IAGenWeb Project


 Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team




The Republican
Keosauqua, Van Buren, Iowa
Thursday, June 22, 1882

50 People Killed at Grinnell Alone. 3 Killed at Malcom.
At Mt. Pleasant Too.

     On last Saturday evening at 8:45 P.M. the most terrible tornado ever known in Iowa and perhaps in the United States, passed through central Iowa destroying part of Grinnell and Malcom, both in Poweshiek county. We give here a complete report condensed from the accounts given of the cyclone in the Grinnell Herald.
     The most terrific disaster in the history of Iowa is the one of which our now desolate town at Grinnell is the victim. The peculiar aspect of the sky was matter of common remark on the streets of yesterday afternoon. An hour or more before sunset the northern sky was hung with conical, downard-pointing clouds, the like of which none of us had ever seen. After sunset, and even after darkness was gathering, the western sky half way to the zenith was lurid and brilliant and unearthly-an ominous sight which fascinated while it filled one with ill-dread. Almost ere the brilliant apparition in the west had disappeared the storm broke. It was accompanied with a roaring like thunder, or perhaps more like rumbling of a dozen heavy freight trains. Chimneys, trees, houses, barns began to fly like leaves. People took to their cellars.
     The rain came in floods, as if a water spout had burst, which in fact was probably the case. The wind and rain and blinding  lightning continued so furious for nearly for nearly half an hour that it was scarce safe for those whose roofs staid over them to open their doors; but the damage was probably done in a very few minutes-probably not more than five. The northwest quarter of the town was laid flat. The path of the storm was comparatively narrow, but scarcely anything was left standing within its limits. Word comes of occasional farm houses destroyed several miles west of Capt. Merrill's but the fury of the storm was most terrible in the portion of the village north of Fifth avenue. It first entered the town from the west and moved a little north of east until it reached Main street. It then curved to the southeast, whipped up the college buildings, and several... [line unreadable]...town. It then seemed to bound into air, passing over Mr. Show's and Mr. Perry's. It crossed the C.R.I. & P. about a mile and a half of this city where it met a westward bound train which it completely demolished. As it passed south of east across the country it demolished farm houses, fences and barns as far as  we have been able to trace it. It struck Malcom in its northern half and wrought destruction as complete as in Grinnell. The track of the storm center as it crossed the city averaged about two blocks in width. The damage outside that narrow track was comparatively small, although in this respect the tempest seemed as freakish as lightning. It would occasionally dip down and catch up a roof or cornice as for instance in the case of the Hatch building, and Child's livery stable.
     The storm seemed to have an explosive force not infrequently carrying out one side or end of a house. Within the space of twenty feet one house would be thrown to the west and another to the east. Most of the buildings were crushed like shells and reduced to splinters; a few were lifted and bodily turned round. It is marvelous that the loss of life was not greater than it was. The storm came with such a roar that many betook themselves to their cellars. This saved them, as their houses disappeared from above their heads. Even the foundation walls in may cases were brushed off even with the surface of the ground. A considerable number of cows and horses were killed. Within the space of one half square near Dr. C.B. Growell's six horses were killed. Fowls had their feathers entirely stripped off, and the earth appeared as if beaten and lashed with indescribable fury.


     In the district between Park and East streets the damage was general, but few buildings were destroyed, but north of Fourth avenue almost every house was broken and scratched, and windows knocked out by flying debris. Chimneys were blown off from many houses, shingles ripped off and shutters broken. At J.H. Howard's a large tree was blown off the roof, breaking it in. Mr. Gideon Hayes' chimneys and roof suffered. Mr. H. Williams' porch was damaged and the front of the roof torn off. C.M. Hatch's house was battered and fences on numerous yards were torn up and carpets, pieces of tin roof, dresses and hats were scattered over the ground and lodged in the trees. Ed. Bruner was slightly hurt. Higgs, a student, was also injured. Mr. J.M. Chamberlain's family were in the sitting-room. The house was demolished and all four escaped without injury except Mrs. C. who was bruised and perhaps sustained a fracture of one of her limbs. The cyclone struck the college with terrific force The stone building was unroofed and blown down to the second story, and part of the walls of that were carried away. The brick building is blown into a disorganized mass. The distruction [sic] could not have been more complete Seven students were known to have been in the building. They were all in the third story in their rooms. Frank Pinnell felt the building shake and jumped, was scratched and bruised, came right down by the well, picked himself up, and ran to town and gave the alarm. The people ran to the college. Those there first heard three boys under the debris. They were taken out, Will H. Brainerd with little difficulty. Henry R. Baker with a good deal of work, and Eugene Gunnison was removed by moving some rubbish. Brainerd was cut in the face, one ear nearly taken off and bruised. Baker has a severely bruised back, and Gunnison's face is a network of gashes.
     George Kessel, W.B Pinkerton and B.H. Bergett were in room No. 4. The two former found themselves on the ground slightly injured, not knowing how they got there. Burgett was caught on the hips and lower extremities and held under a pile of ruins ten feet thick. He was perfectly conscious and told the helpers to hurry up, as he could not extricate himself. He felt on pain on account of the shock. He was recovered after the jack screws had been procured and an opening made down through with axes and saws. He was carried to Prof. Parker's, but died before morning. Up to eleven o'clock Sunday night 41 deaths had occurred at Grinnell and 23 at outside points, seventeen of them at Malcom and in that vicinity and five in the country northwest of Grinnell. The doctors say that 6 or 7 and even more of the wounded at Grinnell won't live twenty-four hours, and some of the physicians put the final death toll at Grinnell alone at more that 50, while some fear it will reach as high as 75. Of the wounded in that city there are now over 140 known cases some 80 of them more or less..[cannot read line]...country there were also several serious cases of injury. The best posted news at Grinnell yesterday estimated that the death roll of this calamity is not unlikely and is indeed very probable to reach 100. It is now 64 as we have it. There were six deaths yesterday and last night- among the rest of Conductor Diegnen, of the Rock Island road. One hundred and forty-one houses were destroyed in Grinnell besides the College, the loss amounting to $500,000.


