Wednesday, December 7, 2011

7 December 1957 “Failed Rocket Attempt, Britain Train Crash, and A Gas Explosion in Georgia”

Yesterday, 6 December 1957, the U.S. attempted and failed to launch its first satellite Vanguard. It was viewed on television and the result of our need to ‘catch up’ to Russia. Our country had been surprised by the sudden launch of Sputnik by the Russians on 4 October of this year. This was referred to as the Sputnik Crisis and was a key event during the Cold War.

“On 6 December the US Navy launched a Vanguard rocket, carrying a 1.3 kg (2.9 lbs) satellite, from Cape Canaveral. It only reached an altitude of 1.2 meters (4 ft), fell and exploded. The satellite was thrown clear, bleeping pathetically as it rolled away. The American press called it Kaputnik”

This newsreel of the time shows the explosion and then three other stories as well. One is the sad train disaster in the UK and another is a horrible explosion here in the US in Georgia.

When I consider our need to ‘rush off’ to catch up or beat the Russians, I cannot help but think that sometimes there is a bit of the schoolyard in a country’s diplomacy tactics. A sort of “You did that, look what I can do” attitude which often seems associated with the male.

Not to be sexist to men, but there does seem to be a bit more of the ‘tougher than you’ in politics and government which, lets face it, are chiefly run by men. Many may laugh and say if women ran it all we’d squabbled and gossip, but I bet we would have a lot less war and much more discussion. We, as a sex, often prefer to ‘talk it out’ and even when we are mean we tend to do so with words and subtle games rather than striking out. Though, thanks to modern media and shows such as Teen Mom and the like, we see the TV teaching girls, ‘Hey, you too can punch and beat up one another just like men’. I am not sure why the ratings increase always needs to be tied to negative behavior. Might not a group of people be awed or wish to tune in to suddenly see over the top kindness or people going out of their way to learn and do rather than fight and text? But, I digress, I have gone off on a tangent and I do apologize.

Now, the unfortunate aspect of the Georgia explosion is that it could have been prevented. In 1937 the New London School in Texas was blown up by a natural gas leak. It resulted in almost 300 dead children and teachers.


It is the largest school related explosion in US history, yet I had never heard of it until I stumbled upon it the other day. At the time natural gas, which is odorless and colorless, had been leaking into the school due to faulty plumbing. At the time natural gas was simply burnt off (it still is in many cases today) as it was considered a waste product of the oil production. Due to a faulty line, the burn off was running into the pipe work of the school and fill the crawl spaces and walls of the school. 

After this horrific explosion, which resulted in so many dead, it was attempted to require to have an odor added to natural gas, so one could detect it. The children of the school had been having headaches because of the gas, but these were ignored. After this, the oil companies were brought to court to make additives a requirement, but little was done. The Texas oil companies got off on ‘failure of evidence’, though one would think so many dead children would prove a case. Therefore, in 1957, there still was no mandated or required odor additive and the town of Villa Rica paid a price that should have been dealt with twenty years earlier.

Here is what is written today on a plaque of the site in Villa Rica GA:

Around 11:00 a.m. on December 5, 1957, a natural gas leak under Berry's Pharmacy caused an explosion that destroyed four buildings and damaged several others in Villa Rica's downtown. The explosion killed twelve and injured twenty. The tragedy highlighted the need for both an organized local emergency response unit and the use of odor in the natural gas supply.
The civil defense unit that resulted became a model for west Georgia. Ensuing litigation placed a considerable financial burden on the city, suppressing economic development for years. In terms of injury and loss of life, the explosion remains the most catastrophic event in Carroll County history.

It makes me worried about the towns where natural gas fracking is beginning to really take off. I feel for the local people who may have little or no say to what happens to their land, their town, and their way of life. What sort of explosions may await these towns today or what other silent way will the natural gas kill? It is odd that we have so long relied on such a volatile form of power to our world. I understand we need electricity and transportation, but sometimes it does seem we muddle up our lives with complexities that we do little to control in any real way and just deal with the negative results when they arise. I hope we won’t have to learn another lesson in children’s lives.

It brings me back to the point of we women. The nature to make home and work in groups seems to be our province. Many may deny it, but over centuries we have naturally taken this role. It is to bad that this very role couldn't’ be used to run our countries. That that states and unions couldn’t be organized families who have to do their chores and get their dessert when they finish their dinner. I know this sounds a silly simplistic idea, but it does make one think that so much of the disaster, death, and sadness of our world is often the result of that playground game, “I am better than you, or I can have more than you”. I wish we could evolve to become better beings but sometimes wonder if we are slipping back into a sort of tribal lifestyle where we have replaced our clubs and fire with electronics and digital money scams and the large investment banks of the world have the biggest clubs and want it all for themselves.

I hope one gift we all give ourselves and our families this year is the gift of thought. To contemplate our world and to promise to look into it in detail and not to just accept what we are fed by various news media. That we have minds and great tools (the internet) at our disposal and therefore no excuse to be lazy enough to simply accept life as it. We need to make a difference and that can only come with knowledge and understanding. So, I hope our Christmas wish  for all shall be simple knowledge and understanding of our world. It only takes a few minutes to follow down a line of thought to various facts to which conclusions can be made by us and not made FOR us. I still contend that a homemaker’s greatest asset is her mind and it needs as much practice and exercise as her cooking skills and budgeting.

I hope these sad news stories make you stop and consider, be thankful for what we have today, but also to realize we are not necessarily ‘better off’ than those who have gone before and that there is much to learn from the past. We cannot look forward with any true vision without knowledge of the past.

Happy Homemaking.

Today’s addition to the Forum is a new Heading Vintage News & History. I added a newsreel from 1957 covering the Lewisham UK Train accident there. We can discuss and share old news stories of interest and to learn or contemplate our past.


  1. Also December 7, 1941 would still resonate with Americans in 1957~a date which will will live in infamy. FDR 8 December 1942.

  2. Yes, there are always people in the world who want it all, and you always have to deal with rogue nations. So sad. Yes, probably women would want to talk things out more, and that is good, but unfortunately we can also drag our feet and say "just ignore it" (like female teachers do with bullies on the playground), when really the time for action has come. It seems war will always be with us, what a shame.

  3. I live a county over from Rusk County, Texas, which is where New London is located. I had never heard of the explosion, either, until I moved here. There is a museum in New London that remembers the event. Not surprisingly, it was a worldwide news story, and the town received condolence letters from leaders across the world. Every year on its anniversary, the local news usually does a story to recount the events. I knew that the event resulted in odorants being added to natural gas, but didn't realize they weren't added nationwide until much later. Amazing to think that 20 years later similar events could happen in Georgia.

  4. My sister's father-in-law was one of the men that helped remove the bodies from the New London school explosion. He was so traumatized by the experience that he only spoke of it a few times in his life.


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