The Ides of March (March 15th) in 1938 was a wild day up and down the Mississippi River Valley in Missouri and Illinois. There were several tornado outbreaks, some of them deadly. Altenburg did not escape without damage. A tornado also roared through Altenburg on that crazy day and caused some devastation, but no loss of life.
First of all, let me share a little information about other tornadoes that occurred elsewhere on that day. Wikipedia reports an outbreak of tornadoes on March 15, 1938 that they describe as the Bakerville, Missouri outbreak.
The National Weather Service reports these tornadoes that occurred on March 15, 1938 that were F2-F5 in strength. These were in a chart of tornadoes that occurred in the vicinity of St. Louis.
The places listed on this chart are county names. I am guessing that there may be some overlap in these two reports, but nonetheless, they indicate that a bunch of tornadoes occurred on the Ides of March in 1938.
Probably the worst case of destruction and loss of life occurred in Belleville, Illinois, where 10 people died. The tornado that went through Altenburg is not mentioned anywhere that I could find, but that may be because its strength was below an F2 tornado.
The tornado in Altenburg occurred not long after school was let out for the day. Some of the accounts we have of this tornado come from people that were youngsters at the time, and they tell of how they had just gotten home from school. There is also a story that says some students were still at the Altenburg Public School when the tornado occurred.
The tornado seemed to first be noticed by some folks in town as they looked toward Highway C and saw a funnel cloud bearing down on the barn at the Albert Boettcher farm. Young George Bock who was about 12 years old at the time, says he was standing between the Boehme and Fiehler residences in Altenburg when he saw the tornado hit the Boettcher barn and described it as exploding with hay and straw going in all directions.
This photo of George Bock and his uncle Leo Lottes must have been taken not long before the time when the tornado struck Altenburg.
George was told by Gene and Jeanette Boehme to join them in the cellar of their house because they could see the funnel was heading their way. George’s aunt, Marie Lottes, who lived across the street and down a little ways from the Boehmes, went to her cellar. Leo Lottes, Ernst Poppitz, and Virginia Lottes, who worked at the Bank of Altenburg not far away, found refuge in the bank’s vault.
I’m going to do my best to describe the path of the tornado through town based on some observations and photographs we have of the results of the tornado. This map may be helpful.
When George Bock saw the tornado hit the Boettcher barn, he was probably standing about where the blue arrow is. He then went into the Boehme cellar. The tornado destroyed a couple sheds on the Joseph Fiehler place, which is probably just off the map to the left near the blue arrow.
Then the tornado hit some sheds on the Boehme farm.
You can see the bell tower of the public school in the background. The public school can also be found on the map.
This photo shows some Boehme sheds in the background with the Fiehler children in the foreground. They are likely to be the ones destroyed by the tornado.
As the funnel moved to the east, it tore off part of the Fischer Store roof. It also took the steeple off the Fischer home which was next door to their store. Here is a photo taken of this location before the tornado. The Fischer Store and home can be found where the red arrow is on the map.
The tornado also caused damage to Charles Fiehler’s garage. This would have been located where the green arrow is.
The portion of the tin roof was found behind Vernon Meyr’s house, which is shown on the map as the A.G. Schmidt property and has an orange arrow. Vernon is in the photo.
Another story is told that a sliding door from the Boehme barn was found later near Wittenberg.
The residents of Altenburg could be thankful that most of the damage done by this tornado was to sheds, barns, and garages, not to people’s homes. And they could be grateful that there was no loss of life. That was not the case elsewhere where the Ides of March also brought fatalities.