Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Tornado of 1898, Wyoming Township, Illinois

Tornado of 1898
(From Lee County Times, of Paw Paw, May 20th)

About 6 'clock Wednesday evening, when a heavy shower had passed to the northward, and the western horizon was free from low clouds, a tornado was seen approaching from the west. The view was unobstructed, and the action of the tornado could be seen in all its peculiar gyrations.

The onlookers saw a heavy, nimbus cloud hovering along the course, torn by turmoil and traveling like a swift bird of prey. When first sighted by our excited citizens, the tornado was a little south of west and for several minutes seemed to be making but slow progress, though it was afterwards learned that its movements were very swift. Being sighted at such a distance, and coming almost directly eastward, made the appearance of slowness deceptive. The tornado seemed to be transported by the heavy cloud mentioned. The action of the twisting tornado was very peculiar. At one time nothing would be seen but the terrific disturbance in the cloud, and immediately the tornado would drop with screw like motion and sweep the earth for various distances, stirring up the earth in clouds of dust. The lowering and raising of the tornado looked like the tentacle of an octopus, reaching out for something to destroy. It would dart from the clouds towards the earth with lightning rapidity, sometimes reaching only part way down and at others making the whole distance. At the time these observations were made, not much damage was being done, as the tornado was not touching where buildings were located. Near West Brooklyn the direction was changed to a northeasterly course, and then it became apparent that the forward motion was very swift, and it went on with greater speed than an express train. When it had passed to a vicinity about northwest of town, the best observation was noted. Here the heavy, dark, menacing cloud spiraled to the earth and assumed the form of a cylindrical tube and showed plainly by the appearance of dust and disturbance in its wake that much damage was resulting. It was at its greatest strength at this view. The appearance of the tornado at this place could best be compared to an elephant's proboscis, reaching about the ground for delicacies. The lower end switched about the ground like the cracker of a cattle whip.

At times the commotion was tremendous, the dark mass taking on a look like a fiercely boiling cauldron, scattering itself as if torn by an explosion, and then gathering to pass on for more destruction. When at a point almost directly north of town, the grand finale seemed to have taken place. It was a sight to inspire awe in any beholder. The same form had been maintained to the point mentioned, when, of a sudden, the tornado severed its connection with the overhanging cloud and in a fierce swoop, descended to the earth like a flash, pounding the ground it seemed, in one last supreme effort. The force developed in this striking action must have been equal to thousands of tons of pressure.

It has been asked, ''Who can paint a rainbow?'' It might be asked with equal futility, ''Who can describe the tornado?'' Description fails signally in portraying the awfulness of such a phenomenon. It is quite probable that a better view of a tornado was never witnessed than that seen by the people in this section of Lee County. The conditions for observation were perfect, and the watchers saw its peculiar actions for about thirty minutes. It is calculated that the dissolution took place at a point in Willow Creek, for it was not seen afterwards by Lee County people, though Byron and Stillman Valley were visited and deaths occurred at both places, and points in Wisconsin were damaged. The scientific observances have always found that tornadoes in the Mississippi valley move in a northeasterly trend, and in case the one which passed here did the damage at Byron and Stillman Valley, its course would have been changed directly northwest. Such a trend has not been known before and it is improbable in this instance. The presumption is, that in this great cyclonic storm, local tornadoes originated in different portions of its diameter.

It is generally understood that a death-dealing storm of the nature described, is a cyclone. But this is a mistake. A cyclone is a great storm of from one hundred to five hundred miles diameter, the accompanying winds circulate in one direction in the northern part of the storm and in a reverse direction in the southern part, which causes a disturbance throughout the cyclone and accounts for the shifting of the wind before and after the storm has passed. During the presence of such a cyclone storm, tornadoes are apt to develop. The condition of the weather had not been sultry or of a nature which would lead one to expect the presence of a tornado. A heavy breeze was blowing all day from the south, but the atmosphere was not oppressive.

In The Wake

The evidence of the tornado's power was traced from a point west of Sublette to the home of the widow Peterson, in Willow Creek, and the direction was generally northeast, though at times, it bore almost directly east. There is some difference in opinions, as to the point where the storm crossed the C. B. and Q. tracks, but it was between Amboy and Shaws. From there it came east-ward for several miles until near West Brooklyn, where it veered to the northeast.