     We glean the following from the Gate City. "Saturday night by half past nine the wind began to blow, and by 10 o'clock the storm cloud gathered intense darkness. The whole heavens were aflame with continuous flashes of vivid lightning and most terrible claps of thunder successively followed. Then came the hurricane sweeping destruction in its path, and with unbridled fury the storm raged. Chimneys by the thousands fell; trees unnumbered twisted and snapped and fell, and by morning no language could picture the scene. All over the city devastation and destruction was before our eyes. Every street and the square were filled with debris, so that it was impossible for teams to pass, and the pedestrians could only creep under or climb over fallen trees and scattered boards and bricks. The fine church of the Baptists, valued at $25,000 was a perfect mass of crushed ruins; but the great old organ still remained in the unbroken alcove, neither injured by the crash nor by the rain. The Methodist and Presbyterian and Christian churches all had their steeples hurled off and thrown away in the streets. The Union Hall and the post office and Odd Fellows Hall were partly unroofed, and numerous other stores and buildings were alike injured. Great massive rolls of tin roof, as if mere paper, were rolled up and cast away from their places. The public square and college campus were rather frightful in appearance, as hundreds of the trees were cut and torn and prostrate. The Centennial and Winona school buildings were badly hurt; the Catholic cathedral, damaged to at least five thousand dollars worth; Mr. Birt's house demolished, also Mr. Shotwell's, the woolen mills torn up; Mr. Garner's carpet store unroofed and all wet, so that numerous carpets were spread out over Sabbath. T.Bird's furniture store uncovered and wet, so the pavement was strewed with chairs, sofas, bedsteads, etc. Indeed it was wonderful and beyond all describing, for all over and around the city in all directions sorrowful sights of the dreadful march. Miles of fencing were laid low. Only one death occurred. Mr. Scott by trying to rescue his aged mother was struck by a falling timber and killed instantly, and the old lady, ninety years of age, badly wounded. As we retuned home, thousands of large trees were twisted off and many uprooted and houses uncovered for a few miles. It is quite impossible for any one to give a true delineation, for it would require two or three days to visit the scenes and see the vast amount of general destruction. It was a wonderful lucky escape for the citizens that the tornado occurred at the late period in the night when all were in bed, otherwise vast would have been the life destruction.


     Mail reports from Story county represent the damage there by the cyclone of Saturday night as very serious. Several buildings were swept away at Kelly. All the buildings on the farms of J.A. McFarland and William Templeton were obliterated. Further east all the buildings of sixteen farmers were swept away and two schoolhouses in Nevada were demolished. All the growing crops in the trace of the wind was destroyed, and cattle, horses, hogs and poultry carried long distances, and killed. Mrs. L.D. Thompson's little girl was killed and here own arm was broken. C.W. Hempstock had a leg broken. His wife and child was internally injured.


a number of farm houses and barns were carried off, and an eight year old boy of Christian Peterson was killed.


     The loss from Saturday night's storm in Henry county will reach a half million of dollars.

     Fourteen persons were buried at Grinnell on last Monday at one time. All killed by the storm. The funeral procession was upwards of two miles long. Twelve thousand visitors from abroad were present.

     Gov. Sherman has issued a proclamation to the people of Iowa calling attention to the needs of those living at Grinnell and Malcom who suffered so greatly by the recent storm.

     A lad eight years old was found alive at Grinnell about 9 o'clock Monday under the debris of a destroyed house. There was no child known to be missing in that place, and the boy cannot tell where he came from.

     The only son of an aged couple who were killed in Grinnell by the cyclone, left that place for Des Moines to get liquor, before the storm came. When the relief train started from Des Moines, the was lying on the platform, too drunk to know what he was doing. Going afterwards by another train he carried his liquor along, and after weeping bitterly over the remains of his parents, he drank again until he was drunk. Why not prohibit it?--State Journal


back to History Index