Tuesday's tornado was near repeat of 1923 cyclone at Jackson

Friday, May 9, 2003

Though few people today could possibly recall it, Tuesday's tornado was not the first time the heart of Jackson was ripped apart by a fury of wind. Eighty years have passed but the story was much the same then as it was this week.

A tornado devastated the town March 11, 1923, destroying homes, businesses and churches. The descriptions reported by the Southeast Missourian of that cyclone's path and its aftermath are eerily similar to Tuesday's storm.

The 1923 funnel first dropped down in the cemetery at Missouri and Madison streets, taking down monuments and uprooting trees. Tuesday's tornado first hit a block south of the cemetery at Kasten Masonry. Both took similar northeast paths up through the business district, destroying buildings, overturning cars and whipping down power and telephone wires.

Eighty years ago, Jackson's city limits were much smaller. The 1923 tornado twisted through the city until it left the northeast side and plunged into the countryside, where it blasted barns and outbuildings. Part of that area today is now the Bent Creek subdivision.

The similarities don't end with the nearly identical paths:

Both tornadoes left a trail of damage more than 50 yards wide and came within a block of the county courthouse without causing any damage to it.

Neither tornado killed anyone in Jackson or nearby, and city residents then and now said it was "miraculous" no one died, considering the devastation.

Eleven people died in a tornado Sunday night in Madison County, Tenn., where a town also named Jackson was struck. The 1923 tornado killed 20 people there.

Volunteers from Cape Girardeau arrived within a few hours after both tornadoes to provide assistance.

Destroyed buildings

While the 1923 storm tore the roof from the Jackson Mercantile Co. and at least five other buildings, Tuesday's did much of the same to the police and fire complex, Immaculate Conception School and several businesses. The buildings that were completely destroyed by the 1923 tornado included the Masonic Hall at the corner of High and Adams streets, the Corinthian Baptist Church, and the Episcopal Church.

The first tornado did about $100,000 in damage to Jackson. But because Tuesday night's cyclone damaged almost 200 structures, the cost to clean up and rebuild will be in the millions.

An account published in the March 12, 1923, edition of the Southeast Missourian described a church congregation's reaction to the tornado:

"At the Baptist church, services were going on. Some of the members evinced anxiety when the storm appeared, but the pastor, Rev. Colter, dismissed their alarms with, 'It is a bad storm, but we'll escape it.' The words were scarcely uttered when the full face of the tornado struck the building. Bricks began to fly and people fled from the edifice."

From the archived stories, it appears Jackson residents in 1923 were just as resilient and determined to pick up the debris and rebuild as they are today, evidenced by the rebuilding of the First Baptist Church and the Masonic Lodge.

Perhaps the only striking difference between the tornadoes are injuries. Tuesday's tornado is linked to perhaps only two minor injuries, according to city officials.

But in 1923, several women and children were cut by shards of glass and injured by debris. The victims included: Mrs. Charles F. Brennecke, who was struck by timbers, members of the Schmuke family, who were cut by shattering window glass, and Rose Sachse, who was struck by debris.

An Australian Shepherd named Pea kenneled at the K-9 Training Center escaped death Tuesday as the tornado destroyed the kennel. The only noted animal deaths in the 1923 twister included a cow, a horse and a police dog owned by Charlie Query.

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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