Jefferson County

Articles About the 1888 Tornado
Submitted By: Lori Lisenby Leonard

From the Decatur Daily Republican 
20 February 1888 
Mt. Vernon Mourns 

One of the fairest cities of Illinois wiped out of existence. 
Early arrival and awful destructiveness of the much-dreaded cyclone. 
The fervent element takes a hand, and wipes up what the storm could not destroy.
Fifty persons reported killed, and the death roll not yet completed. 
Hundreds injured by falling buildings and flying debris. Many of whom will die. 
Needed assistance pouring in from surrounding towns and cities-a night of horror. 
Mount Vernon, Ill., devastated and fired by a cyclone.

Evansville, Ind., Feb. 20 -A special from Mount Vernon, Ill., states that a cyclone struck that city about 4:35 p.m. today. The storm came from the northwest, and sweeping round in a half circle razed the town, leveling half of it and setting fire to the remainder. High above the fierce wind could be heard the crackling of the flames and the groans of the dying. The Western Union office was destroyed, and all the wires were broken except one leading to this city. Assistance was telegraphed for to Evansville, and a special train with fire engines and reels and also a number of physicians was immediately sent to the rescue. The entire town of Mount Vernon is practically destroyed. The Louisville & Nashville shops are also in ruins. Engineer Cummings, of the Louisville & Nashville railroad, was instantly killed in the early part of the storm. The latest reports from the scene of the trouble state that so far forty-eight bodies have been taken from the ruins. It is estimated that two hundred and fifty people are injured. Owing to the absence of telegraphic facilities, it is impossible at this hour to obtain any list of the killed and wounded. Relief trains will be sent from this city and St. Louis as soon as possible. The same storm is reported as devastating portions of the State of Kentucky, near Nortonville, but no particulars are obtainable.
Worse than first reported. Mt. Vernon, Ill., Feb. 20---The facts in the previous dispatch, although giving an idea of the devastation done by the cyclone, were necessarily hurriedly obtained, and later and more complete investigations show that the loss of life and the damage to property has been much greater than first reported and even yet it is impossible to give any complete statement of loss, as reports of additional deaths and further destructions still continue to come in. The panic which followed the cyclone's work of destruction is almost inconceivable. It came so quickly that no one was able to do more than seek the shelter nearest at hand. A noise like the roaring of a train gave notice of its approach, but in a very few moments after it was first heard the yellowish, funnel-shaped cloud was noticed, it struck the town. Had the centre of the terrible funnel swept one hundred feet further north not a business house would be left standing. As it is, only a few houses of any kind remain to mark the spot where yesterday afternoon stood one of the fairest towns in Illinois. Even the sidewalks are torn up, and the remnants of wrecked buildings and merchandise of all kinds are scattered everywhere. The fires which broke out immediately after the storm had passed threatened to complete the work commenced by its sister element, and leaving nothing but ashes to tell the tale of devastation and horror. Those who were unhurt were too engrossed with the paramount duty of looking after the injured to pay much attention to the fires, except in cases where it was possible that human beings were in the burning ruins. But and having been asked from Evansville and Centralia, engines and men arrived from these points in time to avoid any holocaust. The death list will probably reach fifty. More physicians are badly needed. Many hundreds of persons are not receiving attentions because of the limited numbers of doctors in the city. But those here are doing every thing in their power to alleviate suffering and save the wounded. A number of men caught on the street were unable to get indoors and jumped through the cellar-windows into the basement of the Mt. Vernon bank and were saved. The people are in a helpless condition, dependent upon their neighbors, and all houses are crowded to their utmost capacity, and many persons were without shelter last night. The City Council has called a meeting for this morning to devise ways and means to provide for the destitute. Financial aid will be asked of the public, and donations to a more worthy cause could not be made. Just before the cyclone reached the city it struck a grove of strong oak trees and tore them out of the ground and left only a few standing. The same can be said of the beautiful shade trees for which Mount Vernon was famous. Some of the stocks of goods, among others R. E. Ryan's have been burned up, and it is probable they will get their insurance. Any insurance companies that do not act fairly with their customers will merit the disapprobation of every honest man. Only a few cyclone insurance policies were in force in the belt of the storm. The reports from the county show that the storm was general, and swept over several miles of country, but in a narrow belt. A number of men have arrived from Duquoin and several other points south, and are ready to lend a helping hand to the unfortunate. The groans of the dying are most distressing, and the internal injuries are in many cases proving fatal. The Killed. Among the dead are the following: Mrs. Russell Dewey Mrs. John L. Water and baby Henry Waters David F. Yearwood and wife Jno. C. Murray ---- Cummings, an engineer Mary Westbrook James Pearson Mrs. Halcomb Dr. John Yearwood and wife Sam Yearwood and wife George Purcell Mrs. Wm. Jones and child John Dodson Miss Josie Sutton John Shaw A blacksmith, name unknown Mrs. Colonel Cooper Eddie Maxey Mrs. Martin Ada Harper Ed Harper Walker Jones had his back broken. W. A. Allen, the night operator, and M. Seargeant, the night clerk of the Louisville & Nashville railroad, are both hurt and unable to be on duty. The janitor is buried beneath the East Side High school, and off of his property destroyed. The Fatally Injured. Among those who are fatally or seriously injured are the following: Lawler I. Legge Mrs. Henry Waters Miss Laura Lesenby Charles Ellis Mr. and Mrs. C. Galbraith Charles Wier Mr. and Mrs. Westbrook Amanda Bearden Mrs. W. H. Hinman Lizzie Bonner J. C. Hanbrock Bronlaw Hawkins Mr. Albright Henry Ellis Mrs. Lillicrapt Joel Howard Mrs. Clayton and Mrs. Henry Waters will probably die from injuries. The electric light plant, and the Louisville & Nashville round-house and machine shops are badly damaged, while only two dwellings are left standing on East Main street.
