Here is an article written about the tragedy at Cross Road School by my Aunt Velma Sharrett Bell. She was my mother’s sister. Her name when going to Cross Road School was Velma Sharrett. Her daughter, Pattie Greenwood gave me the article. Pattie, Marian, (Velma’s daughters) Sonny (Marian husband) and I meet in Lawrenceville, IL, last Friday to retrace some of our parents’ and grandparents’ past. I thought this might be of some interest to you and your readers.

I copied the clipping to word and have attached a 1920- 1921 class photo of the Cross Road School, along with a photo of the school.

Written 1984

Survivor of Cross Road School tragedy

Dear JoAnn,

Here is an essay I wrote when Senior Citizens were supposed to write about something that happened in their lives.
I wrote about the explosion at Cross Roads School. I didn’t win anything, I guess they didn’t want to hear about “a Tragedy”.

When I read Perry Pipers story in the paper I thought I would send a copy of what I wrote. I was in the 7th grade when the explosion happened.

Thank you
Velma Sharrett Bell
512 B. Pickett
Fisher, IL 61843

My father worked in the oil field in Clark County, Illinois, when I was born. We moved to Lawrence County in 1912 where he worked as a pumper.

I attended Cross Roads School west of Lawrenceville, a one-room school about one and three-fourth miles from home. Later the attendance became so large a second room was built.

We had always had lady teachers until I was in the seventh grade, the term of 1920-21. Then we had a man, Emmett Bunyan, a very good teacher, who had just married in October.

The school was on a corner with a large ditch around behind the grounds. By February, the snow had all melted and it was warm enough to play out of doors. On Friday, February 4th, I with several other girls wanted to go under a bridge over the ditch. There was a puddle of water to cross so we began to look for something to step on to keep our feet dry.

A hedge row grew along the road to the north. We found a tin can that we all stepped on to go under the bridge. There was a heavy rain over the weekend. The ditch was filled with water and the can floated down behind the school.

During first recess on Monday, February 7th, the boys fished the can out of the water. Something rattled inside and they tried to open it, but school resumed so they left it until the noon hour.

At noon, three girls and I were playing hide and seek. Two would hide their eyes at the east end of the porch while the other two hid somewhere. Leona Farlow and I were hiding our eyes and the boys were a short distance always under the trees. Pounding on the can to open it. I turned around, wondering what they were doing, when, all of a sudden, the can exploded!

A storage building for nitroglycerin was a short distance northwest of the school. The can had contained nitroglycerin, which was used in drilling wells to “shoot” them so oil would flow in. Instead of taking the can to the storage area, it was left along the hedge row.

The explosion was a frightening experience. Eleven boys were in school that day. Two were shoveling coal in the furnace. Robert McCausland was so badly hurt that Leona Farlow and I ran up the road to call his father on the phone. When he came, he stopped to talk to us. We where standing on the running board, and he started up so fast, we fill off.

Robert McCausland and Curtis Hill were the only boys to recover. Seven boys were killed – Richard Peters, Elmer Mellette, Charles Welton, Henry Legg, Thomas Legg, Raymond Groves and Lester Groves. Our teacher, Mr. Bunyan, died of a severed jugular vein.

One girl, Thelma Shouse, was not feeling well and was inside the school. She was cut by glass as the windows were shattered and plaster cracked.

The school did not reopen for the rest of the term. Pupils were transferred to Bridgeport School or Lawrenceville. I finished seventh grade at Central School in Lawrenceville.

When school resumed at Cross Roads School in the Fall on 1921, our new teacher was a lady. She had heard we where unruly students and threatened to use an axe on us if we misbehaved. When I told my mother, she sent to back to Lawrenceville to school.

It was been sixty-three years since the explosion, but it is something I will never forget.