CYCLONE
Carroll County Illinois
May 18, 1898

Written by Mary (Humbert) Petty

Transcribed and contributed by Alice Horner

These two photos, taken in Autumn 2004 by Erma Krum, are of two farms on Preston Road, which is just south of Highway 52 west of Mt. Carroll. The photo on the left was taken facing north and shows on the left side of the photo the property that was the original Harvey Loomer Downing farm in 1898 (and previously owned by Sumner Downing, his father). The farm buildings and the house in the foreground are at 9484 Preston Road and were owned by Paul and Eva Metz from 1954-2002; the house was built in 1961. The house in the background was built at about the same time and is at 9554 Preston Road. The original Harvey Loomer Downing house that was destroyed by the cyclone was on the 9554 Preston Road land but closer to the road than the present house. The farm buildings destroyed in the cyclone were on the 9484 Preston Road land but closer to the road than the present buildings.

The field across the road from these two houses is part of the property owned by William Petty, as shown in the 1893 Carroll County Plat Book. This plat book shows three dwellings at the west edge of this property, along what later became Preston Road. One of the Petty houses (and small orchard) was far to the north of the property, maybe half way to the stand of pine trees in the distance (where Preston Prairie School was). The location of the other two dwellings (with an orchard between them) is harder to determine, because I can‘t measure off either property. However, I believe the area where the girls were picking the rhubarb before the cyclone struck was the part of the field barely visible at the right side of this photo.

The photo on the right is the farm at 9421 Preston Road, which is across the road and maybe 100 yards south of the farm buildings at 9484 Preston Road. I believe it is the same house Mary Humbert Petty said was built for them after the cyclone. The location of this house corresponds to the third house shown in the 1893 Carroll County Plat Book. I do not know whether she lived in the second house or the third house before the cyclone. It’s also possible the second house was the summer kitchen that she describes. The 1908 Plat Book shows both of these houses, but by the 1951 Plat Book only one is shown

If anyone knows for sure, please email me Alice Horner.

"THE CYCLONE"

Thinking an account of “The Cyclone” might be interesting to our grandchildren or their children, here it is as I recall it.

May 18, 1898 was a very warm and a very windy day. I helped A. E. to hitch up his 4 horses at noon and he informed me it would be a good year for oats because we had so much south wind. Malinda, our hired girl, had baked nine large loaves of bread and was making curtains for the windows in her room (4 windows) and was a little late starting supper. Miss McCall suggested having rhubarb with the fresh bread and Dulcie and Beulah started to get it. Grandpa Petty had just started home and A. E. and Ray rode with him as far as the pasture where the sheep and cows were. It rained a few drops and some hail fell. Miss McCall said she would be scared if she thought it would hail as it had in Iowa the summer previous. I noticed the girls were lagging about getting the rhubarb so I joined them. Dulcie called my attention to “smoke” as she called it in the west. There was a row of large maple trees along the road across from us and our yard was thick with trees and shrubs. When I saw the funnel shaped cloud and noticed its whirling motion I knew it was a cyclone (so much for my early habit of reading everything available). The rhubarb was in the truck patch where the orchard is now and we were near the road at the west end of the patch.

I screamed to Miss McCall and Melinda “It is a cyclone” Dulcie said “Oh mamma! What is that?” I told her only a storm, which pacified her. We never saw a storm coming before, never looked at one and if it happened during the night, slept the sounder. Dulcie was always excited by fire or smoke. I told Miss McCall I would go after A. E. and Ray. She said she would take care of the girls. As I started I said “Father protect us, we do not deserve it but Thou are merciful.” The sheep were coming up the road. There were old sheep and lambs. I shooed them on up to the big gate and started for the pasture as fast as I could go. A. E. and Ray were coming toward the gate with the cattle when suddenly I saw Ray turn and start going in the other direction. My heart dropped down I do not know where. I called as loudly as I could to come. He was looking to make sure the stock to be left in the pasture all night were not stuck in the mud. A. E. must have got sight of “old Red” for he called to him to come on, he had seen them. Old Red was an old cow A. E. had raised. The cows came out of the gate deliberately and to hurry them I tried to help drive them and several not being used to women ran into the vacant lot opposite the pasture gate which happens to be the place we now occupy. I ran in and drove them out. A. E. looked at me so queerly and said “What in the world is that matter with you?” I did not have much breath left but said “A bad storm is coming.” He laughed saying it could not come here as the wind was blowing so strong from the east. When he got past Downings’ building and got a sight of the cloud he quickened his steps and when we arrived at the little gate he did not need any persuasion to have him come directly to the house instead of taking cows and sheep to the barnyard as usual.

As he got to the gate Ray took one glance to the west and ran, reminding me of a chicken running when scared by something in the sky. We found Melinda, Miss McCall, and the girls in the cellar. Ray went down like a shot and insisted in no uncertain tones that his father came too when he had closed the shutters, etc. (preparing the house for a storm).

We were undecided about the storm, first it got so very dark, we could tell by the north cellar windows and then those windows (which were hinged on the top) began to fly violently. Something big hit and slammed against the summer kitchen and shrieks and then bedlam!!

