Book Review Thursday: Gone at 3:17 – The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History

GoneAt317This book begins poignantly:

Meander along the back roads of Rusk County, Texas, into a countryside rolling with gentle hills, and you come upon a rustic cemetery.

The sun fires hazy shafts sideways through the branches of tall pines on Pleasant Hill.  Near the graveyard’s entrance a marker quickly catches your eye.  Black stains creeping down the face of the stone show its age.

June 19, 1924
March 18, 1937

Near James’s plot, surrounded by white wildflowers in the spring of any given year, is the angled headstone of Sammie Lee Shoemate, born November 25, 1925, died March 18, 1937.  Behind her is another, and another behind that, markers with one date in common.  Turn, and there are more.

When the sun slips behind the pines, and the wind stirs softly through lush green grass covering the long-ago scars of a calamity, it is possible to imagine that you hear the whisper of voices.  This is sacred ground.

March 18, 1937, has been called the day a town lost its future, the day a generation perished, the day when angels cried.

I don’t remember how I ran across the story of this tragedy, but I’m glad I found this book — I also wrote about it this week for my Tombstone Tuesday article (One Moment – 293 Tombstones)Gone at 3:17 is a thorough account of the events which took place on that fateful day, the worst school disaster in American history.  One moment 293 souls were alive and well and the next they were gone.  Authors David Brown and Michael Wereschagin are journalists and together they have pieced together a comprehensive and factual account of that day and its aftermath.

Interviews of survivors, rescue workers and others were used to tell the story, making it all the more riveting and “real”.  Several years had to pass before some survivors were able to speak of that day, the grief and shock so overwhelming.  The authors also included background history of the Great Depression and the amazing wildcat oil strikes in East Texas which had brought so many families to that area, some far from where they called “home”.

The descriptions of the explosion and its aftermath, coupled with individual stories, are vivid and, to me at least, spell-binding and gripping.  This book moved me and I could feel the devastating sadness that overwhelmed the town of New London.  I know I will never forget this historical event after having read this book.  A book review cannot adequately relate the raw emotions – the human side – portrayed in this book.  I would recommend you read it for yourself – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  The book can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play.  You can also check to see if it’s available at your local library by clicking here and providing your zip code.

Rating:  ★★★★★

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


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