23 January 2014

52 Ancestors #5 Sebe Cyril Miller Jr.

52 ancestors #5: Sebe Cyril Miller Jr.
No Story Too Small — 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge

The Day a Generation Died
18 March 1937 – New London, Rusk County, Texas

Sebe Cyril Miller Jr. (1920-1937)

His picture set on my grandmother’s dresser in her farmhouse in Oklahoma for as long as I can remember. I knew it was a picture of Sebe Cyril Miller Jr., who was called Junior by the family. He was the son of my mother’s oldest sister and therefore my first cousin, and I knew he had died tragically, but no one talked about it. He died before I was born, in a faraway place called Texas. In my child’s mind everywhere except the immediate environs was “faraway.”

I often looked at grandmother’s pictures. By the time I had come along, she already had nine grandchildren and most of them lived in Texas. Like grandmothers everywhere, she loved to show off their pictures and I was a captive audience. I enjoyed looking at the pictures of relatives in various faraway places and listening to grandmother tell stories about them.

One day I asked her about him – the one who died so young. Her eyes filled with tears and she said “his school blew up.” Then she changed the subject. I realized she did not want to talk about it. But, I was born curious, so I asked my favorite auntie the next time I saw her. She gave me the same story and I asked her “how.” How had the school blown up? What had happened and when did all this happen? She told me all she knew about the New London, Texas school explosion and how her nephew was killed in it. Then she cautioned me not to talk about it around grandmother or Aunt Lena when she came to visit. Aunt Lena was the boy’s mother. “She has never gotten over it,” my auntie said.

Years later, while doing research on the early careers of some American journalists, I stumbled across a story about a cub reporter who was working for United Press (UP) in Dallas in 1937 and who was one of the first reporters to reach the scene in New London, Texas after the school explosion. “When he finally reached the scene, it was dark and raining. Floodlights were being set up, casting long shadows from the big oil field cranes that had been brought in to help remove the rubble. Workers were climbing up and down the piles of debris like ants, instinctively going about their grim task. From the perspective of a news reporter, this was a tragedy of epic proportions. The UP team that eventually joined this reporter set up a news bureau in the Western Union office in nearby Overton Texas.” (1) Overton is where my relatives lived.

Walter Cronkite
That young cub reporter was Walter Cronkite. Decades later, according to the article “Walter Cronkite Remembers” (2) as his life in the public eye was winding down, Cronkite said, "I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it."

New London, Texas School, 1937
The picture, above from Wikipedia,(3) is of the remains of the New London School after the explosion of March 18, 1937.

The explosion was blamed on a gas leak inside the school, which ignited when an instructor turned on a sanding machine sometime between 3:05 and 3:20 p.m. Immediately the building seemed to lift in the air and then smashed to the ground. Walls collapsed. The roof fell in and buried its victims in a mass of brick, steel, and concrete debris. The explosion was heard four miles away, and it hurled a two-ton concrete slab 200 feet away, where it crushed a 1936 Chevrolet parked nearby. Reports from witnesses state that the walls of the school bulged, the roof lifted from the building, and then crashed back down and the main wing of the structure collapsed. Approximately 600 students and 40 teachers were in the building at the time. About 300 of them were killed in the blast, (4) making it the deadliest school disaster in American history.

Most of the bodies were either burned beyond recognition, or blown to pieces. Obviously this was one of the reasons why my family did not talk about the tragedy that took my 16-year-old cousin that day.

The New London Cenotaph (5) is located in the middle of the road in New London, Texas. It notes that here on March 18, 1937, 293 children and teachers died when the New London School exploded 10 minutes before dismissal. The memorial cenotaph honors those who died. The London Museum chronicles the town’s history and expostulates the tragedy of the school explosion. Among the names are Sebe C. Miller Jr. He was born 19 August 1920 and died in the school explosion 18 March 1937. There also is a burial marker for him in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in New London, Rusk County, Texas where his parents and a younger sister are buried.

1. Irvin M. May, Jr., "NEW LONDON SCHOOL EXPLOSION," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/yqn01), accessed January 23, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

2. Walter Cronkite Remembers: New London School Explosion. http://web.archive.org/web/20080423031400/http://www.nlse.org/walter.html

3. Explosion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_London_School_explosion

4. Perished. http://newlondonschool.org/ListOfNames.htm

5. Cenotaph: http://www.newlondonschool.org/index2.html

15 January 2014

52 Ancestors #4 John Anthony Vanderpool

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks:  Challenge #4
John Anthony Vanderpool


Handsome Skeleton Dancing in the Family Closet

   By Myra Vanderpool Gormley ©2014

Probably every family has a scoundrel or two — if you dig deeply enough. However, my family seemingly has far more than its share, but they vivify my family tree with their adventures and misdeeds.

John Anthony Vanderpool must have been a handsome dude — with black hair and gray eyes — and at 6-foot-2 he would have towered above his Union army compatriots who on the average were only 5-foot-8½. He probably was a charmer, too, perhaps even a silver-tongued devil as after the war he “took up preaching” and wandered around the hills and hollers of Arkansas and Indian Territory. He never owned any property or worked at anything that required hard manual labor. There’s no doubt that he was a ladies’ man as evidenced by the fact that at least five women married him.

His enormous Civil War pension files disclose several wives and relationships. In researching the man the government labeled a “bigamist,” I discovered his neighbors were more than willing to share what they knew about him and his women and that information has enriched, enhanced and confirmed his genealogical data.

·       “I know John A. Vanderpool and his brother, Capt. James Vanderpool . . . they lived in Newton County and were Union men. They married sisters — the Henderson girls. I know nothing about John A.’s subsequent marriages.  

·       “His first wife, Docia, died at Springfield, Missouri on or about August or September 1862.”

·       “After the war I saw him over in his home over between Cove and Big Creek near Lick Springs . . . he was apparently married — living with a woman who as a girl was Martha Pruitt . . . know that soldier and she quarreled and got along unsatisfactory. He told me he was going to quit her and I think he did.”

·       “Informed that he was living with a woman named Huggins whom he had married at the time of his death . . . He died in the Indian Territory and I think Huggins and Martha Pruitt [his second wife] are related.”

·       “Jane Huggins is my sister’s daughter and therefore my niece . . . I did hear that he married Moriah Huggins, a sister of Jane, and lived with her in Indian Territory.” I do not know whether there was any truth in the rumor of their marriage or not.”

·       “It does not appear from the records of this office that there was ever papers filed or a divorce granted between John A. Vanderpool and Sarah A. Vanderpool.”

·       “I was not present at his death but I saw him shortly thereafter and helped to bury him. He died about 1888 near Webbers Falls in the Indian Territory.”

The claimant to the Civil War pension, which she never obtained though she tried for nearly five years, was his fourth wife. In one of her depositions Sarah said that she  “didn’t know how many times John A. Vanderpool had been married as he was always rambling from place to place, but that hers was only marriage license and that he had told her he had not married again since death of first wife.”

The government rejected her claim “on grounds that the claimant was not the soldier’s lawful wife since he was still legally married to Martha (wife No. 2) when he married her (wife No. 4)".

For decades several cousins and I have researched the Vanderpool family. We have never heard from any of John Anthony’s progeny, although we believe he had at least five daughters. Imagine my surprise when recently I found a picture of one of them posted on the Web – evidently by a relative. Now I have a dilemma – did his children and grandchildren know what a scoundrel he was? Do I keep the skeleton closet shut or throw the door wide open – if his descendants ask.