Tall tales of the freakish nature of Nebraska tornadoes are sometimes found in the pages of early newspapers in this state. The Columbus Journal is the source for several stories of people supposedly picked up, whirled aloft, and then returned to earth without injury. On December 11, 1878, the Journal editorialized on recent press reports of a Nebraska girl picked up by a tornado and carried unhurt for a quarter of a mile. The Journal editor remarked:
“We saw it in all of our exchanges and we thought it was a pretty good joke, . . . It began by saying ‘A correspondent writing from Columbus, Nebr., says’ and then follows a description of a cyclone at Lone Tree and Clark’s several years since, . . . and then of Jennie, a working girl in a hotel, stepping to the door to see what was going on when, ‘as she did so she was caught from the door way by the whirling wind and carried over the house, turning round and round in the air as she went and after approaching the ground on the other side she again arose and was taken by the whirling wind over the stores and dwellings a distance of three-fourths of a mile, being lowered so that her feet could touch the ground as many as eight times during the trip.’”
As soon as the plucky Jennie could keep her feet on the ground, she walked back to the hotel, from which she had been absent about half an hour.
More than twenty years later, on June 26, 1901, the Journal carried another tornado story, which topped the earlier one of Jennie’s travels. Attributed to Dr. W. H. McHenry, it reported the experience of a sleeping invalid during a tornado at Nelson, Nebraska. Carried away, bed and all, she was finally deposited some distance away unhurt. The tornado had then invaded a soda fountain in Nelson and “in the general confusion mixed an ice cream soda, flavored it with pineapple syrup and carried it to the bedside of the invalid.”
Stories such as these probably helped early Nebraskans to cope with weather-related dangers by turning them into an object of humor. Still, it was hard to find humor in these deadly storms, such as the ones that struck Bradshaw on June 3, 1890, killing twelve and injuring sixty, or the one that struck Omaha on Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913. Although casualty counts vary, estimates placed the death toll in Omaha and Council Bluffs as high as 140, most in Omaha. Eighteen were killed in the village of Yutan. Thousands were left homeless. See James E. Potter’s “Easter Tornado Ranks High on Nebraska Disaster List,” online at the Nebraska State Historical Society website. - Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications