Fatal Funnel in Fountain Bluff

Sally GustinSally Gustin sent me this post a few days ago.  Most of the words in this story are not Sally’s.  She shares with us her uncle’s first-hand account of the Tri-State Tornado which, as the name describes, caused death and destruction over three states…..Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.  They are the memories of an eye witness to this tragic event.  If you would like to read a previous post that told the story of how that twister effected Perry County, Missouri, it can be found here:

The Deadliest Tornado

That post includes several photos showing the damage from our area.  That 1925 tornado then hopped across the Mississippi River and stormed through Fountain Bluff Township, completely destroying the town of Gorham.  It then struck the larger city of Murphysboro, the location that experienced the largest lost of lives from this deadliest tornado in America’s history.

The Tri-State Tornado occurred on March 18, 1925.  The map below may help you understand the story told by Sally’s uncle.

tri-state-tornado-path-467a002999d01a46774002a39265d06a195b978eaf34560b618f4ee79ccbc312

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My uncle, Freemont Arbeiter, loved to write and tell stories.  In his retirement years, he began an extensive genealogy project of his families and writing about his childhood.  Freemont was born July 8, 1913, in Jacob to Ernst & Ella Estel Arbeiter.  He passed away February 14, 2002 in St. Louis County.

Fremont Arbeiter

 

These are his remembrances of the Tri-State Tornado of 1925:

******************************

“One event happened while I was a pupil at the Neunert school that I could never forget even if I lived to be a hundred.  The event:  the giant killer tornado of March 18, 1925, which struck at the Miesner farm which was located on the bank of the Mississippi River at the point where the Big Ditch emptied into the river.  The storm spawned in Missouri where it did a lot of damage, crossed the river to begin its destruction of life and property.

I was in the 6th grade at Neunert and 12 years of age when this all happened.  At about 2:15 in the afternoon the sky suddenly began to darken and the air became quiet and eerie looking.

I sat next to a low south side window and I could perceive what was taking place outdoors.

Large baseball sized hail stones began to fall which made a horrible noise on the corrugated tin roof of the school and suddenly an extremely large funnel cloud passed just a short distance of where we were.

By now I was standing at the window and I cried out that this was a cyclone.  Near panic existed in the school but the whole event was over in a little while.

The terrible twister was of a gigantic size and I will ever remember how scary the fast spinning storm appeared as it swept eastward.

Had I looked I might have seen it strike my grandfather’s [Henry Arbeiter] farm complex but I doubt it as the sky was too dark.  Pastor Strothmann was visiting my grandparent’s home near Gorham when the storm hit their home.  Much damage was done to the home but the large barn was completely destroyed.

The next place in the path of the tornado was the town of Gorham, where tremendous property was destroyed and where the first Illinois deaths occurred.

tri-state-tornado-damage-gorham-illinois-425c07bb01168c3027f7ff7c1b0de669c2ef7948dcd2d9b8ba271569d2eb665d
Tornado Damage in Gorham, Illinois

Here 38 people were killed or dying and 92 more were injured – and this in a town of some 500 inhabitants.

I knew several of the persons who died or suffered injury in Gorham.  My second cousin Martin (Jerry) Arbeiter was severely hurt in the school as the top floor was ripped off and his life hung in the balance for some time.

The next town to be literally destroyed was our county seat of Murphysboro – especially in the west end of town.  I do not recall how many people here were killed or injured but the number was great.

Tri-State Tornado Murphysboro damage

Uncle Arthur [Arthur Estel] from next door [in Jacob] took an axe, a wood saw, flashlight and lantern and with someone else started out for Murphysboro.  His son Clarence was a high school student there and had been boarding with his grandmother, Anna Rowold. There were no communications.  The telephone lines lay in shambles.  The tools mentioned were taken in case a path would have to be chopped or sawn through a fallen tree. The good news learned was that the Rowolds and cousin Clarence were safe and unharmed.

tri-state-tornado-damage-longfellow-school-murphysboro-illinois-545012cb7cae7492cf5b18e0e274533feb108ecdf82f869ac6dba32001aa930f
School Damage in Murphysboro, Illinois

On the following morning my father [Ernst Arbeiter] came by the Neunert school and took me to Gorham to see the great damage that was done.  We were able to enter town because the National Guard had not yet arrived to guard what property was left.

I well remember the havoc.  One of the railroad tracks was set on end to resemble somewhat a picket fence.  At the brick school building (there was only one then – a combination school), we saw about six covered bodies that had been placed there as a temporary morgue until other arrangements could be made.

tri-state-tornado-damage-boxcars-thrown-from-track-gorham-illinois-9fb28629c1102a1c847bfedfd9f40411e4ad1de1ea3bf5a9b87a32156350220f
Damage to railroad boxcars in Gorham, Illinois

Why so many deaths?  No radio warning had been issued and, even so, few people owned receivers at that time.  In later years, another tornado followed an almost identical path as the one in 1925 and not one fatality resulted as there were radio warnings to alert the populace.”


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