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Rockford Tornado Disaster

1928

 

TWISTER LEAVES DESOLATION AND DEATH IN WAKE

Ruins Lay in Storm's Narrow Pathway

By "Dooney" Trank

Starting its path of devastation at the Rockford chair factory plant, the tornado, cutting a swath of about 100 to 200 yards wide, moved across the southeastern section of the city to Charles street a short distance east on Twentieth street, where it seemed to lift.

The huge chair factory building proved the first target for the twister, the structure trembling at the first gust and then crashing. The brick veneer walls crumbled about the frame structure. Part of the building fell over the dry kiln located south of the main plant.

Seeing the plant rock and crumble, Ernest Chappel, of Chappel Brothers Packing plant, issued a call for all his workmen and rushed them to the scene of the wreckage. Organized under foremen as relief squads, Chappel Brothers' employes plunged into the work of rescuing chair factory employes from the debris.

DeSchepper Home Wrecked

More than 15 men had been removed from the demolished plant when police and deputies arrived.

Continuing its way norteasterly, the tornado, after clipping roofs from homes, blowing down wires and breaking off tops of trees, settle down again at Peoples avenue and Kishwaukee street, where the house of Emily Deschepper was torn from its foundation. Mrs. DeSchepper and her daughter, Clara, were buried in the wrecked home.

Mrs. Deschepper was removed two hours later suffering from a broken arm and possible internal injuries. The daughter, who was the first to be rushed in the hospital, sustained a severely injured leg.

Workers Rush to Scene

In the meantime scores of volunteers, physicians, nurses and special police had reached the chair factory.

Rising again after striking the DeSchepper residence, the storm dealt another hard blow at Twentieth avenue and Seventh street. Once of the houses at this intersection, in which a Jones family resided, was turned bottom side up. Across the street at 1103 Twentieth avenue the house occupied by Anfred Eklund and M.F. Rydholm, was pushed from its foundation and all but completely demolished.

Johnney Rydholm, four years old, was the only person injured in the residence at 1103 Twentieth avenue.

Other homes near the intersection were unroofed and windows in many structures were broken.

Strikes Union Plant

Whirling from th intersection at Twentieth avenue and Seventh street and path of destruction continued to Eighteenth avenue and Ninth street. In moving across this district, the storm ripped of the roofs of many homes, blew down trees and telephone poles.

Dipping down at Eighteenth avenue and Ninth street, the twister played havoc on the Union Furniture company plant. Contents of the second and third floors were tumbled down to the first floor, a mess of debris. After the roof gave way on the eastern part of the building, the huge water tank tumbled down to add its weight of water and wood to the pile of wreckage below.

Simon's Johnson's grocery store located at the northeastern corner of the intersection was changed to a pile of lumber by the swift moving wind. The frame structure was a total wreck. The garage of the South Park transfer company east of Johnson's grocery store, also was wrecked.

A portion of the Mechanics Machine company, east of Eighteenth avenue on Ninth streetm also was hit.W

Workers Look On

While factory workers in plants adjoining the Union Furniture company plant looked on, the tornado, hurling planks, roofs and tree tops high in the air, moved in a northeasterly direction toward Broadway, where it next settled down the Elco Tool company plant.

The south wall of the Broadway factory tumbled before the unrushing storm. Spectators who rushed on the scene marveled at the miraculous escape of workmen there. The north wall of the Nationa Lock company, Plant B, also was damaged.

Rising again over the Illinois Central tracks, the terrific wind continued northeast and played many pranks before driving down on the David Carlson Roofing company, east of Twentieth street.

Rock View in Darkness

Rock View, a district of many recently erected homes, also suffered great losses. Second floors of many homes were blown high, garages wrecked and windows blown out.

The district was in total darkness and many persons, made homeless, were seen carrying clothing and furnishings to neighbors' homes for the night. Flash lights and candles proved the only illumination for residents in the Rock View district.

Special police, in addition to the entire forces of the police and sheriff departments, were rushed into service. Many directed traffic in the storm stricken area, others patrolled the sections around wrecked structures.

Scenes of destruction were everywhere in the path of the tornado.

