It’s a 25th Anniversary … No One is Celebrating

Transcribed and Donated by Terri Taylor

(Taken From the Henry News Republican March 15, 1967)

They said it wouldn’t happen here. Lacon was protected, they said. Protected by hills to the west & to the east. When other communities across the nation were shattered, Lacon people considered them sympathetically & a trifle smugly. I don’t think we need worry about tornadoes here, we’re protected. That was the usual comment.

And it seemed basically true. Monday, March 16, 1942, dawned much like any other cloudy, spring like day. Every went about his business, perhaps a bit more soberly that customary, for the recollection for December 6, 1941, was an expanding pall & already still & construction materials were obtained slowly by priority. The nation was operating on daylight saving time. Because of this letter fact it is probable that the lives of many children were saved, for they already had left the school building when the gargantuan winds struck at 4:55 pm & destroyed the gym, remodeled at a cost of $75,000 the previous summer.

Shortly before the tornado struck the skies darkened with a deluge of rain & hail. In the storm’s vanguard came gusts of wind that swayed the trees like crazed pendulums. The trees had not long to wait, or to live. Out of the southwest, gorged with debris swept from its path, came the churning juggernaut, scooping mud & water from the river as it passed. Screaming like a host a Valkyries, roaring like an army of bombers, the twister came, cutting a swath 2 to 4 blocks wide through the town from the cemetery to the northeast edge of town. It lifted then & dipped again several miles beyond town to destroy a farm home & take 3 lives. Moments before the brute storm struck, certain residents heard a warning of its approach & were able to take shelter. Others were not so fortunate & when the wind had passed there were 6 dead, 3 in Hopewell Township, 1 near the brickyard & 2 in Lacon itself.

People went out into the streets, looked upon the shambles & asked dazedly What happened? Knowing only too well what had. Lacon’s magnificent old maples & elms, its historic houses, lay in splintered, twisted devastation among tangled power lines along a diagonal path through town. Uprooted trees, tilted sidewalks, heaps of ruble that had been homes, all had been achieved in the space of 2 or 3 breaths. Landmarks were gone, people wandered lost among the wreckage, seeking homes no longer there. Night drew down swiftly. Lanterns flared in the streets where the sound of axes & saws continued through the night clearing the streets bit by bit, the beginning of days of effort before it was possible to move from one end of town to another without hindrance.

During the 1st night guards were posted at each highway entrance to the city & no one who was not a resident was permitted to enter. Even before the morning dawned help was on the way. During the night a first aid station had been set up in the city hall & the injured were brought in, some to be treated & sent home, others to be sent to Peoria hospitals. Peoria doctors & nurses joined in caring for some 75 persons hurt, & the next day, St. Patrick’s, the city hall received scores of persons who wanted tetanus shots.

The storm had taken 6 lives in the immediate area, destroyed 39 homes & damaged about a hundred others, causing property loss estimated at nearly one half million dollars. The storm was one of a series that swept 7 states & counted 142 dead. Every community in the area sent help to the stricken town. Men came with trucks & tractors & bulldozers & saws & axes. Women brought food & helped to prepare & serve it to the workmen. The Red Cross threw its regional disaster corps into the breach & its workers remained for several weeks. More than 100 men from a conscientious objectors camp at Henry helped with cleanup job. Priorities for necessary materials were quickly obtained & as sites were cleared sounds of construction mingled with the diminishing sounds of clearing.

Few persons who resided in Lacon on March 16, 1942, fail to pause a moment on each anniversary to recollect Lacon’s greatest material disaster. Tomrrow, March 16, is the 25th anniversary of a day never to be forgotten by those who lived through it.

Tornado Movie Shown at Theatre

A movie of the scenes following the tornado which struck Lacon on March 16, 1942, were shown at the Shafer Theater Wednesday noon a part of the program of the day. Ralph Taflinger was chairman of the program committee. The film was made at Lacon by Sam Traynor, Princeton, & gave a clear picture of the way the city appeared following the tornado which swept through the city a short time before 5 pm. The picture proved to be a popular attraction & if enough people would like to have it shown to the general public, Mr. Taflinger could get it for a showing on the anniversary day of the storm. 07/27/49 – (Lacon Home Journal) - Contributed by Terri Taylor

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