The 1942 Tornado That Devastated Lacon

Transcribed and Donated by Terri Taylor
Photos Donated by the Family of Jack Gerardo

Lacon Hard Hit By Storm
Toluca Star Herald, Friday, March 20, 1942
Six dead & some 60 injured is latest report in Lacon disaster

Photo Taken By Jack Gerardo

The triadic storm that struck with full blast in our neighboring city of Lacon about 4:30 pm Monday evening leveled many homes & tore huge trees up by their very roots, taking six lives & injuring many others. The twister hit at the southwest corner of town, near the cemetery & tore thru to the northwest its path of destruction 2 blocks wide & at least 30 blocks long. Countless huge Elm trees, for which the town was noted fell under the blast of swirling winds & made many streets impassable. Automobiles were buried beneath debris & all available tractors, road equipment & trucks were placed into use in an effort to dig out from under. Also aiding in the clean up work were conscientious objectors from the CCC Camp of Henry.

Those listed as dead as result of the storm were: Mrs. Gotlieb Schupp, 85 & her 2 middle aged sons William & Edward in their farm home north of the city. Mrs. Owen Baker, an aged blind woman, who was killed as she held her small grandson in her lap. The little lad was taken from the debris of the wrecked Baker home uninjured. Herman Mowry, 83, who died at the Proctor hospital the next morning as a result of injuries suffered in the storm. Victor Goodrich killed when his home in Barville, a few miles south of Lacon was destroyed.

Approximately 75 of the injured were cared for in the emergency Red Cross headquarters established in the City Hall. Nurses & Doctors called from Peoria hospitals, hurried from one patient to another all during the night, while anxious relatives waited in the roped off area outside of the building awaiting word of their loved ones. The entire community was a maze of twisted plaster, wood, broken wires & trees, broken glass & pieces of lumber with nails covered the highways, which blocked all traffic in the section of town hit by the storm. Furniture, garments of clothing & bedding were strewn all throughout the neighborhood. The 14 room home of Delmar Pettett was completely destroyed as the huge residence was lifted entirely from its foundation & dropped in the adjacent yard. 14 women in the home for a party were reported unhurt. They dashed to the basement when the tornado struck.

Photo Taken By Jack Gerardo

Miss Margaret Hacker, a teacher at the Lacon School, who was ill in an upstairs room was uninjured, being unable to make the basement, she was taken to the Methodist hospital in Peoria, suffering from head & ear injuries. Housed under one building which suffered extreme damages were Lacon’s Grade School & the High School’s recently completed $75,000 addition. A huge portion of the roof was lifted from the structure several walls were torn out & almost completely destructed. Joe Monk, superintendent, believing students were trapped, received a shoulder injury as he tried to enter the wrecked building while timber & mortar was falling, however all students had already left the building which was very fortunate.  Mr. Monk’s home was also completely demolished. School necessarily was dispensed with & the students were helping in every way possible to alleviate the tragedy.

Also on the job cooperating with the Methodist church of that city was the Peoria Salvation Army. As rescued work was carried on these groups served hot coffee & sandwiches to the volunteer workers. Local Boy Scouts & those units of Peoria & vicinity were making a house to house check to determine extent of damage & housing conditions. American Legionaries also are assisting. An all day clinic was arranged for a the City Hall for the purpose of administering anti-typhoid shots. Swollen streams & the resultant pollution of water created this additional threat.

Forces of men who are members of the community’s Minute Men organized under Civilian Defense patrolled the stricken area to stop any possible looting & reported that some such looting was being carried on the 1st evening as darkness & fog settled over the community which was cut off from the outside when telephone & light wires were down. Men carrying guns were placed every ½ block. Lights were restored to the downtown section at 8:30 pm that evening. Little damage was suffered on the Main business streets.  Practically everyone not injured in the catastrophe lent a hand in the rescued & patrol link work after the 1st excitement of the storm had subsided.

Photo Taken By Jack Gerardo

Among those well known in this city now residing in Lacon, were the Fred Garrels whose home suffered many broken windows, & part of the roof torn away – but the home just one block south of them, & belonging to Mrs. Garrel’s mother, Mrs. Charles Buck, was completely torn to pieces, & flattened to the ground, the house next door of that was razed from the foundation & dropped down on top of the Buck house. Both houses are damaged beyond repair. The home of Mr. & Mrs. Hayes North, former residents of this city, suffered just minor damages, a small hole in the roof, & a few bricks torn loose, while the entire block behind them to the west was in complete ruins. Mr. & Mrs. Herman Krull who reside on the farm directly north of the Barnes home escaped any damage, fortunately as all about them was strewn debris of the storm. Mr. & Mrs. Fred Arndt was among those who were residing in the path of the storm, & their house was badly damaged.

Fortunately there were no fires, however water supplies in the community was shut off for sometime so as to retain pressure to be able to extinguish any fires should they have broken out, neighboring fire departments were on hand for such an emergency. Ambulances sped back & forth throughout the night on Route 29 taking the injured to Peoria Hospitals.