Legionnaires and national guardsmen from Company K responded to a call for aid. Obtaining uniforms at the Armory, the men rushed to various points in the designated areas.

Schools Escape Fury

Three grade schools, housing more than 1,000 pupils, located near the path of the tornado, miraculously escaped the wrath of the tornado.

The storm passed south of Brown and Turner schools and narrowly missed the Herman Hallstrom school at Twelfth avenue and Eighteenth street. A double car brick garage across the street from the Hallstrom school, was completely wrecked but the residence was practically untouched.

Many homes north of Hallstrom school were unroofed and partially demolished.

The twister whirled out of the city at the far corner of Charles street and Twentieth avenue, wrecking the David Carlson Roofing company building and the Ray Brown Machine shop to mark "Finis" on its terrific journey over the southeastern section of the city.

--Rockford Register-Gazette, 09-15-1928

TORNADO TAKES HEAVY TOLL IN ROCKFORD, ILL

Seven Known To Be Dead, 15 Missing And 50 Injured

TWO FACTORIES ARE WRECKED

Many Homes in the Path of Twister Are Also Mowed Down

Rockford, Ill., Sept. 15--Another of the midwestern tornadoes which already have taken a dozen lives in Nebraska and South Dakota this week, dropped out of black skies into Rockford late yesterday, killing at least 7, injuring 50 and leaving property wreckage estimated at more than five million dollars.

Fifteen persons were missing when an intensive search of the ruins of factory buildings and private homes was begun in earnest. During the night reports were frequent that additional bodies had been seen in wreckage, but darkness prevented more than a cursory search.

The tornado struck a three-mile strip, demolishing two factories in which several hundred men were at work and destroying many homes.

The known dead were: Everett Cornmusser, 16; Bernard Cornmusser, 14; Virgil Cornmusser, 17; Tony Martinkas, 50, Spring Valley, Ill.; George Fagerberg, 51; John Brunski, 44.

The Cornmusser boys were struck by the hurtling roof of a garage as they ran before the storm. Only Virgil escaped instant death. He died in a hospital of his injuries.

Bodies In Wreckage

Martinkas was found dead in a chicken coop he was repairing. Fagerberg and Brunski were victims of the wreckage at chair factory "B" of the Rockford Chair and Furniture company.

American Legionaires and Illinois National Guardsmen patrolled the storm area with loaded rifles during the night and early today as relief workers moved forward against the debris.

Four factories, Elco Tool company, Union Furniture company, Chair Factory "B", and the Meachanics Machine company, were among the larger structures demolished, while numerous smaller factories and homes raised the estimated damage total to more than $5,000,000.

The twister, described as a monstrous funnel shaped cloud that lifted and swooped as it progressed, entered the southwest limits of the city, mowing a path from 50 to 300 feet wide on its whirl through the city to the Grant highway.

The tornado first hit the factory section where Chair Factory "B" is located. The fourth floor of the structure was swept off and the walls of the building bulged out by the terrific wind that moved the entire building some 30 feet, the west portion falling over the dry kiln structure.

Rescue Work Perious

The payroll for Chair Factory "B" contained 113 names. It is believed more than 50 of these men escaped when the tornado first struck, but it is not known how many more were able to get out of the building, where power lines and tottering walls made rescue work extremely precarious during the night.

Two hundred firemen, policemen, deputy sheriffs and highway police from Beloit, Wis., Freeport, Dixon and Belvidere, Ill., worked through the night in the ruins of Chair Factory "B". Searchlights were used, but the condition of the structure precluded any organized relief work. Hospitals were established at the scene of the disaster.

The twister came within a block and a half of three grade schools, in which were more than 1,000 children, frantic mothers ran down the streets the storm had traversed looking for their children. Many blocks were untouched by the wind which lifted and then dropped in its journey.

--The Evening Repository, Canton, Oh., 09-15-1928

CHAIR WORKER TOPPLES FROM FOURTH FLOOR

Jorgenson Unhurt in Fall Down Shaft

"It was the softest landing I had ever expected."

