Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Eye-witness to History

Photos are not the only things I rescue.  I've also rescued autograph albums, funeral notices, and a few letters among other odds and ends.  Today I want to share one of the letters that I acquired.  I think this one probably came from eBay during the period of time I was heavily researching the Texas City Disaster.  

My father's family was deeply affected by the events in Texas City, Texas, on April 16, 1947, when a ship lying at harbor and loaded with ammonium nitrate fertilizer caught fire and exploded.  Loss of life and property was horrendous.  My family was fortunate in that not one of the 21 family members living there at the time was killed.  In 2005 I did extensive research and interviewing of the surviving family members to compile a time line of the events as they were seen by my family.  If you are interested, you can read the articles I wrote by following this link:   Family Reunion (Frankum) 2005.

As a result of that project, I acquired a lot of material to support my research.  One was this letter, written by a resident of Texas City and reporting her family's experiences to a relative living in Paris, Texas.  This is a lengthy letter, but I did not want to omit anything.



Sat.
Dear Margaret & all,

     We were so glad to hear from you.  I had been thinking about you & knowing I should write you--but there has been so much confusion I couldn't think straight.

     No, I hadn't moved.  I still live in my tiny garage apt., not but a block from Bay St. & Monsanto was located in Bay - just a few blocks down.  My apt. is still standing & we're able to live in it.  I just don't see how it stood.  It was pretty well wrecked, all windows were out & lots of things broken.  I was standing in the bathroom looking out the window when it started.  Oh! it was horrible.  I knew my landlady was washing down in the garage - so I just thought something exploded down under me.  The whole house was moving--furniture literally shaking up & down, glass blowing everywhere.  I knew I had to get out.  I had to run through the whole house to get out the front door.  I don't see how I did that without bad injury.  The explosions were still coming fast.   It seemed the earth was rocking.  I ran out in the alley (which was very dangerous because of light wires etc.) and ran for Rubye's.  She lives in the next block.  I got there before she got out of the house.  She said she would never forget how I looked.  My face was covered with blood, but I didn't know it.  We started for the school to get Dot.  Rubye was praying.  It really looked like the school was burning.  A woman picked us up.  When we got there Rubye went in one gate & I went in the other.  I saw Dot immediately.  She didn't get a scratch.  Other children were bleeding & crying.  We knew we must run away from the explosion.  Joye lives on the other side of town, so we started there.  After we had run for several blocks (all this time stuff was flying in the air, people were hurt & everyone running wild) another friend picked us up.  We went to Joye's.  She was gone & had taken Pepper's pictures.  Her house just had one window gone as she lives further away.  We went to the depot.  Joye, Rubye, Dot & Diana left town.  Jake & I went to La Marque.  We didn't see Geneva until late that eve.  Jake & I came back & saw them.  Doyle had his head cut pretty bad.  The door blew in & hit him.  They had been helping in a hospital all day.  Geneva said it was awful.  They took Doyle's parents & left town that night.  Alf didn't get with Rubye & Dot until the next day.  As you know we had another explosion about 1 the next morn.  I was horrified.  Honeyboy called Mama after it was all over & he was here during the explosion Thur. morn, all day Thur. & Fri.  The army had sent them to help.  If we had known he was here we would have gone crazy.  He told Mama he didn't see how he or any of us was alive.  We have friends & neighbors who are dead or missing.  Joye's next door neighbor was a great big man & his remains was sewed up in a bundle.  Oh! it's awful.  They've never found my neighbor at the back of me.  Oh, yes, while I was running behind a two story house, a huge piece of that ship fell on the top of it, went through & buried itself in the ground.  That's how close to death all of us were.  Most of the Terminal force is gone.  I'm so thankful Jake worked at the depot.  Lots of times he had chances to go down to the other offices, but didn't go.  I doubt if he gets a vacation this summer.  I may come home before long.

     We may get to move in a few days.  We got a letter from the man yesterday & he said we could have the house, as soon as the people who are in it move.  They are building a house & it looks like its about ready.

     We went out to the edge of town & got groceries.  Most stores were ruined.  Papa came down on Thur. nite.  He said we'd never know what he & Mama suffered.  I know it's through the mercy of God that we are all here.  One man who had an apt. where Rubye lives was killed.

     Oh, yes, where I plan to move is at La Marque.  That's a suburb or community here.  I believe we will really like it.

     Well, tell everyone hello.  I guess you're tired reading this.

     Write us.

     Love, Bee, Jake

P.S.  I forgot to tell you why my face was bloody.  I got a little cut under my eye, one in my ear & on my thumb.  I got a pretty deep one on my back, but it's ok now.

*******

The Monsanto plant collapsed in the explosion, killing 145 of the 450 shift workers on duty.

The second explosion was another ship, also loaded with fertilizer, and which caught fire possibly from the debris from the first ship and exploded in the middle of the next night.

I was able to determine that Bee and Jake were Mr. and Mrs. C. N. Shoemake.  Joye was Bee's sister, Mrs. Joye Cox.  Bee died in 1983 and Jake died in 1997.  They are buried in Hopkins County, Texas.

LSW

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