1949 tornado bounced around like a rubber ball
Bob Blanton poses in front of the remains of his 1935 Ford, which was parked along Center Street when a tornado roared through Hannibal on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 11, 1949. A large tree fell upon his car, smashing in the roof. Hannibal Courier-Post photo by Otis Howell; Steve Chou collection.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
A lightning strike at B&R Motors, 114 S. Fourth St., about 12:20 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, 1949, was likely the first indicator of an ominous storm brewing. That storm, in the form of a tornado, would soon hop scotch across Hannibal, leaving in its wake significant damage to businesses and residences alike.
Across the street from the motor company, at Hannibal’s police station, 38-year-old Chief Dorse A. Rost was seated in a chair in front of the police radio. The lighting struck with such voracity that the 6-foot-1 chief was knocked to the floor, and other policemen and nearby firefighters were startled by blast.
When Chief Rost arose from the floor and looked outside, he saw a black cloud loaded with flying debris.
Detailed accounts of Hannibal’s rare December tornado were published subsequent editions of the Palmyra Spectator and the Quincy Herald Whig.
The Palmyra Spectator described the tornado as bouncing “along like a rubber ball” which hit hard in three sections of the city.
First, the tornado hit the 2100 block of Market Street, where the roof was removed from the Pilgrim Church, 2115 Market St., and deposited on the porch of a home next door., which was occupied as the Turner furniture shop. Both front and rear porches of the furniture shop were destroyed.
Next, the brick home of Ted Thorpe, 1423 Pearl, lost its roof and a brick wall. In addition, the kitchen was leveled.
Levering Hospital and Eugene Field School, which were nearby the Thorpe home, escaped with only broken windows.
On east along Market, windows were blown out at Hedges Supply Company and the Elite Tavern. Then the storm took a leap, landing again near the residential area of Maple and Center.
On Center Street, a large tree fell onto a 1935 Ford, owned by Bob Blanton.
Otis Howell of the Hannibal Courier-Post recorded that scene, with young Bob Blanton posing in front of his demolished car. Blanton lived with his parents, Roy V. and Ira F. Blanton, 1103 Center, and at the time, the young man was working as a salesman for the Courier-Post.
The Palmyra newspaper told of substantial damage to the home of Mrs. Sadie King, 418 N. Third St.he front of the house, where her apartment was located, was torn off and the debris scattered over a wide area. Mrs. King and her four children, Leona, Henry, Marylyn and Norman, ranging in age from 14 to 6, were at home at the time the tornado struck, but were only slightly injured.
Also living in apartments in that same two-story, brick building were Ray Dunn, and a family by the name of Smallwood. This building was nearby to Cookie’s Tire Shop, 405-407 N. Third, owned and operated by Henry C. Koch.
Dave Tuffli, city editor, the Herald Whig, quoted witnesses: “Those who saw the twister approach said that heavy black, ominous clouds and jagged lightning were the only warnings. Suddenly there was a noise that resembled that of an approaching freight train. A second layer of the air was filled with flying debris, clouds of dust, dirt and gravel. Wires and poles were torn down, window frames, glass, pieces of lumber and household goods were whirled about like feathers.
“In a minute or two the twister was over. Then came a downpour. Nearly an inch of rain fell in 40 minutes. Unroofed homes and buildings were drenched from upstairs walls to basements. Household goods that escaped storm damage were ruined by rain. A few fires resulted from falling wires and lighting.”
North Third Street, particularly the 400 and 500 block, were perhaps hardest hit.
Three of the four walls, and the roof of Oaks repair service, 411 North Third, blew down.
Forest Oaks had operated a grocery store at this address for 20 years, before retiring in 1944.
The Quincy Whig reported that men dug cans of paint from the wreckage of the repair shop, and passed it from one to the other until cans reached the street.
The three-story brick building to the south of the Oaks building was unroofed. It had formerly served as home to the Hannibal Paper and Cigar Box Co, 401-407 N. Third.
In the 500 block of N. Third, the roof was lifted off two houses, that of George Johnson, 503 N. Third, and the home of William Bird, and his sister, Margaret Bird, at 507 N. Third. The building on the northeast corner of N. Third and North Street, housing the Automobile Club of Missouri, 501 N. Third, also lost its roof.
The most seriously injured in the tornado was R.P. Colin Sr., 59, a special agent for the CB&Q.
Colin was injured when he was thrown down the basement stairs by a force of wind. He lived at 315 North St.
Airborne debris caught in the Mississippi River bridge trusses, including pieces of metal roofing.
The tornado skipped over the river, and did some damage to Pike County, Ill., farms, including buildings on the Charles Marks farm two miles east of the Hannibal bridge; out buildings on the L.B. Parrish farm, and a combine was overturned on the Fred Schwartz farm.
The Herald Whig reported: “Electric light and power lines were down through the storm area and large crews of linemen worked for hours to restore service. The tangle was especially bad in the vicinity of Fifth and Hill.
The Red Cross reported to the Herald Whig that at least six families were homeless. Many others were forced to move to the homes of relatives and friends and did not report their loses to the Red Cross.
A Missouri State Patrol vehicle blocks incoming traffic to the 400 and 500 blocks of N. Third St., Hannibal, on Dec. 11, 1949. A tornado heavily damaged homes and businesses along this corridor. At far right are two houses that lost their roofs, occupied by George Johnson, 503 N. Third, and the home of William Bird, and his sister, Margaret Bird, at 507 N. Third. The building on the northeast corner of N. Third and North Street, housing the Automobile Club of Missouri, 501 N. Third, also lost its roof. Steve Chou collection.
This building, which stood at 418 N. Third, was occupied by Mrs. Sadie King and her children; by Ray Dunn; and by a family by the name of Smallwood. This building was nearby to Cookie’s Tire Shop, 405-407 N. Third, owned and operated by Henry C. Koch.
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’ and the newest book, “Oakwood: West of Hannibal.” Montgomery can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com