This was the comment today of Malcom Jorgenson, 1425 Charles street, who escaped injuries after falling from the fourth floor the Rockford Chair factory plant through the elevator shaft to the basement when the tornado his the structure.

"I was closing windows on the fourth floor and noticed the heavy winds blowing up sand in the pits nearby," Jorgenson said, "Then I saw George Fagerberg fall through the window. The next I knew I was falling and sliding down the elevator shaft."

Fagerberg was one of the workmen taken from the wreckage dead.

Although he landed squarely on his feet, Jorgenson escaped without any fractures. He sustained a gash over his left eye 'S a deep cut on his lip.

Picking himself up from the wreckage, Jorgenson plunged into the work of rescuing his fellow workmen from the ruins.

--Rockford Daily Register-Gazette, 09-15-1928

PROMISES NO DELAY PAYING DEATH CLAIMS

Insurance Firm Will Waive Formality

Insurance claims made by relatives of persons killed in Friday's tornado will be paid as soon as identity is established, according to an announcement made today by George C. Angerman, superindentent of the local office of the Prudential Insurance company.

He was authorized to file claims without the formality of a doctor's death certificate in a communication revieved today from Edward D. (?)affield, president of the company, who is located at the (?) of the home office at Newark, N.J.

--Rockford Register-Gazette, 09-15-1928

DIRECTORS TO SETTLE PLANS

Question of Rebuilding to Be Decided

Urgent matters that confront directors of the Rockford Chair and Furniture company following the destruction of its plant B in yesterday's catastrophe will be considered by the directory board at a formal meeting to be held Monday or Tuesday, according to (?) Robert Lind, secretary and treasurer.

To speed rescue work in removing hundreds of tons of debris, the Seeprity(?) Building company has been engaged to clear the site of the chair factory ruins near Peoples avenue.

Presumably the factory will be rebuild, according to Mr. Lind, although the decision will be made by the board of directors after more important questions have been settled in conference next week.

Mr. Lind for the directors of the Rockford Chair and Furniture company, is thankful for the assistance that was offered spontaneously in the rescue of debris-covered workment. "Everything humanly possible was done to locate the unfortunate workmen." said Mr. Lind.

--Rockford Register-Gazette, 09-15-1928

MRS. DUFFIELD SEES 'CURTAIN' WRECK FACTORY

Faces Terrific Storm with Amazement

Seated in her automobile parked in the driveway at the Roper Corporation Friday afternoon while waiting for her husband, Mrs. J.H. Duffield, (?) South First street, (witnessed) "huge blue curtain" which several seconds later wrecked the Rockford Chair factory and continued on its devasting journey through the town.

"To me it seemed like a huge blue curtain bespeckled with small black dots but not until it struck the chair factory did I realize that it was a tornado," Mrs. Duffield said this morning.

"Just as the 'blue curtain' struck the factory a sheet of flame as wide as the path of the tornado gushed forth," she remarked.

"Whether or not it was the cause of combustion I do not know but my husband and I expected to see the structure in flames when we rushed to the scene."

Mrs Duffield directly faced the "blue curtain," which later proved to be speckled with timber, poles, and roof tops, and rushed into the Roper plant. After striking the chair factory, however, the tornado veered its course slightly, missing the Roper plant and passing over Kishwaukee street and Peoples avenue.

--Rockford Register-Gazette, 09-15-1928

FOOD SERVED TO RESCUE CREWS BY GIRLS' CLUB

Carry Sandwiches, Coffee to Workers

Rescuing the rescuers from the pangs of hunger was the task the Rockford's Girls' club, 215 North First street, took upon itself last night.

Loading cars with hot doughnuts, cheese sandwiches and coffee, the young women visited the relief corps that were busy working in the stricken area. In the excitement, many had hastened away to the scene of the disaster without eating and the food proved a welcome gift.

Eight-four Legionnaires, more than 40 Veterans of Foreign Wars and scores of other rescue workers were served by the firls. They remained on the scene until 3 o'clock this morning and after obtaining a short rest returned with an additional supply of food.

Miss Ida Smith, matron at the club, was in charge of the party, which consisted of the Misses Marcia Clark, Edith Merthon, Leda Morris, Josephine Miller, and Irene Fleming.

