The Tornado of 1925

Southern Illinois

Early Illinois history books reported the storm that came out of Missouri, crossed the Mississippi River into Southern Illinois at 2:37 p.m. and reached Princeton, Indiana at 5:00 p.m. to be so destructive and could be compared to no storm in history.  Today, this devastating tornado in 1925 still holds the record!

In 1927, it was reported that the storm crossed Illinois at the rate of 45 mph and that the width of the destructive path varied from a 1/4 to 1/2 mile.  Today, it is estimated that this tornado had an average path width of 3/4 to 1 mile and that it was traveling at between 56 and 73 mph.  It is estimated that the tornado stayed on the ground for about 219 miles, leaving ruin as it's aftermath.

So monstrous was this storm and so unprepared were the people in it's path, that the death toll reached almost 700 and that about 15,000 homes were destroyed.

This page is intended to serve as a memorial to our ancestors who died 
and were injured in this tornado.

The information here is divided into three sections for the counties of Franklin, Hamilton and Jackson Counties.  In each section you will county specific horror stories, lists of the dead/injured and some obituaries.

* The newspaper articles was generously contributed by Sheila Cadwalader who obtained the article from a collection of Newspaper clippings at the Brehm Library in Mt. Vernon, IL.  The Some of the newspapers were not identified.  A special thank you  goes to Carla Pulliam who aided Sheila in compiling this information. The obituaries are extracts from Harold Felty's Legacy of Kin.  Thanks, Sheila!

Some information here comes from: History of Illinois and Her People, pub. 1927.


Permission to use this map was granted by Mr. Carl Rexroad, Editor 
of the Southern Illinoisan Newspaper, 3/22/2000.


THE TRI-STATE TORNADO

MISSOURI COUNTIES:      REYNOLDS - IRON MADISON BOLLINGER - CAPE GIRARDEAU - PERRY

ILLINOIS COUNTIES:        JACKSON - WILLIAMSON - FRANKLIN - HAMILTON - WHITE

INDIANA COUNTIES:         POSEY - GIBSON - PIKE

At About 1:01 PM on March 18, 1925, trees began to snap north-northwest of Ellington, Missouri, and for the next three and a half hours more people would die, more schools would be destroyed, more students and farm owners would be killed, and more deaths would occur in a single city than from any other tornado in U.S. history. Records would be set for speed, path length, and probably for other categories that can't be measured so far in the past. The tornado maintained an exact heading, N 69 degrees E, for 183 of the 219 miles, at an average 62mph, following a slight topographic ridge on which a series of mining towns were built.  These towns were the main targets of the devastating winds. Between Gorham and Murphysboro, the forward speed was a record setting 73mph. No distinct funnel was visible through much of its path, yet for over 100 miles, the path width held uniformly at about three-quarters of a mile.

After touching down 3 miles north-northwest of Ellington, Missouri, it killed a farmer. The funnel was very wide, a double tornado, or accompanied by downbursts as it enveloped Annapolis and a mining town called "Leadanna" 2 miles south of Annapolis. Two people were killed and 75 more were injured in that area. Losses in both towns totaled about $500,000.

There were no injuries across most of Iron, and all of Madison Counties. The damage track was very wide; damage was F2 in intensity, and this may reflect a break in the tornado path, but with downburst damage connecting the tornado damage tracks, 5 miles south of Fredericktown. Only once more, near Princeton, Indiana, would there even be a minor hint that this event was a tornado or tornado/downburst family. Once out of the Ozark hills and onto the farmland of Bollinger and Perry Counties, the death toll quickly mounted near Lixville, Biehle, and Frohna. One child was killed in a rural wooden school, 5 miles North of

Altenburg, Perry County. At least 32 children were injured in two Bollinger County schools. The event was probably a double tornado for three miles near Biehle. Eleven probably died in Missouri, although some lists have 13 deaths.

In Illinois, the devastation was at its worst. At Gorham, 34 people died as virtually all of the town was destroyed. Over half of the town's population was either killed or injured. Seven of the deaths were at the school. At Murphysboro, there was the largest death toll, within a single city, in US history. The 234 deaths included at least 25 in three different schools. All of these schools were brick and stone structures, built with little or no reinforcement, and students were crushed under falling walls.

