On this day in 1947, the ship SS Grandcamp exploded at the docks in Texas City. The French-owned vessel, carrying ammonium nitrate produced during wartime for explosives and later recycled as fertilizer, caught fire early in the morning. While attempts were being made to extinguish the fire, the ship exploded. The entire dock area was destroyed, along with the nearby Monsanto Chemical Company, other smaller companies, grain warehouses, and numerous oil and chemical storage tanks. The concussion of the explosion, felt as far away as Port Arthur, damaged or destroyed at least 1,000 residences and buildings. The ship SS High Flyer, in dock for repairs and also carrying ammonium nitrate, was ignited by the first explosion; it was towed 100 feet from the docks before it exploded the next day. The ship's anchor monument records 576 persons known dead, only 398 of whom were identified. Probably the exact number of people killed will never be known.
On this day in 1971, Tejana superstar Selena Quintanilla Perez was born in Lake Jackson. She won the first of eight Tejano Music Awards as female entertainer of the year in 1987. Her 1992 album Entre a Mi Mundo made her the first Tejana to sell more than 300,000 albums, and her bilingual 1995 album Dreaming of You hit number one on the national Billboard Top 100 the week it was released. On March 31 of that year in Corpus Christi, Selena was fatally shot by the founder of her first fan club. More than 30,000 people viewed her casket at the Bayfront Plaza Convention Center in Corpus Christi. A biographical film of her life was released in 1997.
On this day in 1852, the wealthy twenty-six-year-old Mexican widow Petra Vela de Vidal married Anglo rancher Mifflin Kenedy in Brownsville. Though Kenedy was raised a Quaker, he accepted his wife's Catholicism, and she became one of the few upper-class women of Mexican origin in nineteenth-century Texas. In 1850 Mifflin Kenedy had formed an immensely profitable steamboat company in partnership with Richard King, and the two gradually began buying up vast amounts of ranching land. In 1869 the Kenedy family moved from Brownsville to the Laureles Ranch in Nueces County. As did most women in nineteenth-century Texas, Petra dedicated much of her life to childbearing, childrearing, and the domestic support of the family and the ranch. In 1882 Kenedy sold the ranch to the Texas Land and Cattle Company, apparently when Petra became an invalid for reasons doctors could not understand, and they moved to Corpus Christi. In Corpus Christi Petra Kenedy helped the church and the poor. A devout Catholic, she donated three bells for the tower and other gifts for the new Catholic church. She also made generous donations to St. Mary's Church in Brownsville. Petra died at Corpus Christi on March 16, 1885, and was buried at Brownsville.