located in New London, which will soon host another memorial service for families, friends and for the many who lent a helping hand during the tragedy.
To this date their memories may be put aside but never forgotten.
“My grandmother, Leonora Gonzales was a character,” said Lee Killingsworth, a child in Kilgore the day of the catastrophe. “She always wore an apron with her dress and she would pick up that apron and do a little dance and sing little ditties like ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips.’ It is a good memory of her; she raised me when my mother died and until my father remarried.
“She was a little bitty woman, but it was her character that got me through that day of the explosion.”
Killingsworth’s father and uncle drove the hearse for Haney’s Funeral. The little girl helped in the aftermath of the explosion.
“The funeral home was at the location where the Charburger Restaurant is now, but, I wouldn’t go there…they had dead bodies in there,” she continued. “I was about 5- maybe 6 years-old that day, and everyone went to help. We had no plastic bags then and my grandmother handed me a white pillowcase and told me to pick up shoes or anything I could find and put it in the pillowcase. I will never forget finding a shoe with a foot still in it…
“Bodies were covered with anything found; men tore off their jackets and shirts and placed them over the faces and I can still vividly see it in my mind today. I just was so young and didn’t know what I was doing. I had to think of ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ to get through that day,” Lee said, highly emotional at the remembrance. “It was a terrible memory for a child.”
Lenora Jewel Killingsworth was named after her beloved grandmother and is quite a character, too. She shortened her name to Lee in order for it to fit on her driver’s license and it has stuck with her ever since.
Her grandfather, Gonzales, was the first man from Spain to live in Kilgore having, before marriage, lived in Missouri. He drove a stagecoach upon his first arrival in the United States and was responsible for the strongbox, making sure everything was delivered.
Lee was born in Stillwell, Oklahoma, a member of the Fleetwood family, meaning Cherokee. She proudly carries the CDIB card (Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood Card) and is looking forward to attending the 2017 Cherokee National Holiday Powwow held in Tahlequah this year where she will try to obtain cards for her granddaughters.
As hard is it is for her to attend, she’ll also be at the New London Memorial to pay her respects and to be with those the tragedy bonded together for a lifetime. The Day of Remembrance is set for Saturday, March 18. Registration is set for 9 a.m. The memorial service will begin at 10 a.m. followed by lunch at 12:30 p.m. and an afternoon filled with other activities. For more information call the London Museum at 903-895-4602.
DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME BEGINS this Sunday, March 12. Be sure to turn your clocks forward on Saturday evening.
May His Love and Laughter fill Your Hearts and Your Homes. In the meantime, we may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 903-984-2593.