The Story of Texas City – My One In A Million
By Jay Howard Thames
“Humanity is basically good. And when the cookie crumbles, good will win out. And that’s what happened in Texas City.”
My grandfather, Jesse Thames, a heroic survivor of the Texas City Disaster – the worst man-made disaster in U.S. history – told me this the last time he recounted his experience on that fateful day. It has stayed with me, and always will.
The Texas City disaster is a mysterious one. The scope was massive. 600 people died, and depending upon varying accounts – hundreds more. Texas City was destroyed. The event brought about the first ever class action lawsuit. It was the largest explosion ever on United States soil. All in all, it’s a dark episode in our nations history that people should know about. But they don’t.
I didn’t learn about the disaster in Texas City from my U.S. history schoolbook, or even in my Texas history class, or from any of my grade-school teachers. I first heard about the event from my grandfather when he was on the phone with an old friend. I was eight years old, and I had heard him speak on the phone a hundred times. But this story – and his place in it – captivated me. And from that day forward until the day he died, I badgered him to tell me, in greater and greater detail, what it was like in Texas City on that Spring day in 1947.
My grandfather was not a talker. He was a man of principle. A man of few words and simple values. And I rarely saw him get emotional. The very few times he did, it was during the aforementioned storytelling sessions. Tears would well up in his eyes and his voice would crack ever so slightly. And he would stop, gather himself and tell me, “Maybe more next time.”
Ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated by storytelling, and specifically so in the form of movies. I was watching The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now when my friends were watching Sesame Street. Storytelling transfixed and transported me, and movies did it in warp-speed. I knew by the time I was nine years old I was going to create a career making movies. I also knew if I could only make one movie in my lifetime, it would be about my Grandfather’s experience in Texas City.
I started working on the script in 2002. The process has been exhaustive, invigorating, and deeply emotional. When people read it, they feel the same. They feel the connection between me and my grandfather, and he to the event itself. That’s when I get the question I have heard a hundred times, “How long have you been working on this?”
I always tell them the same thing, “Almost my entire life.” The answer needs no further explanation, and having read the script – they understand.
A few years ago a colleague of mine suggested I get a Facebook page, and see what kind of response sparks from anyone aware of the event, or the remaining community.
So in 2016, 77 Films did exactly that and started a Facebook feed, with the specific goal of exposing the story to anyone who was interested, and bringing those interested parties along on our journey to the big screen. We didn’t expect much, but regardless, we went in with great gusto.
What happened was nothing short of incredible. From the first day, people gravitated to our page and started sharing their stories. They re-connected with long lost acquaintances. They posted pictures. They clicked, liked and shared. It was awesome that our page could be the change agent in people’s lives. Our community was hungry for content, hungry for connection, hungry for this film.
So we created a sizzle reel for our film with my grandfather Jesse’s voice over (recorded from the very last time I spoke to him about the event) and authentic footage from April 16, 1947. We posted it on our feed September 29, 2016.
The audience coalesced around this video asset. The raw emotion poured into the feed was evident from everyone who saw it. People had a driving desire to watch, share and comment on this video, and more so to be a part of the community – in real life and digitally – of Texas City, the feature film.
The Facebook page has become a global hub for anything and everything Texas City. There are thousands of stories on our feed – each as heartfelt, sincere and dramatic as the next. As of this writing the video has 1,936,393 views, has been shared over 43 thousand times, and reached almost 4 million people.
And that’s why my grandfather Jesse’s story – and my story – is one in a million. And what I knew as a child, I’m perfectly positive about now – this will be the most important movie I make in my entire life. And it will be the most important film anyone in the Texas City community will ever see.
Yes, the scope of the event was massive, but it doesn't hold a candle to the impact the Texas City community has on me, and on each other. That impact has been nothing short of miraculous – and when the film is made and hits big screens the world over, the event will finally have the audience it deserves, and the citizens of Texas City – both past and present – will be properly honored..
My grandfather was right. Good will win out. Humanity is inherently good. We saw it then on that fateful day, we see it now on our Facebook feed, and we’ll see it in the near future when Texas City brings my grandfather Jesse’s story, my story, our stories to the biggest community of all – the global one.
To find out more visit there Facebook page
Jay Thames Jesse Thames