Another party of girls left the club this afternoon to continue the work in the stricken area. They are the Misses Elsie Adamson, Ann Kutrenel(?), Virginia Wydell, Mildred Hillsohoff, Helen Mitchell, Agnes Root and Frances Spooner

--Rockford Daily Register-Gazette, 09-15-1928

ILLINOIS STORM TAKES DEATH TOLL

Six Are Known Dead at Rockford; Damage Will Extend Into Millions

Storm Follows Close Up on Nebraska, Dakota Disasters

FACTORIES DEMOLISHED

First Hasty Check-Up Reveals Sixteen Missing; Six Bodies Found

Rockford, Ill., Sept. 16--Another of the mid-western tornados which already have taken a dozen lives in Nebraska and South Dakota this week, dropped out of black skies into Rockford late yesterday, killing at least six, injuring 50 and leaving property wreckage estimated at more than five million dollars. Sixteen persons were missing when an intensive search of the ruins of factory buildings and private homes was begun in earnest. During the night reports were frequent that additional bodies had been seen in wreckage, but darkness prevented more that cursory search.

The tornado struch along a three mile strip, demolishing two factories in which several hundred men were at work and destroying many homes.

American Legionnaires and Illinois national guardsmen patrolled the storm area with loaded rifles during the night and early today as relief workers moved forward against the debris.

Factories Demolished

Four factories, Elco Tool Company, Union Furniture Company, Chair Factory B and the Mechanics Machine Company were among the larger structures demolished, while numerous smaller factories and homes raised the estimated damage total to more that $5,000,000.

The tornado first hit the factory section where Chair Factory B is located. The fourth floor of the structure was swept off and the walls of the building bulged out by the terrific wind that moved the entire building some thirty feet, the west portion falling over the dry kiln structure.

Two hundred firemen, policemen, deputy sheriffs and highway police from Beloit, Wis., Freeport, Dixon, and Belvidere, Ills, worked through the night in the ruins of the Chair Factory B. Seachlights were used, but the condition of the structure precluded any organized relief work. Hospitals were established at the scene of the disaster. They came within a block and a half of three grade schools in which were more that 1,000 children. Frantic mothers ran down the streets the storm had traversed looking for their children. Many blocks were untouched by the wind which lifted and then dropped in its journey.

Some workmen who escaped from the chair factory told of machinery sliding along the floor and then crashing through the girders. Som of the men climbed out of windows, saying that they had to dodge great posts and flying splinters.

--Aberdeen Evening News, SD, Saturday, September 15, 1928

Broadway Church Saved from Tornado's Fury

Amid the wreckage in the path of Friday's tornado, Broadway M.E. church, a wooden structure at Broadway and Parmele st., escaped without injury.

The Rev. Royal Synwolt, pastor of the church, was one of the energetic workers among the rescue and relief crews in the stricken area today

--Rockford Republic, Saturday, Sept. 15, 1928

EIGHT DIE; HUNT BODIES

Find Five Missing Men This Morning

Contractors Lend Apparatus To Help Remove Wreckage

With Rockford's tornado death toll at eight last night workmen engaged in tearing away the wreckage of Rockford Chair & Furniture company plant B in search for the bodies of five men believed to bee buried there awaited only the arrival of dawn today to continue their rescue efforts.

Considerable progress in clearing the debris away from the foundation of the plant was made yesterday and work was continued until darkness last night. More than 200 employes of the Security Building company, city, county employes and those of other firms, abandoned their rescue work at 7:30 o'clock last night, but will renew their efforts early today.

Death Toll Mounts

The men who brought the death toll to eight victims are:

Axel Ahlgren, 40 years old, 420 South Fifth street, whose mutilated body was dug from the ruins of the Union Furniture company plant at noon yesterday.

Swan Swanson, 40 years old, 1650 Oakes avenue, died at 7:50 o'clock yesterday from a punctured lung, broken ribs and other injuries suffered at the Union Furniture company plant.

The men still unaccounted for are:

Olaf Larson, 2216, Sixteenth avenue. Herman Wydell, 216 Dawson avenue. Martin Anderson, 1615 Seventh avenue. Frank Strom, 1815 Parmele street.