The damage reported up to this time will be described, commencing at Sublette, a house belonging to a farmer named Hall, was destroyed. Mrs. Hall is said to be seriously injured. After leaving that vicinity nothing of importance occurred until the tornado struck the Atkinson homestead, one mile west of the Old Berg. Mr. Lauer lives there. The barn and house are said to have been totally demolished, and Mr. Lauer was considerably injured though not fatally. The next damage occurred at Frank Beemers, about a mile north of Wesley Miller's place. His barn was overturned; his windmill and tower were blown down. Beemer's barn contained a number of horses and cattle, biit none were killed. George and Mrs. Farre, were the next persons to experience the terror of being in the path of a destructive tornado. They were eating supper and had not observed the approach of the storm until the roar warned them. It was so close that they had not time to get into the cellar. This they attempted to do, but a suction of wind prevented them from opening the cellar door quickly, and in a flash the storm had passed. The tornado had seemed to have witnessed their efforts to escape to a place of safety, and wishing to give them a fair chance, con-tented itself with whisking off the kitchen, which was distributed over a large territory. The chicken house, full of poultry and a number of setting hens lost itself in the confusion and has not since been located. George also lost a number of rods of wire fence. His loss amounts to a considerable sum. His dog, which was chained outside, came back a short time afterwards looking like a war veteran. From his appearance George judged he had seen lively times. The worst devastation occurred on the old Jacob Miller farm. Right in this vicinity are four houses, all within a radius of a quarter of a mile; the Dwight Davenport, John Anderson, Arthur Wells and Holden Risetter houses, the three latter belonging to Thomas Wells, Remington Warriner and Jacob Miller.

The tornado twisted about among this quartet without doing much damage except to the Jacob Miller house, which it razed in the twinkling of an eye. Here occurred the only death in the path of the storm. Mr. and Mrs. Frank Chichester were living there and did not notice the storm until it was right at hand. Mrs. Chichester took her two-year old child and they ran to the outside cellar door. Before they could reach it the blow descended and everything was chaos. The air was full of debris and for a moment Egyptian darkness prevailed. It all happened in a second. Mr. Chichester was buffeted and hurled about and finally dumped into the cellar. He was badly dazed for a time and did not fully understand the extent of the calamity when he was found by the neighbors. Mrs. Chichester and the child were discovered in the field, about twenty rods south of where the house stood. Many people from town started towards the path of the storm early and J. W. Mayor and son and W. A. Pratt and others were there in a short time. Mrs. Chichester was dead, but the child was alive. They were removed to Mr. Harvey Johnson's house by the sympathetic friends. Mrs. Chichester was not badly bruised, but her jaw had been fractured.

Her sad death illustrates the uncertainty of life. She had visited her mother, Mrs. Frank Hoag, at East Paw Paw that day and had been at home but fifteen or twenty minutes. She had been urged to stop with Mrs. William Barringer on her way home, for a short time, as the sky bore a very threatening aspect when she passed Mrs. Barringer's. It seemed that her fate had been marked out. Her death has caused great sorrow and Mr. Chichester has the universal sympathy of our people in his unfortunate bereave-ment. Mr. Chichester's injuries are not serious, the principal one being a gash on the back part of his head, which causes him much pain. The child, though blown about amongst the flying timbers and objects, had a miraculous escape from death and appears but little harmed. Aside from the loss of his wife, Mr. Chichester lost all of his personal property, which was scattered to the four winds. The scene of the devastation has been visited by hundreds of people, curious as to the freaks of the tornado, but with delicate feelings of commiseration for the unlucky victims. The scene is highly illustrative of the force of the rotating storm. The debris is strewn about for many rods in all directions, twisted and broken. Trees of venerable age and large proportions are now dismantled monarchs, and reduced to kindling wood. Bed clothing and apparel are seen high in the branches of the trees left standing. It can only be described as a scene of desolation. Most of the neighbors retreated to their cellars on the approach of the storm, but Mr. Johnson's hired man saw the destruction from the road, where he was standing, undecided which way to flee. The wheel on Mr. Anderson's windmill was torn off, and Charley Davenport's sidewalk was lifted out of its place and deposited in another part of the yard. No other damage was done in that vicinity. Mrs. Peterson's barn, about one and one-half miles north of Chichester's, was blown to pieces, but no stock was killed. A short distance north of here was where the tornado snuffed itself out.

Following the path of the storm it would be found that it traveled between thirty and thirty-five miles in this county. This storm is reported to have killed two women at Ohio, a town a few miles southwest of Sublette.

That the loss of life was not greater, is certainly wonderful. It must be remembered however, that the tornado did not keep close to the ground all the time, in fact but a small part of the distance. The course and action were observed by people all along the route, who rather enjoyed watching the usual sight, but took good care to be near places of safety, into which they might dodge in case the course diverged in their direction, but being, fearful for those who might be in its zig zag path. It was a sublime spectacle, but not one calculated for the amusement of a human being who would comprehend the probability of the frightful results.

Mrs. Chichester's funeral was held this afternoon in the church at East Paw Paw, at 2 o 'clock, Reverend Dolliver preaching. The burial service was at South Side cemetery.

It has been learned that the barn on the Atkinson farm was not destroyed, though the roof was taken off.

Wyoming Township
Tragedies and Cyclones

Lee County Townships

This page is part of a larger collection.
Access the full collection at History of Lee County Illinois


Back to AHGP


Copyright August @2011 - 2018 AHGP - Judy White
For the exclusive use and benefit of The American History and Genealogy Project. All rights reserved.