Jessie Earl, who was born in Crawfordville, Indiana on April 22, 1887 to John and Amanda (Tracy) Earl, was a very resourceful, and brave girl, although not many people would have known that had she not found herself in the situation she did on a Monday in December, 1901. School was over for the day, and Jessie was walking home. Her family was living in Advance, Indiana then, which was a small town about 15 miles west of Crawfordsville. Jessie’s walk took her beside the train tracks for a about a mile.
As Jessie was walking along she saw that the railroad trestle she passed every day was on fire. She immediately headed to find someone to warn, but at that moment she heard the train whistle. She knew she was out of time, and she would have to save the train herself. I can’t imagine a girl of just 13 years having the courage to do what she did next. The train, Chicago and Southwestern Railroad’s east-bound passenger train, was headed for serious danger, and no one knew what was happening…except a 13 year old girl. Jessie, however, was no ordinary girl.
She saw that the train was headed toward the burning trestle at full speed. By the time they saw the fire, it would be too late to stop the train. Jessie immediately dropped her basket and rushed down the track toward the train, running as fast as she could. She started waving her apron, to attract the attention of the engineer, who upon seeing the little girl, brought the train to a safe stop. I’m sure that his first thought was, “What is this crazy girl doing?” Nevertheless, he made the quick decision to stop to find out what the emergency was.
Upon inspection, the crew found that the burning trestle would never have held the weight of the train, and the resulting crash and derailment would have been catastrophic for the passengers and crew. When they saw what Jessie had saved them from, the crew and passengers almost smothered the little girl with congratulations for her brave act and gave her many mementoes as rewards for saving the train from plunging into the creek, 30 feet below. Of course, like most heroes, Jessie just thought she had done what any other person would do. Still, you never know. We have all witnessed people walking right by a person lying on the ground, or driving past the scene of an accident without lending aid, or worse yet, filming it on their smart phones to post on the internet. Of course, the internet didn’t exist then, but I like to think it wouldn’t have mattered to little Jessie Earl. I like to think that she would have done what she did either way, because Jessie Earl seems like a heroic kind of girl.
Sadly, I don’t have a picture of Jessie Earl, but I learned that she married Howard Bratton, and they three children…Dorthea, James, and Opal who went on to give them children and grandchildren. I wonder if they know that their grandmother and great grandmother was a true hero. I wonder if Jessie’s children ever knew. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they didn’t. Jessie passed away on February 15, 1940, in Muncie, Indiana. She was 52 years old.
We all know that tornadoes are possible just about anywhere in the world…but in the United States, in an area well known as Tornado Alley, tornadoes are a common thing during tornado season, and sometimes outside of tornado season. Tornado Alley gets an average of more than 1,000 tornadoes a year, but on April 3, 1974, a super outbreak began. Over a less than 18 hour span, 148 tornadoes touched down across 13 states, with 21 in Indiana. The tornadoes hit North America from Georgia to Canada within 16 hours. At times there were as many as 15 separate tornadoes on the ground at one time. The Super Outbreak affected a total of 11 US states and Ontario in Canada. The Monticello tornado, which occurred during the weather event, tracked a whopping 121 miles, he longest tornado track in Indiana history! The 1974 tornado outbreak held the record as the largest outbreak in US history, killing 330 people…until the 2011 tornado outbreak, during which 360 tornadoes touched down killing 337 people.
The outbreak began when a powerful low pressure system developed on April 1st, across the North American Interior Plains. As it moved into the Mississippi and Ohio Valley areas, a surge of very humid air intensified the storm further, and there were sharp temperature differences between both sides of the system. The National Weather Service began forecasting a severe weather outbreak on April 3, but no one expected the severity of the outbreak that actually occurred. Several F2 and F3 tornadoes struck portions of the Ohio Valley and the South in a separate, earlier outbreak on April 1 and 2, which included three killer tornadoes in Kentucky, Alabama, and Tennessee. The town of Campbellsburg, northeast of Louisville, was hard-hit in this earlier outbreak, with a large portion of the town destroyed by an F3. Between the two outbreaks, an additional tornado was reported in Indiana in the early morning hours of April 3, several hours before the official start of the outbreak. On Wednesday, April 3, severe weather watches already were issued from the morning from south of the Great Lakes, while in portions of the Upper Midwest, snow was reported, with heavy rain falling across central Michigan and much of Ontario, which also had tornadoes.
Perhaps the most shocking fact from the 1974 outbreak was the amount of F4 and F5 tornadoes…with an incredible 30 (23 F4s and 7 F5s). The 1974 outbreak featured 30 violent tornadoes in less than one day when the national average is only about 7 per year. All seven of the F5 tornadoes occurred on the 3rd, and Alabama was the state that experienced the highest number of F5 tornadoes that day…three out of seven. The other F5 tornadoes occurred throughout Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. these super outbreaks are some of the most shocking weather phenomena ever.
Television was invented by a 21 year old man named Philo Taylor Farnsworth, and first successfully demonstrated in San Francisco on Sept. 7, 1927. It’s odd to think that my dad, Allen Spencer lived both before the invention of television and after it. I suppose that isn’t so very odd, because I have lived before and after the cell phone, and that doesn’t seem strange to me at all, so I suppose it didn’t seem strange to my dad either. Then, on March 25, 1954…just a month and a half before my sister, Cheryl Masterson was born, RCA announced that it had begun producing the first color television sets in its Bloomington, Indiana plant.
