It was a warm, sunny May afternoon in 1923.
The McKie No. 1 had just come in–the oil was flowing somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 barrels of oil a day, with 20,000,000 feet of gas.
It was black gold. Texas Tea.
Somewhere around 2 pm the next day, it was time for the crews to change–approximately 25 men–one crew going home, one crew coming to work.
This was a typical day for these crews, working the oil-rich east Texas territory, in the early 1920’s. In fact, nearly everyone in that area was in the oil and gas business, in some form or manner.
This particular well, the McKie No. 1, was looking to be a very profitable well.
Then, tragedy struck.
This June, 2011, ThrillCam and I will have been married 21 years.
I might be even happier and more in love with him today than I was when I married him, if possible.
At the risk of sounding terribly sappy, I have never doubted we were meant to be together.
Our lives, and families, joined together, forever.
It was early Spring, our Sophomore year, 1987. ThrillCam’s roommate, John, who was in the theatre department with me, introduced us. We probably never would have met, had John not been the middle man.
ThrillCam was in the honors program, an English major, very smart.
I was in the theatre, not smart, and far removed from the main campus and the “normal” folk.
The story goes that ThrillCam looked at John, after meeting me, and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.”
I have to be honest: I thought he was cute, but didn’t really think much of him after we met. I couldn’t. I was too involved in the theatre to worry about boys at the moment.
(ThrillCam, by the way, is my nickname for my husband from our college days–David Letterman had a segment during the late 80’s where he would strap a camera onto an animal or an inanimate object and show the footage from that camera. One of the cameras was the Late Night Monkey Cam, and one was dubbed the Late Night ThrillCam. I began calling him ThrillCam, and it stuck.)
So, when ThrillCam asked me out on a date, I declined.
He asked again. I declined again.
I’m not sure how many times he asked, but each time I turned him down, due to my schedule. I was flattered that he wanted to go out, but I just did not have the time.
ThrillCam gave up and never called again.
Finally, the last main stage show of that Spring wrapped up. I called ThrillCam; I had felt bad that I was unable to go out with him during that entire Spring semester. I figured I owed him a date….
Fortunately, for me, he did not hold a grudge and said yes.
We went out on one date.
I paid. (not because he wouldn’t, but because I asked him out–it was only right)
We ate at the one and only Japanese restaurant in town.
We had a great time.
Then, summer hit.
We didn’t see one another that whole summer. In fact, I dated a few other guys during that time. (I’ve never asked him if he dated anyone else. I’m sure he didn’t. I’m sure he was pining away for me. Surely….)
Finally, the next Fall, once we both returned to college, he asked me out again. I accepted.
He was a perfect gentleman.
I was smitten.
A fire had been lit.
The rest, they say, is history.
On May 9, 1923, around 2pm, as two crews were changing, a worker approached the McKie No. 1 derrick; he began applying a control valve.
In the process, the worker’s hammer struck a rock.
The hammer impacting the rock created a spark.
The spark, in turn, ignited the oil and gas, which led to the detonation of both:
The explosion and fire which followed instantly caught every workman on and around the derrick platform. They had no chance. The sheets of flame caught them as a sudden dust storm might envelop a group of travelers. Twelve of the victims met instant death. Another died in a hospital soon after he was snatched from the caldron of burning oil.
Tonight the fire is under control, but from 2 o’clock this afternoon until 6 o’clock this evening 1,000 barrels of accumulated waste were on fire and the full flow of the well, 5,000 barrels a day – continued ignited.
(from, I believe, the Corsicana Daily Newspaper, or the Kerens, Texas newspaper–not sure which.)
ThrillCam’s great-grandfather worked on one of the crews that fateful day.
He was the man, mentioned in the above newspaper article, who was “snatched from a cauldron of burning oil” and taken to the hospital.
He was able to describe what happened and said he believed he and one other man were the only two to survive.
The other man did not live through the night.
ThrillCam’s great-grandfather died the next day.
He left behind a wife and three children.
My great-grandfather was an owner of the McKie No. 1 oil well.
He owned the oil well that killed my husband’s great-grandfather.
To say ThrillCam and I are greatly impacted by this story is to say the least.
It’s just so surreal.
I understand that my great-grandfather had no control over the freak accident. It was just that: a freak accident.
But, I know that my husband’s family was changed forever after that explosion. The course of ThrillCam’s grandfather’s young life was affected dramatically when his father died in the oil well fire. That, in turn, affected my husband’s mother, and eventually had an effect on my husband. There was a lot of bad and good that came out of the sudden death of his great-grandfather.
I wonder, though, had his great-grandfather not died in the oil well fire, would we have ever met and married?
Would ThrillCam have turned out to be a very different human being had his great-grandfather not died so abruptly and tragically?
Because, the man I know and love is such a good, good man. …and a good, good husband. …and a good, good father.
I can’t imagine marrying and having children with anyone else.
What would our lives be like, had our great-grandfathers not had that awful past association?
How different would life be for either one of us?
So, while I’m saddened and disturbed that our great-grandfathers’ lives were connected in such a catastrophic and sad way, I am eternally grateful to God that He orchestrated our families’ paths to intersect once again…
Three generations later.
P.S. What’s so amazing about this story is, none of our parents knew the historical connection between our great-grandfathers.
My mother, who passed away in March of this year, was a very astute genealogist, but she never caught the connection in all her research. My mother-in-law, who I love dearly, knew her grandfather was in the oil and gas business, and knew he had died in an oil well explosion, but also never made the connection. It just never occurred to either of them, because they didn’t know the names of either family’s ancestors. No need to.
ThrillCam just happened upon the information last week, thanks to a conversation he had with my sister, who off-handily mentioned our great-grandfather’s oil well fire. ThrillCam decided to read up on the explosion, just out of curiosity, and saw the list of victims, including his great-grandfather’s name….