When the house went from over our heads, there was a rain of dirt that smelled like brimstone. We were not conscious of anything dropping in the cellar but a milkcan which sat north of the barn, and a doubletree from somewhere. Part of one floor and wall came in also. A. E. thought Beulah had been sucked out when the house went - she had been screaming and when the rain of dirt came she stopped and covered her face with her hands. It seems that all at once there was an awful quiet. The first noise was a bellow by a cow who was on edge of cellar.

The cellar steps contained a part of a tree - we turned a washtub upside down close to the vinegar barrel and with those in the cellar boosting and those above pulling, we were all out. I can not describe the scene -- everything laid waste -- ice house, which was filled, was standing -- the floor and lower part of the barn remained -- also part of the corn crib with corn remained.

Trees were either taken out by the roots -- broken off or taken bodily. The large pine tree Grandma P. had planted 38 years before disappeared bodily.

There were no fences and the fields containing growing crops were littered with debris, broken boards, clothing, etc. Kind neighbors from Argo came and helped clear the fields, piling it east of where the house now stands - where it stood a number of years, furnishing us with kindling for years.

Grandpa P. had gotten as far as the Knauer place on his way home when he was upset by the wind and when he looked back and saw the ruins he righted his buggy and came back. He did not tarry long however, as Miss McCall reminded him that Grandma might be worried. He took Dulcie and Beulah home with him. Beulah felt terrible because Al Kessler saw her with the dirty face the storm gave all of us.

One clock stopped at six minutes after five. Elmer Humbert, who worked for Holmans on the Cane place, came as soon as he could get here and stayed and helped Albert and Ray to care for some of stock, which were in terrible shape. Two cows were so mixed up with fencing wire and so badly injured they had to be killed, as did numberless sheep and hogs. They took a piece of carpet and made a stretcher to get cripples in under part of the barn. It was after ten o’clock when they came in to Milton’s. I feel now that it was a terrible ordeal for Ray, and I am afraid our nerves being so unstrung did not give him the sympathy and understanding he should have had later. His Grandma was his haven. They seemed to understand each other and to get comfort one from the other. (The girls were not subject to the horrors of that night in which those men worked with the stock.) They finally started for Milton’s dark as pitch; the road was littered with trees and wire and the only lighting was with a lantern that went out. A. E. and Elmer each took hold of Ray’s hand and going in the field to avoid the litter, they felt their way to Milton’s, where A. E. slept from exhaustion, I guess. Stormed during the night, but we all slept fitfully.

I recall the first sight that met our eyes when we came back in the morning. A number of little pigs were trying to get their dinner from their mother who was dead, pinned to the ground with what had gone through her and into the ground. Chickens lying here and there with no feathers except on neck and tail and wings. There were some that were walking around seemingly unharmed except for loss of plumage. The wind mill was down and not pumping. No pumps in the cisterns.

One chair and a broken chair was all the furniture we had left and our clothing was mostly gone. Dulcie had only the dress on her back. I should tell about the boards on the cellar floor being used (during the storm) to stand in front of us as we got close to the cellar wall. Dulcie was beside the churn that had some large rocks inside. We were in the southwest part of the cellar and providentially the stuff that dropped in the cellar with us was in another part of the cellar. We would not have been as safe in any other part of the cellar.

The girls were supposed to stay in town with Grandma, but Beulah wouldn’t stand it -- she had to come out with us.

We moved into the summer kitchen (June 7 - I believe) where we lived until October 22, when we moved into the new house.

The cyclone left its mark on all of us. The “bundle from heaven” which came August 7 was our safety valve. We all worshipped at her throne and a dearer sweeter baby never lived.

There are many more interesting happenings which I will have to leave to someone else to tell.

From the Carroll County “A Goodly Heritage” Supplement No. 4, published Winter 1976, Pages 361-363

Sidenotes from Alice Horner: This account of the Cyclone of 1898, from a person who survived it, gives a better perspective than most about how suddenly the storm came and how many literally life or death decisions had to be made quickly. I have corrected the spelling on this account, and added some punctuation and a few missing words to make it easier to read.

There is no indication when Mary Humbert Petty wrote this account, but it must have been long before it was published in 1976, because she was 30 years old when the cyclone struck in 1898, and would not have been alive in 1976. According to Illinois Marriages 1851-1900, Mary Humbert married Albert E. Petty March 27, 1887. According to the 1900 U. S. Federal Census for Carroll County, Mt. Carroll Township, Mary Petty was born in November 1867 and her husband Albert E. in August 1867. Their son Ray was born February 1888, their daughter Dulcie in February 1890, their daughter Beulah in December 1892, and their daughter Ruth in August 1898. (Ruth is the “bundle from heaven” mentioned at the end, which means that Mary Humbert Petty was probably 6 months pregnant when the cyclone struck.) Miss McCall, mentioned in the account, was Anna McCall, and shows on the 1900 Census as a boarder who was born June 1869.

The farm was the Albert Petty/Milton Dodson farm and is Farm No. 14 on Leroy Getz’ Cyclone Maps.
The Downing farm she refers to is the Harvey Loomer Downing farm directly across the road, which is No. 15 on the Cyclone Maps.
The Albert Petty farm is today all fields, which are across the road from 9484 Preston Road, south of Highway 52.

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