The Texas City Disaster

IMG_0002Since I’ve been visiting with my family in Texas for the holidays, I decided to take a trip down to my hometown of Texas City, TX to tour some of the historical sites related to the Texas City Disaster. Most people don’t know anything about this event, but it’s actually a big part of Texas, and even national, history.

On April 16, 1947, a ship carrying ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded and destroyed much of the town of Texas City, killing about 600 people. About 65 of those people were never found or identified.

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This anchor was blown from the S.S. Grandcamp when this ship blew up on April 16, 1947, while moored at Texas City Terminal docks. The anchor, which weighed approximately 3200 lbs. originally, was projected from the ship to a point on Pan American property at 2000-S and 2160-E, sinking about 10 feet into the soil in landing. The distance traveled from ship to point of landing was 1.62 miles. It is now at Memorial Park, the site where the unidentified dead lay at rest.

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This statue, created by Lee Stark, sits in the section dedicated to those grieving the victims of the Texas City Disaster and the 1900 Storm that hit Galveston.

I had heard stories about this event growing up, but it wasn’t until I was in high school and had to write a paper on it that I became more interested in what happened. I interviewed my grandpa since he lived near the site of the explosion and was there at the time. He told me that when he heard the explosion, he thought Judgement Day had come.

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This fountain and statue were built in memory of the Texas City volunteer firemen who lost their lives in the Texas City Disaster.

The explosion was the force of an atomic bomb and the effects were so strong that windows in Houston, some 40 miles away, shattered. The blast also registered on a seismograph all the way in Denver, Colorado.

I took these pictures because I’m working on a story that takes place during the disaster and wanted to get reacquainted with the events that transpired. I grew up seeing these sites and artifacts, but had no idea of their significance back then. It was good to see them now with a new appreciation of this historic event that helped shape Texas City into the town that it is today.

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The S.S. Highflyer exploded in the main slip on 4-17-1947, after being set on fire by the S.S. Grandcamp, which exploded in the north slip on 4-16-1947. This is one of the Highflyer’s propellers that blew off during the explosion. It sits at the entrance to the Texas City Dike at Anchor Park.

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There are several of these anchors on display throughout the city. This is the one at Anchor Park near the Texas City Dike.

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A view of the docks today. The north slip where the Grandcamp and Highflyer exploded is somewhere in the center of this picture, probably near the tall silo.

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Looking toward the docks from outside the fence. The area is closed off today, but when the disaster occurred, residents could walk right up to the docks.

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There used to be rows of houses on this grassy land, which sits right across the street from the refinery. The homes that were destroyed during the disaster were eventually rebuilt, but have since been torn down as the refineries have bought the land. I think some people still refuse to move, but this is not a good location to live in.

One thing that was new to me on this tour was the newly redesigned Texas City Museum that has an entire section dedicated to the Texas City Disaster. They had lots of artifacts from the explosions and even a video that a woman took on an 8mm camera of the explosion as seen from the Texas City Dike. I had no idea that someone caught this on video and it was pretty fascinating to see.

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This anchor sits right outside the Texas City Museum. This museum has been there since 1948, but I missed it since I rarely spent any time on 6th Street. I also wasn’t into history or museums when I lived there. This museum has recently been remodeled and looks very nice on the inside. The curators take great care in keeping it up.

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The shipper’s Export Declaration Form from the S.S. Highflyer — a true copy of the original dated April 15, 1947. If you can zoom in, you can see the amount of ammonium nitrate that was ordered.

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A shoe belonging to one of the victims of the explosion.

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A piece of shrapnel from one of the ships that exploded.

While I couldn’t take any pictures or do any recordings of the videos, I could take pictures of everything else, so I took as many as possible. I even touched things that were okay to touch, like a large piece of shrapnel from one of the ships that exploded. Seeing the artifacts in the museum and reading the stories almost made me feel like I was there.

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The caption on this reads, “Frozen in time. This clock is from the City Hall Service Station in Texas City. The clock stopped at exactly the time of the first explosion on April 16, 1947.”

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From the museum’s description: “There were 59,000 rolls of sisal binder twine stored in the hold of the Grandcamp. When the explosion occurred, the twine was scattered over the entire area of about a mile radius. It is believed that the bales torched hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline and oil spilling out from ruptured reservoirs and pipelines. This is one of the rolls of twine from the Grandcamp.”

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The caption reads, “There are various pieces of shrapnel from the ships that exploded during the Texas City disaster. The pieces of shrapnel were called “raindrops” because they fell from the sky on April 16, 1947.”

This was a great visit and I was able to scout locations and gather a lot more important details that I can use in my story, although mine is more of a fictitious narrative based on actual events. However, I still want to make it as real as possible.

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