Murphysboro losses totaled about $10,000,000. Another 69 people died in and near Desoto, and the 33 deaths at the school was the worst in US tornado history. Parrish was devastated, with 22 deaths, as was the northwest part of West Frankfort, with $800,000 damage. About 800 miners were 500 feet down in a mine when the tornado struck. They knew there had been a storm, but they had lost electrical power. The only way to get out, and find out how their families had fared, was to go up a narrow escapement. Most of the demolished homes were miner's cottages, and many of the 127 dead and 450 injured were women and children.

Also unprecedented was the rural death toll of 65 in Hamilton and White County. There were single deaths in three different rural White County schools. The normally weather wise farmers were apparently unaware of what was bearing down on them. With such a great forward speed, and appearing as a boiling mass of clouds rolling along, rather than a widely visible funnel, the tornado gave these people too little time to react. Massive amounts of dust and debris also served to obscure the storm.

In Indiana, multiple funnels were occasionally visible, as the 3/4-mile-wide path of destruction continued with no letup. At least 71 people died in Indiana. The town of Griffin lost 150 homes, and children were killed on their way home from school. Two deaths were in a bus. Another stretch of rural devastation occurred between Griffin and Princeton, passing just northwest of Owensville. About 85 farms were devastated in that area. About half of Princeton was destroyed, and losses there totaled $1,800,000. The funnel dissipated about 10 miles northeast of Princeton. 

DEATH COUNT IS MORE THAN EIGHT HUNDRED

Chicago, IL:  Late figures Show 2,916 Maimed; Murphysboro Death Toll Rises to 201. (Complete article not copied)

The storm swept territory of the Ohio Valley continued the tragic task of burying its dead while relief workers completed bringing order out of chaos and plans for rehabilitation were advanced.... In towns where loss of life was heaviest community funerals were planned with burial in one long grave... Today aid continued to pour in for sufferers in the greatest tornado in America's history, which snuffed out more than 800 lives and injured 3,000 persons.

A few isolated cases of looting came to light, but generally there was no disorder. At West Frankfort a man caught taking a ring from a woman's finger was slain by a police officer.

Additions to the lists of dead left the figures at 809. The toll at Murphysboro rose to 201 with the finding of 11 additional bodies, and in other districts original estimates were reduced as final checks were made.

The Red Cross at St. Louis issued an appeal for sightseers to remain away from the area as every available building is already taxed to capacity in caring for the injured and homeless.

At DeSoto, while virtually wiped out, plans were made to bury thirty dead in one grave. Of this village of 500, fewer than 200 were left uninjured. Most of the casualties were among children, who perished when the school house was destroyed.

Funeral at Parrish, Illinois, victims were held in adjacent towns as nearly all of the towns 250 inhabitants were killed or injured and the handful of survivors moved to homes of neighbors outside the tornado district.

At Gorham 12 funerals were held yesterday.

In the wilderness at Murphysboro, where 1,000 residences had stood, a search for additional bodies were continued. Of 700 injured, 300 are said to be in a serious condition.

Parrish and Gorham, Illinois, and Griffin, Indiana were virtually annihilated. The present
outlook is such that no effort will be made to rebuild the Illinois towns but State Senator SNEED refuses to give up on DeSoto, saying, "My father is buried there."

MATERIAL AID RUSHES INTO CARBONDALE

Not copied verbatim... All sorts of aid was being rushed into Carbondale by train and truck,
including food, money, clothing, shelter, medical assistance, and even caskets. Sanitation had
became a big concern, especially as many had returned to whatever kind of a home that remained, and a supply of tetanus serum was brought in. Federal, State, Military, Red Cross and Civic organizations all helped. The First Methodist Church was turned into a Red Cross and relief headquarters and was stacked high with items. To help with medical aid, Chicago organizations offered half a million dollars. St. Louis had already raised over half of a $100,000 subscription fund to be turned over to the Red Cross.

Taken from History of Illinois, pub. 1927




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