Carl Ryden, 1125 Fifteenth street, and Charles Kurliskus, 2742 Hanson street, reported missing yesterday morning, are alive and only slightly injured, it was learned last night. Both men escaped from chair factory B by climbing through a narrow opening left in the debris. They escaped with minor injuries and were unaware that they were being hunted among the victims until late yesterday afternoon.

Five Believed Dead

Officials of the Rockford Chair and Furniture company said last night that the five missing men undoubtedly are buried in the debris of the factory. Recovery of their bodies will bring the storm total to 13 victims. Officials believe that that will be the death total.

Security Building company, which had charge of the rescue and salvage work at the chair factory abandoned all construction labor on new jobs yesterday morning to turn its attention to the storm swept district. It was aided by city and county employes and officials.

May Find Bodies Today

"We feel that we accomplished considerable work today with the city and county tractors, steam shovels and hoists of private concerns and the number of men who worked on the ruins," Mr. Anderson, of the Security Building company, said last night. "We expect to resume the rescue work early in the morninng and we hope to obtain better results. We believe that we will reach the bodies of the men reported buried in the wreckage sometime Sunday."

Never before in the history of the city has the public so aroused itself to meet the situation brought about by Friday's tornado. Scores of contractors and factory officials, unaffected by the storm, offered officials of the Rockford Chair and Furniture company, trucks, men, steam shovels, hoists and other aid yesterday in a frantic search to find the bodies of the missing men.

Officials of the Security Building company were at the factory at daybreak yesterday and, after an inspection of the wreckage of the factory, they ordered the workmen into the roped-off safety zone and the work of salvage and rescue was started with remarkable speed.

Men Work Rapidly

Scores of men, experienced engineers in the art of removing the piled up debris, appeared in all sections of the wrecked factory and, within a short time, furniture that could be salvaged was being loaded up on trucks, walls were being torn down and large sections of flooring were being towed off to some empty corner of the roped-off safety zone.

Mayor Burt M. Allen, Sheriff Harry, Baldwin, Chief of (article cut-off)

Death Toll of Illinois Storm Climbs to 15

Fear Seven Missing Are Buried in Factory Ruins at Rockford

3 Die in Nebraska

Teacher Gives Life in Saving Pupils--Two Children Perish

Rockford, Ill., Sept 15--Fifteen dead or missing and approximately 100 injured Saturday night made up the casualty list of the tornado that swept through Rockford late Friday, causing upward of $2,000,000 damage to property. Many homes lie in ruins and several factories were demolished.

Fear that nearly 100 were killed in the collapse of a chair factory was removed Saturday as searchers reported that in addition to five found dead Friday night and three who died Saturday in hospitals, seven were thought to be dead in the debris of the chair factory.

A few of the injured may die, although nearly all of the three-score still in hospitals have a good chance to recover.

Governor Small at Springfield ordered Company K of the 129th Infantry, Illinois National Guard to report here for tornado guard duty. A detail of fifty highway police also was assigned.

A larger part of their task will be to keep crowds of curious from the ruins of Chair Factory B in which three of the eight fatalities occurred. The three floors of the long building crumbled before the wind, dumping tons of machinery and lumber into a tumbled pile. Firemen and volunteers worked all day, yet at nightfall were only a little nearer knowing what secret of death the ruins held.

Sand Untouched

A hundred yards from the chair factory stood a great pile of fine sand with not even a furrow in its light golden sides to show there had been any wind.

Sections of the city that suffered most were approximately three miles apart, with blocks in between that escaped the storm flight. Both hard-hit sections were devoted mostly to industries--the B factory of the Rockford Chair and Furniture Company on the one hand, the Elco Tool Company on the other. Destruction was wrought to six other industries in lesser degree, particularly to the Union Furniture Company and the Mechanics Machinery Company.

Relief was quick in organization--subscriptions to meet emergency needs of hundreds made homeless and jobless. Plans also were formulated to rebuild at once many of the factories destroyed. Many of those thrown out of employment by destruction of factories were to be given work in reconstruction.

