1957 Tornado in Murphysboro, IL

By L. Sickler, printed in The Southern Illinoisan on April 9, 1999.


aftermath of the tornado's destructionI grew up listening to the stories told by survivors of the Tri-State Tornado. The deadly March 18, 1925 tornado cut a 219-mile swath across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. The official death toll was 689, with 210 killed in Murphysboro alone, but scores more never were accounted for. They were 10 times scarier than any ghost story because they had really happened to people I knew.

But the tornado that had the biggest impact on my life struck December 18, 1957. Actually a series of an estimated 15 twisters, the storm system was unusual in that it occurred during the winter.

The weather conditions were ripe for tornados, with the temperature climbing into the 60s. I was in kindergarten then, and the only thing on my mind was Christmas, which was just a week away. Before the day was over, tornados were reported in Murphysboro, Mount Vernon, Gorham, Rockwood, Chester, Ava, Willisville, Steeleville, Percy, Cutler, an area between Hurst and De Soto, Plumfield and Sunfield.

Twelve people died, many of them children, as a result of that storm. Scores were injured and the property damage reached into the millions.

I vividly remember sitting in the classroom while the sky got darker and darker outside. When it came time to go home, the teacher nervously told us that there were storm warnings, so we should go straight home as fast as we could.

My dad was waiting for me in our car outside the school, which was unusual, because I usually walked home. By the time we got to our house, it was dark because the electricity was out. we lit a lantern and candles, right in the middle of the afternoon.

My mother had a dentists appointment that day. when she left his office, the dentist accompanied her outside to take a look at the sky. They heard a deep roar overhead. My mother immediately got nervous, but the dentist reassured her that it was just jets flying over. It actually was the tornado that destroyed Sunfield, killing three people there.

My grandmother lived in Du Bois in Washington County and had no phone, and my father was concerned about her. That night, we piled into the car and went to check on her. The state police were stopping people traveling on U.S. 51 near Sunfield, but since my dad was a radio operator at District 13 police headquarters, they knew him and let him go through. I vividly remember seeing the total devastation, tree limbs and debris from buildings that had shattered everywhere.

My grandmother and all her neighbors were fine, but told us they had watched funnel clouds dipping and swirling in a field just north of them. It was a frightening experience all the way around for a 5-year-old, and one I've never completely gotten over.

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