County & State Police are stopping all traffic into the city, of sight seeing – so that the work of cleaning up & re-establishing the community can continue. Only those that have official business in the city are permitted to enter. All over the city Tuesday one could hear stories of heroic rescues & joy filled the hearts of many as they feared were lost. It was reported that persons in the community walked the streets in a dazed condition during the night of the storm apparently unable to realize that their homes had been demolished in such a few moments. Many families doubled up to take care of the families which were made homeless.

Several people from surrounding territories who saw the cloud as it rolled through the skies reported that “the rolling twisting cloud was the typical funnel shaped whitish in color & spiraled like smoke being forced up”. According to several people on the streets of the city their version was “It’s the worst thing that could ever happen. It’s hell – just plain Hell”. The Commodity Depot of Ottawa is busily providing all surplus commodities to the stricken city, regardless of the regular lists – all in all, everything is being done to relieve the terrible situation as quickly as possible. - 03/27/42 – Toluca Star Herald – Funeral Services for four of Lacon’s tornado victims were held Thursday afternoon, March 19th.

Toluca Star Herald, Friday, May, 3, 1942

Voluntary contributions accepted by the Boy Scouts from passing cars amounted to $688.16 on the Sunday following the terrific Tornado which hit our neighboring city of Lacon recently. An estimated crowd of from 85,000 to 100,00 people visited that city on that day to view the damage done by the storm. It was rumored that the cars were driving bumper to bumper in from the west on route 17, & the black top roads, the gravel roads were just as congested from the other side of the river.

Other donations sent from sympathetic citizens, neighbors, & the former residents even from California augmented the above sum. Governor Green has pledged $5,000 to the city from the States tornado relief fund & the money has been released. Several offers of volunteer aid has been accepted by the city, & the work of cleaning up the debris has progressed speedily & the rebuilding has already begun – all though the signs of the tragic disaster are still very noticeable, much progress has been made toward rehabilitation. Grade & High School students are attending classes at temporary quarters, some in the Court House, Ford Garage & the various churches.

The American Red Cross are performing a wonderful job in the stricken area & deserve much credit, as it was learned they are coming to the aid of all the families who are unable to help themselves, & will entirely rehabilitate them, rebuilding & replacing their house furnishing, & started them out as they were before the fateful eve of the storm. We learned that the citizens of Lacon heaped a lot of credit & thanks on our own Ray B Litchfield, who really came to bat the night of the storm pitching right in & helping any place he could give a hand, we also learn that Ray is still doing all he can to aid, and Laconites, commend him for his gallant help.

Toluca Star Herald, Friday, May, 17, 1942

74 families of the 242 registered in the 8th Illinois counties suffering damage in the March 16 tornado have received Red Cross assistance on the amount of $15,400 of which Lacon has received $10,249, $7,500 of which went for building & repairs there, according to Mr. Raymond H Barrows, Midwest director of disaster relief for the Red Cross. Discussing the rebuilding work at Lacon, which Mr. Barrows described as the hardest hit, he said that to date, 144 families have registered for Red Cross assistance, the organization so far having helped 33 families. 3 homes in the community were completely rebuilt. Repair work on 6 has been completed & is continuing on 3 more homes.

To the 8 county area which includes the counties of Peoria, Marshall, Fulton, Knox, Putnam, Champaign, Vermillion & Piatt, 52 families are still to be visited & assist – that morning, even though I was not in on their personal resources, such as savings, insurance, credit, etc., they can handle their own rebuilding needs. Building & repair work in the affected area in this state has demanded the greatest share of the sum expended to date, $9,960. Next largest in amount was 2,590 spent for household goods & furnishings.

Other expenditures listed by Mr. Barrows are: rescue, transportation, & mass shelter, $105; food, clothing, & other maintenance, $125; medical, nursing, hospital, & burial services, $1,000; livestock, farm supplies & equipment $56 (most of which was used to buy chickens) & tools $300.

Families affected by the tornado, who have not as yet registered with the Red Cross, will all have done so by Wednesday, April 15th, as that is the date of the closing of the lists, says Mr. Barrows. The Red Cross is also helping all tornado sufferers obtain priorities in obtaining materials with which to rebuild their homes. This service is available to all families affected, whether or not they have received Red Cross financial assistance.

06/26/42 – The collections for the rehabilitation of public property of the city of Lacon, which was damaged by the tornado of March 15th, reached $11,128.57, this week according to T M Hancock of the First National Bank of that city who is treasurer of the rehabilitation fund.

11/13/42 – At an Armistice Day program the recently reconstructed Lacon High School was dedicated on Wednesday, November 11th. It will be remembered that this school was partially destroyed by the terrible tornado that hit Lacon on March 16th. The school was originally constructed in 1902 at a cost of $35,000 & in 1941; it was enlarged & remodeled at a cost of $72,000. Following the tornado, it was again rebuilt this summer at a cost of $64,900, the entire cost being fully covered by insurance.

For More Lacon Tornado Photos  see The 1942 Lacon Tornado - Donated by the Family of Jack Gerardo

For More Lacon Tornado Photos see The 1942 tornado - Photos Courtesy - Donald P. Cox

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