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Thursday, May 15, 2008

40 Years Ago Today: Wapella Tornado May 15, 1968


It seems like only yesterday, I was watching cartoons around 5PM on a Wednesday, laughing and scratching...well wait, that was actually yesterday...but pretty much the same thing was happening 40 years ago (though the Flintstones were on TV then rather than Arthur now, both good very shows in my opinion, with Arthur being snarkier, but the Flinstones having more memorable characters), except 40 years ago a tornado warning came on, advising DeWitt County to take cover.

If I recall, and I can't tell whether my parents said this so many times or I actually remember it, my sister and older brother were watching cartoons with me (40 years ago, not yesterday), when my brother took off like a civil defense worker to get us to the basement. My mother, in the kitchen with my 1 yr old brother, forcefully objected to the basement idea, as Grandpa lived with us then and could not easily get downstairs. Grandpa smoked cigars with an alligator clip which made an eerie red glow while the sky turned very black outside.

Mom gathered my brothers and sister under the kitchen table. My baby brother really stunk up the house during the storm itself, providing a break in the action of the tornado (he can still do that 40 years later), and we waited the storm out. Grandpa was not noticeably concerned about the weather whatsoever, but was getting revved up for the Cardinals' baseball season.

We had some minor damage to our roof, a bit of a flood, and some windows blown out. My uncle's (which belonged to my other grandfathers before him) house across the street was ruined, and much of the town was crushed, with a few people being killed and others left temporarily homeless.

The Village came back stronger, if not exactly prettier, than ever. I always assumed the defiantly reckless attitude of Hog City was an after effect of the tornado, but as I got older I realized that the Village of Wapella can and could always pretty much defy any force of nature or man (or logic for that matter), before or after the May 15 epic.

Wapella.com and the Board of Wapella Historians has celebrated the defiance of the tornado by unanimously naming the Building of the Dunk Tank the #1 Event in Wapella History.

Please tell us what was going on 40 years ago. How did you make it through the tornado?

Photo Courtesy of George Spray. Thanks George!

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

wow the mod actually had a family? I look at the mod as an impersonal, distant figure - much like a narrator...nice to see that he has a personal side....quite a complicated character..

HRM 72 said...

Watching cartoons must have been the thing to do at 5pm on May 15 as that is what my mom and her brother were doing just before the tornado hit. My grandfather rode out the storm east of Wapella, in a ditch with his brother, each of them having different point of views: do we get out of the truck or stay in it? They got out.

Just goes to show, nothing can take Hog City down. Not even an F4(as the rumor goes).

Anonymous said...

Nony 4:32,

You are confusing JB Powers, a member of the Board of Wapella Historians, with the Moderator, two different sorts altogehter.

Anonymous said...

As a reporter/photographer for The Daily Pantagraph I can recall a lot of the details of that evening, though I was in Normal when the storm struck photographing ISU students playing in the flooded creek. The picture was taken the morning of May 16 and is part of a collection of photos taken throughout the village that morning. George Spray

Anonymous said...

Remember it well. It seems that we were all watching cartoons at that time. When you only get three channels (PBS wasn't there yet?) you don't have many choices. These days we get non-stop local and national coverage if a hail stone falls.

Some years later, Hannah A Ryan was born on this same date. She turns 18 today. She is lovingly known as the Tornado Baby.

Great job by the Mod.

BEP

EEP said...

HRM, weren't your mother and my father like 14 and 16, respectively? I'm glad to hear they were still cartooning it up. Dad always did like to see what kind of mess that Jonny Quest was going to get himself into.

My maternal Grandfather was at the Waynesville Legion playing dominoes, deftly predicting "the heavy stuff will miss us."

It reminds me of the time Cherokee Toohill said much the same thing and minutes later, myself, Cherokee, IRBW, Millz, Spencer Harris and Bruce Thomas were in the middle of a tornado and reconvined to the saftety of Hoopie Quaid's to wait it out.

Hog City has always been a bit tornado prone.

EEP said...

Birthday greetings to Hannah R. as well. Slainte!

JB Powers said...

BEP,

Were you guys living in the country or next to Andrea and Phillip Miller at that time?

JBP

Anonymous said...

Times have definitely changed. Now Cenral IL has RC Mcbride on WJBC if even a hint of a popcorn shower comes on the radar.

IRBW

Millz said...

EEP, I vividly recall that time as I was hugging a fence post with Cherokee in a ditch while you guys were about a mile ahead of us trying to "drive out of it". That was the great "grass on my side, grass over here too" story.

Luckily we all made it through ok, even though it took us 2 days to get back to school due to the tree that had fallen near Cherokee's lane.

Anonymous said...

JBP,

We lived north of Wapella. My grandfather Ryan rode out the storm with us. Sister Number Two was only three months old at the time.

BEP

Anonymous said...

I remember in Thompson's history class him asking Hedrick and I where Mills and Holland were at. I can still remember Thompson's reaction to the story shaking his head with that grin on his face.

IRBW

Anonymous said...

By the end of school that day, the story had morphed into "the tornado went right over the top of them, darn near sucked them up" and the mighty 6 loved it. I think it got them dates to the last dance of the year.

Anonymous said...

Are there any film archives of large, mumu-wearing women with curlers saying that "it sounded like a freight train"? That is a Southern tradition. The larger the better.

Most tornado stories are apocryphal. I believe Scahn's tornado story, where he was airborne, is true.

From tornado central,

BEP

Anonymous said...

Sorry Bryan, it is S-C-H-A-N.

Maxima mea culpa.

BEP

Anonymous said...

What a day to remember! I was in the basement with my husband and two kids; not much left when we finally managed to come upstairs.
Thanks for mentioning the dunk tank as the #1 history event of Wapella; my dad would have been so proud..I've lost track of it now; am unsure what happened to it.
Ginny Duncan Murphy

Anonymous said...

Ginny - any stories you can share on the building of the dunk tank? What was the inspiration? Why did it not function when my slowball hit that smiley faced target ----wasn't it a smiley faced target? bbd

Anonymous said...

Might help on the dunk tank history. It was a big hit at early Corn and Bean Festivals and it was not uncommon for various residents, myself included, to taunt the audience into spending their $1 bills for the three baseballs. Tanks were made of wood with a plastic liner. Last I knew present tank was stored down at the Wapella Village maintenance shed. George Spray

Anonymous said...

My Dad, K.B. Duncan built the dunk tank for the Khoury League I believe and he put "dedicated to the kids of Wapella" on it. I believe it had a smiley face target. Ginny

Anonymous said...

I was a freshman at ISU playing in the flooded creek.Later in the day another freshman from Wapella came down to my dorm room and gave me the awful news. Of course you could not call home,the phone lines were down. The worst part was not knowing for several hours how your family fared.

Kat said...

I lived in Heyworth when the tornado hit Wapella. We were walking home from school and had just arrived when you could here it going over our house. We were lucky, it didn't touch down.

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