One of the most perplexing incidents of strange coincidences is tied to the hamlet of Beatrice, Nebraska. At 7:27pm, on Wednesday, March 1, 1950, a natural gas explosion inside the West Side Baptist Church would completely level the building. The church choir practice was scheduled that Wednesday night for 7:20pm, but every single member of the choir was unusually late to practice that evening. The strange circumstances behind the entire choir’s tardiness continue to amaze people who hear about this story.
Martha Paul, the choir director was very adamant that her choir members be punctual. It was highly unusual for people to be late… but on that particular evening, every single member of the choir– including the choir director herself and the reverend– was late to practice.
Reverend Walter Klempel and his wife had gone to the church early to light the furnace. When his eighteen month old daughter soiled her dress, he and his wife decided they had time to change her outfit. They were summarily late to choir practice because it took a while to iron a new dress.
The choir director’s daughter and choir accompanist, Marilyn Paul, was exhausted and taking a quick nap before choir practice. Her quick 15 minute nap ran over and she and her mother were subsequently late to choir.
Choir member Herbert Kipf was detained by a letter which he urgently felt the need to write and post.
A particularly difficult geometry problem prompted Ladona Vandergrift to put off choir practice for a little while.
Royena Estes and Sadie Estes had car trouble and could not get their vehicle to start. They called to ask Vandergrift for a ride. Since Vandergrift was late because of her geometry homework, these two choir members were also late.
While listening to “This is Your Life” on the radio Lucille Jones was compelled to listen to the full broadcast on the life of Edgar Burgen. Though she accompanied fellow choir member Dorothy Wood to practice, she wanted to hear the end of the broadcast. Jones’ tardiness would cause Wood to be late as well.
Mrs. Leonard Schuster and her daughter Susan were detained as Mrs. Schuster had to stop by her mother’s house.
Joyce Black, who lived across the street from the church, was just plain lazy that evening. She didn’t want to go outside in the cold. When she finally left her house, Joyce would witness the West Side Baptist Church explosion.
One by one, each of the choir members arrived at the site of the explosion. They were all extremely frantic, wondering who had been in the explosion… only to discover that they had ALL fortuitously missed the explosion.
This story maintains notoriety even now, over 60 years later, because the probability that ALL the members of the church choir, traveling from different parts of town, would each have a reason to be late on that particular choir evening… when all of them were hardly ever late… on a night that their church just HAPPENED to blow up. The numerous coincidences necessary for this situation to occur exactly as it did, resulting in zero deaths in a terrible explosion, is uncanny. Some call it an act of God… or is it just a series of strange coincidences?
* Unsolved Mysteries (Episode 49). With Robert Stack. ABC. 3 January 1990.
(Links to a Youtube Video of Unsolved Mysteries for this story)
* Nichols, Luke. “Remember the Miracle: Church Explosion 60 Years Ago and Not Forgotten.” Beatrice Daily Sun 1 March 2010.