From the Decatur Daily Republican 21 February 1888 The Mt. Vernon Disaster. Latest Authentic Reports of the Killed and Injured by the Cyclone. Governor Oglesby Issues a Proclamation Asking Aid for the Sufferers ---The Destruction of Property.
Evansville, Ind., Feb. 20 ---The latest reports from Mount Vernon, Ill., this morning says that 38 were killed, over 300 injured, many very badly, and 387 houses destroyed, burned and damaged by yesterday's cyclone. There was no damage at Nortonville, and there is no news from any other point than Mount Vernon. The following is an authoritative list of the killed and wounded as far as ascertained: KILLED. Mrs. Russell Dewey John Waters and baby Henry Waters David F. Yearwood and wife John C. Murray W. Cummings, an engineer Mary Westbrook James Parsons Mrs. Holcomb Dr. John Yearwood and wife Samuel Yearwood and wife George Purcell Mrs. Wm. Johns and child John Dodson Miss Josie Sutton John Shaw A blacksmith, name not known FATALLY INJURED Lawler E. Legg Mrs. Henry Waters Miss Laura Lesenby Charles Ellis Mr. and Mrs. C. Galbraith Mrs. Weir Mr. and Mrs. Westbrook Amanda Berden W. H. Herman Lizzie Bennett J. C. Hanbrick Charles Poole Mrs. Corinne Hanbrick Brownlow Hawkins Mrs. Albright Henry Ellis Mr. Millcroft Joel Howard At midnight last night thirty-one dead bodies had been recovered from the ruins. Engineer Lillicrop died at eleven o'clock. Many miraculous escapes are reported.
Mt. Vernon, Ill., Feb. 20 ---Among the injured, but who will recover, are the following: Mr. and Mrs. Hattie Snow, Emory Maddox, Miss Lauth, John Gan (colored), Sam Pontney, Mrs. Cutts' family of five persons; George Jones and one daughter, Mr. and Mrs. C. Galbraith, Chas. Wier, Amanda Bearden. The following are believed to have no chance of recovery: Mrs. T. Maddox, Mrs. Hv. Waters, Nick Morgan and wife, Joe Safford and wife, Mrs. Gabe Gines, John Dodson and wife, Miss Lizzie Bonnet, Corinne Umbrich, Mrs. D. Jacob Albrecht, Mrs. Lillie Craft and Mrs. Abe Hicks. The chairman of the relief committee yesterday notified Governor Oglesby of the number of the suffering in this city, and last evening the Governor issued a proclamation appealing for immediate aid, and requesting mayors of cities and all religious and charitable associations, societies and organizations to raise contributions for the relief of the people.
From the Decatur Daily Republican Tuesday Eve., Feb. 21, 1888 The Mt. Vernon Horror. There never was such a disaster by wind in Illinois as that which devastated the pretty little city of Mt. Vernon on Sunday. Our news columns give full details of the terrible calamity, and it is one of the most sickening recitals ever committed to cold type. The suffering entailed is terrible, and calls loudly (and will not call in vain, we hope) for assistance. “A thousand or more homeless people” in a city of less than 3,000 population, tells briefly the sorrowful story, while half a hundred dead join their mute appeal with that of the several hundred injured for sympathy and for that substantial aid that can do most toward repairing the awful damage. The people of Illinois have never been appealed to in vain under such circumstances, and the call of those suffering people will not fall on deaf ears. He Was at Mt. Vernon. A. J. Crawford, representing the Detroit Casket Co., was in Decatur to-day. He spent yesterday at Mt. Vernon, where he viewed the destruction wrought by the cyclone of Sunday evening. He says it was a fearful looking sight, two-thirds of the town leveled to the ground, including whole blocks of brick buildings, 34 people killed outright and 150 wounded, mostly bruised. Those who went through the whirl and lived to tell the story relate hair-raising accounts of their experience. Mr. Crawford says the survivors were wild with fright yesterday, and there is mourning in many households. Aid for the sufferers is coming in from every direction and all the physicians for miles around are at the scene of the catastrophe. Mr. C. thinks that while the court house was destroyed, most of the supreme and appellate court records are saved. The eastern end of the town looks as if it had been swept over by a fire-everything flat.
