When the double twisters hit two counties

Published 9:03 am Friday, September 26, 2008

Several years ago someone asked me to check on a news report regarding a tornado in the south part of Freeborn County that took place sometime in the late 1920s. This person said a relative was badly injured and someone else in the Glenville area died as a result of this storm.

It took a little time to find the Tribune news article, but the effort was worthwhile. What really helped was the front-page headline in the Aug. 21, 1928, issue. I made a copy of the news report regarding what were also called twin tornados and gave it to this person. I also made a copy for my files to be used for a future column, then nearly forget about this incident. Now, just over 80 years later, maybe a column is justified for what may have been one of the worst set of tornadoes to ever rip through both Freeborn and Mower counties.

The headline said, “Freeborn and Mower Counties are hit by twin cyclones; most disastrous storms in history.” The subhead added, “Death and destruction in wake of double twister; Austin is suffering most,.”

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Yet, as I read the news report about this cyclone, eyeline (the Tribune’s weird word), tornado or strong windstorm, two details became apparent. First, this was a true tornado, despite those other three descriptive terms. And, second, it was actually one wild tornado that happened to make its destructive way across two counties and two states during the late afternoon of Aug. 20, 1928.

This tornado touched down about three miles northwest of Lake Mills, Iowa, and proceeded west of Emmons to a point two miles south of Twin Lakes. Farm buildings and crops along the way were damaged or destroyed.

The next area to be hit hard was a mile north of Glenville. A Mrs. C.O. Hagen was killed in this area. A Mrs. Krause and her daughter, Irene, were listed as being badly injured. Several other folks were also injured in the part of the county.

If I may digress for just a paragraph at this point. I’d like to comment about a stupid custom of this era. I’m sure Mrs. Hagen and Mrs. Krause had first names. Yet, as I’ve encountered in so many of the older newspapers, it’s apparent that there was a rigid rule back then that said a wife had to be identified by her husband’s first name or initials. One was supposed to assume she was like personal property or a subordinate vassal. Thankfully, this sorry situation had changed through the years.

Between Glenville and Austin there’s an indication this tornado’s funnel lifted somewhat, then came down again before it crossed into Mower County. This may help to explain the twin tornado or double twister situation mentioned in the Tribune’s headline.

This tornado ripped right into Austin. The result was estimated damages of a million dollars to the city’s businesses and homes (1928 values), five deaths and 19 folks listed as injured.

Among the places badly damaged by this storm were the Mower County Fairgrounds (which resulted in the cancellation of the 1928 fair), Austin High School, Johnson Laundry, Park Theatre, Mier Wolf Furniture and the Austin Water and Light Plant. Also damaged were about 300 motor cars and many homes.

The injured were taken to Austin’s St. Olaf Hospital where the doctors and nurses were challenged in their treatment work in part because of the lack of electrical power.

Austin’s Hormel Packing Co. was not in the path of the storm. This firm had its own electrical power plant. Jay Hormel, according to the Tribune article, personally led a crew of his employees, who strung wires to provide power to other parts of the city.

Members of Austin’s National Guard unit and members of the local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars quickly responded to protect property from looters and to help with relief and rescue operations.

What was really one tornado resulted in estimated damages of $2 million and six deaths in Freeborn and Mower counties.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.