I’m sure it was a while before most homes made the move to color televisions, and then, of course, there was the wait for shows to be filmed in color. I know that I remember watching a black and white television, and I’m sure most people my age can say the same. The current generation would have no idea what it was like to watch a black and white television, or an early color television. They have seen everything from HD television, to cell phones with television, as well as tablets. The old televisions would seem completely antiquated…and in reality, my generation would look at them that way too. It amazes me just how quickly we get used to new technology, and it amazes me just how long people will hold on to the old stuff before making the transition too. I suppose some think that if it isn’t broken, there is no reason to replace it just yet, but others simply wait until the see how well this new fangled gadget is going to work, or if it’s around very long. So many fads come and go, and are never heard from again. Others, like televisions, cell phones, and computers are here to stay.
Television sets have gone from average size to ultra big, to ultra small, and everything in between. Of course, as we all know, the television has continues to improve in color and clarity too. Sometimes I think the color is almost better than real life…if that’s possible. With new abilities in editing, color can be enhanced to amazing levels. I’m sure that there are some people who would think enhanced color is not a good thing, and sometimes…if it seems completely outlandish, I would have to agree, but when it comes to watching television, I think they do a pretty good job, and I can’t imagine going back to a black and white television.
I think that were it not for the danger involved, I could be a storm chaser. I love to watch the shows about storm chasers and about tornadoes themselves. I suppose the main reason I like those shows is that you can watch the awesomeness of nature’s storms, but you don’t really have to deal with the reality of the loss of life and damage to property. It seems more like a scene from a movie. Nevertheless, the reality is that in a real storm situation, tornadoes kill and they damage property. The first recognized storm chaser was David Hoadley, who began chasing North Dakota storms in 1956. Hoadley used data from area weather offices and airports to calculate the possible areas for tornadic activity. Hoadley is considered the pioneer storm chaser and was the founder of Storm Track magazine. With storms such as the Tri-State Tornado which occurred on this day, March 18, 1925, and many others that followed, I’m sure that Hoadley could see that there was a need for someone to find a way to predict the path of these deadly storms.
The March 18, 1925 tornado traveled across the tri-state area of eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and southern Indiana, killing 695 people, injuring some 13,000 people, and causing $17 million in property damage. It became known as the Tri-State Tornado, and it shocked the nation. The tornado first touched down in Ellington, Missouri at about 1:00pm, but the worst hit area was southern Illinois. More than 500 of the 695 people lost dies in Illinois, including 234 in the city of Murphysboro and 127 in West Frankfort.
In all, the Tri-State Tornado traveled 219 miles in it’s path of destruction, and was on the ground more than three hours. It ripped through 164 square miles and was more than a mile wide. It traveled at speeds of more than 70 miles per hour. There has never been a worse tornado in the history of the United States. Years after the Tri-State Tornado, scientists discovered the cyclic nature of tornado-producing thunderstorms. These storms are able to produce one tornado after another, in a seemingly continuous damage path, that could easily be mistaken for a single tornado, when they were actually a family of tornadoes. Of course, with all the time that had passed, and the lack of things like Doppler Radar to see what the storm really was, it is nearly impossible to determine 91 years later whether or not the Tri-State tornado was one or a family of tornadoes, it remains in the history books as the longest-tracked and deadliest single tornado in recorded history. I have to wonder if David Hoadley, or someone like him had been able to predict these storms, maybe the loss of life would have been much lower.
After writing about the worst winter ever, I began to look into other severe weather that made a big impact on a lot of lives, and might possibly have had an impact on my own family. I came across a tornado on this day, March 18, 1925 that was and still is the deadliest tornado in history. This tornado touched down at 1:00pm near Ellington, Missouri, and over the next 3 1/2 hours it tore across 3 states and 219 miles, finally ending up in Outsville, Indiana at 4:30 pm, where it hit one house and then dissipated. A tornado traveling this distance is virtually unheard of, but as we all know from this even…not impossible. This tornado was an F5 on the Fujita Scale. In all, the Tri-State Tornado, as it has since been called, hit more that 19 communities in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, while making an almost straight path across the 3 states.
I don’t know if any of the 695 people who perished in the most deadly tornado in history, were related to me or not, but in studying my family history, I can say the I had family in those areas. In all likelihood, one or more of them were related, and when I think of the horror of their last moments, whether they were related or not…well, it is beyond horrible. In Missouri, 13 people lost their lives. In Illinois, 541 people lost their lives, with 234 in Murphysboro alone, which is a record for a single community, and there were 33 deaths at the De Soto school, which was a record for such a storm, and with only bombs and explosions taking higher school tolls. In Indiana 76 people lost their lives. The numbers are not exact. Some accounts say 630 and others say 689, while still others say 695. I find that in itself sad. It is always sad when lives lost go unaccounted for. In all, there were 2,027 injuries and 15,000 homes destroyed. I have been looking over the victims lists, and some of the last names are familiar to me, but I can’t say that these people were or were not related to me. Also, the lists that I found, were not complete lists. It may take a bit of research to know for sure.
It doesn’t really matter whether I am related to any of the victims or not, the reality of this kind of devastation is beyond horrible. Of the 19+ communities, 5 were virtually destroyed along with more than 85 farms. I did find out that at the time of the Tri-State Tornado, my great great grandmother was living just 36 miles north of its path. One of the names might have been a cousin or nephew. Even knowing there is a possibility makes me sad. It is very hard to think about the family members of the victims who are left behind.