From the Saturday Herald (Decatur, Ill.) 25 February 1888 A City in Ruins Terrible Devastation Caused by a Cyclone on Sunday Afternoon at Mt. Vernon, Ills. A Swath Three Hundred Feet Wide Cut Through the City, Leaving Destruction in Its Wake. Scores of Persons Killed and Injured, and Several Burned to Death in Resulting Fires. Lists of the Victims as Far as Obtained, and Incidents of This Most Appalling Calamity.
Mt. Vernon, Ill., Feb. 20---Death and desolation this morning marks the course of one of the most disastrous cyclones that ever visited Southern Illinois. The spiral messenger of death struck this city a few minutes before five o'clock last evening, and before the startled inhabitants could realize the character of the awful visitation almost the entire eastern half of the beautiful town was in ruins. The loss of life is very great, and even at this time is not definitely known. The death list already reaches over two score of persons, while the wounded, very many of whom, it is feared, can not survive, is over two hundred. In the midst of a heavy thunder storm came a deep rumbling sound, darkness suddenly enveloped the city, a dense black cloud seemed to touch the earth, an awful roar confused every thing during the space of three minutes and the storm had gone. The sky soon brightened, and then it was the terror-stricken inhabitants ventured forth to realize the terrible work of those few moments. Hundreds of houses were wrecked, and from the ruins came the shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying. Scarce was the first shock over when the cry of fire added to the horror. The Crews block, a large business structure, was soon wrapped in flames, and the fire raged during several hours. At least four men imprisoned in the ruins of the Evans bank building are said to have burned to death. No human agency could reach them, and their agonizing cries were terrible to hear. It is not known how many met their death in this way or were burned up after they had been killed by the falling buildings. From the amount of property destroyed and the complete character of the wreck it is surprising that the list of casualties is not even greater than it is. The damage is now estimated at from $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. The M. E. Church, the Baptist Church, the Court-House, the Commercial Hotel and the large and costly East-End public school building are literally demolished. From east to west the city is two miles long and quite two-thirds of the East End has been more or less wrecked. In the business portion of the town the destruction of property was the more marked. The blocks fronting the east and the south side of the Public Square are little more than huge piles of brick and mortar, so complete was the work of devastation. A detachment of the Evansville (Ind.) fire department accompanied by thirty doctors were on the ground as soon as a special train could bring them. Those were soon supplemented by a fire department of over thirty men from Centralia accompanied by four physicians. Two telegraph operators, James and Pearson, are among the killed. The operator of the Louisville & Nashville wires, Yearwood, sat bravely at the wire all night despite the fact that two relatives lay dead in the ruins. Over half a dozen fires followed in such rapid succession from the ruins that many of the paralyzed victims were caught in the falling, blazing buildings and consumed by the flames. How many have perished in this way can not be known for some hours yet, though a big force is at work searching the ruins for the cremated remains. The morning trains brought a host of excursionists, who came to see, to render aid and to comfort stricken friends. Nearly a thousand strangers trod the streets, amazed at what they hear and see. The town is full of reporters, and the dreary tale is repeated time and again. Artists are now on the scene, sketching the ruins, and the pencil in a hundred hands is jolting down facts and stories from a thousand mouths. The operators have been industriously at the ticker all night and day, their force at this place having been greatly reduced by the death of two of their number in the destroyed city. Of the business houses which are totally wrecked are Hudspeth & Barbour, David Urse, G. W. Yost & Co., John Crowder, Charles Sexton, Louis Rober, Straten & Ferguson, Mrs. Herring, Mrs. Waters, Joseph E. Ferguson, Hill, Williams & Co., Renchler & Co., Joseph Goodridge, Washington Hotel, Chas. Wehr, Jno. Mansons, Adam Palm, Howard Beo, R. S. Stratton, G. W. Evans, A. B. Cox, Robt. Ryan, J. R. Polison, Geo. Morgan, W. E. Jackson, Porter & Bond, Mt. Vernon Milling Company and the Court-house, worth $50,000 totally demolished, and over two hundred residences in ruins. The total loss is computed at $1,000,000. Many families made miraculous escapes by buildings being blown over their heads. Great distress and destitution has resulted and families are homeless without a day's food. The City Council met this morning to adopt measures of aid. The stores which caught fire after being blown down were: G. W. Evans, banker; A. B. Cox, general merchandise; R. E. Ryan, general merchandise; J. R. Powelson, furniture; G. W. Morgan, jewelry store; W. E. Jackson, harness and saddlery shop; Morey, Westcott & Swift, general merchandise and hardware; Stratton's Hall, which is situated on the southwest corner of the square, and A. C. Johnson's drug and jewelry store, which is under it, are a total wreck. Rentchler, Waters & Co's general store and J. B. Goodrich's meat market, also in the same block, were destroyed. On the west side Hill, Williams & Co., dry goods; J. E. Ferguson, harness-shop; Mrs. Waters and Mrs. Hern, millinery shops, were also completely wrecked. On the upper corner Hudspeth & Co., drygoods, and D. H. Wise, clothing, are a mass of ruins.