Death List

The death list, as it stood Saturday night, was:

EVERITT CORNMUSSER, 16. VIRGIL CORNMUSSER, 17. BERNARD CORNMUSSER, 14. GEORGE FAGERBERGER, 51. TONY MARTINKAS, 50. JOHN DRUNSKI, 44. SWAN SWENSON, 40. AXEL AHLGREN

Swenson and Ahlgren died during the day in hospitals. They were furniture factory workers caught beneath falling walls.

--Dallas Morning New, 09-16-1928

2 BOY HEROES SAVED CHARGES FROM TORNADO

Out of the maelstrom of tragedy and horror surrounding Rockford's major disaster, the tornado of Sept. 14, which took a toll of 14 lives and destroyed millions of dollars worth of property, comes three months later the tale of the heroism of two school children, who saved half a hundred smaller children from probable death.

The story, which matches all the stories of bravery and self-sacrifice together, which were cast in the crucible lightning and thunder, crumbling walls and the screams of dying men, was brought to light for the first time today. It is also the story of Officer Jack Prial's school boy policemen.

The unsung heroes, who should have recognition long ago from a grateful city, are Robert Roos, twelve years old, and Edwin Brogren, eleven years old, pupils at the J. Herman Hallstrom school, 1300 Seventeenth st.

Boy Police as Escorts

The setting of the story is the North Western railroad viaduct at Broadway, and the time, the fateful afternoon of Sept. 14. At 3:15 pm while the sky was rapidly darkening, seventy kindergarten and first grade pupils of Hallstrom school were dismissed and sent on their way home--all of them under six years of age. As was customary, two members of the boy police were to accompany them as far as the Elco Tool Co., to see that they got safely to their homes.

They had been on their way scarcely ten minutes when the tornado roared through the southeast end after laying in ruins the Chair factory B, off of Kishwaukee st., burying a score of men in the debris.

In an instant wind and rain lashed trees and buildings on the east side. Directly in its path were the children in charge of the two terrified but calm boys.

Robert Roos and Edwin Brogren herded the terrified children under the railroad viaduct, while debris and refuse carried by the wind pounded down on the bridge over their heads.

Entertain Little Charges

But that wasn't all--choking back their own fear, the more poignant because they realized better what was happening, the two whitefaced youngsters shouted funny stories back and forth, and when their whimpering charges grew still more frightened, they made funny faces until the children laughed through their tears.

While they were pantomiming one of the boys looked out and saw part of his own house being carried on the wings of the storm. Concealing his own terror, he still pantomimed for the children.

It was all over in a few horrible minutes, and seventy frightened but uninjured children were lead out from under the viaduct, and two scared boys took them to what was left of their homes, helped them find their mothers and fathers before they went to their own homes to reach their own families.

And that is the story of Robert Roos, twelve years old, and Edwin Brogren, eleven years old, just two boys of the 250 on whom Officer Jack Prial pinned boy police stars and impressed with the majesty of the law and their duties as its officers to watch and protect the younger children entrusted to them.

--Rockford Republic, Friday, Nov. 23, 1928

2 Victims of Tornado Still in Hospital

Three months ago today, the greatest catastrophe in the history of the city struck Rockford, claiming the lives of 14 persons, injuring over 100 people and causing property damage estimated at several million dollars.

Today but two of the scores injured remain in a hospital--Henning Johnson, 42, of 1317 Sixteenth ave., and Avery Otto, 35, of 1520 Broadway.  Both are suffering from fractured legs received when they were buried under tons of debris.

Johnson was injured at the Elco Tool Co., and Otto at Chair Factory B. For three months the two have been confined to St. Anthony hospital.

The tornado followed a down-pour of rain shortly after 3 o'clock in the afternoon, striking the most southeasterly section of the city and claiming everything in its path. Downtown office workers and residents in other sections of the city were unaware of the twister until the clanging of police cars, ambulance and fire apparatus was heard.

Today, a tour of the devastated area would reveal scarcely anything.  Factories, homes and stores have been rebuilt and the horrible catastrophe is history.

--Rockford Register-Republic, 12-19-1928

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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