St. Louis, Feb. 20---Chief Car Cleaner Rogers, of the Louisville & Nashville road, who is stationed at the Union depot, is a former resident of Mount Vernon and is the owner of considerable property there. He left for Mount Vernon last night and returned this morning. “I arrived there about ten o'clock last night” said Mr. Rogers, “and remained until 4:10 this morning. I am happy to say that none of my intimate friends or relatives were injured, and all of my property escaped the storm. The scene however is one that I do not want to view again. There is a clear cut path of 300 yards wide, extending clear across the town and about a mile and a half, that is utterly wrecked. “Every building in that path has either been totally demolished or so badly damaged that the loss is total. Two-story frame buildings were picked up and carried bodily a distance of several blocks, and then set down again. While they are entirely whole they are so badly strained and broken that they will have to be torn down. There are fully two hundred people homeless, but the relief forces, which were instantly formed, are admirably organized. Physicians from neighboring towns responded promptly, and there is now on the scene a large force of medical men and nurses, who are giving their undivided attention to the wounded. Last night all was excitement and flurry, but when I left the number of dead recovered was thirty-six. Fully one hundred are more or less injured. “Eye-witnesses who saw the gathering of the storm report that the cloud formed about the edge of town. It was both white and black and assumed the shape of a huge funnel. It passed leisurely from the southwest towards the northeast, but revolved and turned, spinning like a top, at a terrific rate. The first building demolished by the cyclone was the residence of Mr. Beals, and from there to the other edge of town every structure suffered from its devastating touch. Fires sprang up, and added to the horror of the occasion, but through hard work of willing hands, the terror of a general conflagration was averted. “The funnel-shaped cloud seemed to lift after it had passed the limits of the town, and no other damage had been heard of, at the time I left. It kept up an incessant noise and sounded like the racket of a steam-threshing machine, only much louder. “A friend of mine, who witnessed the entire storm during its ten minutes' course, said that three railroad trains all moving together could not have created a louder noise than the crooning of the cloud. “Half an hour after the cyclone two farmers, residing about five miles from town, came in to see what damage had been done. They had seen the cloud pass their farms high above the ground. They claim to have seen distinctly the bodies of a man and woman which were being carried along in the cloud. They recognized at once its fearful import from its peculiar shape. It passed on to the northeast and did not come to the ground in that vicinity. Fearing that some disaster had occurred in town, they drove in, and too truly realized their worst fears. “Their report of having seen a man and woman carried along by the cloud, created much excitement and consternation, but their identity had not been established when I left at four o'clock this morning.” Mt. Vernon was founded June 9, 1819, by Lewis Barker, Ambrose Maulding and James Richardson, commissioners appointed by an act of the General Assembly of Illinois, passed March 10, 1819. The site selected for the town was the southwest quarter of section 29, range 3 and township No. 2. It was agreed to plot the ground into town lots, and a public sale was had on the third Monday in September of that year, James D. Davis, a Presbyterian minister, crying the sale. The contract of erecting the Court-house out of hewn logs-the building to be 18x20x30-was, on June 25, let to John Sanders at a cost of $85. At this period not a road led out of town-only trails and foot-paths. The first church built in Mount Vernon was erected by the Methodists in 1835, when there were only three Methodist families in the vicinity. As early as 1837 there was a movement made to incorporate the town, but nothing was accomplished until 1864, when another effort was made, and it was successful. In 1872 the village became a city under the general law, and Hon. James M. Page became the first mayor. Mt. Vernon is the capital of Jefferson County, and is situated on the Louisville & Nashville railroad, seventy-five miles from St. Louis. The population was about 8,000. Submitted By: Lori Lisenby Leonard
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