|Click on Image for full size
Photo: A Piece of metel from the Aetna Portland Cement company
ends up in a tree at the James Butcher property in one of the few photos of this tornado.
A tornado swept down between Fenton and Linden on Sunday March 28, 1920 touching down at the Aetna Portland Cement Company,
causing untold damage to the roof and wall construction.
Cottages on what was Long Lake then, and now Lake Fenton, were devistated, many laid level to the ground.
At one home northeast of Fenton, 20 dozen eggs in a cupboard were undamaged, not even cracked, while towels were blown
from drawers of another cupboard. The towels were later found hanging on a wire fence. All but one window was completely blown
from the building.
The tornado also hit the Goodrich area. East of the Grand Blanc school house (the one that existed in 1919), there were
23 cattle killed. Farmers stripped the cows of their hides, salvaging some small part of the disaster.
|Click on Image for full size
The Fenton Independent
Issue Thursday 1 Apr 1920
Death And Destruction
In Wake Of Tornado
Four Are Killed and Many Injured In
Sunday Night's Storm.
Cussewago Beach Wiped Out, and Many Farm Buildings North of Fenton Wrecked. Property Loss Will Probably Reach
Half Million Dollars
A tornado, the worst that ever visited this section of Michigan and Genesee county, occurred Sunday evening about 8 o'
clock, and four deaths resulted.
Mrs. Nash on the Weitke farm.
Mrs. Walter Farley, of Holly.
Vera Farley, aged 3, daughter of Mrs. Farley.
Mrs. Charles Boughner, of Birmingham.
Mrs. Ed Case, on James Butcher farm, back and face injured.
Joe Trenchall of Flint, blown from truck and face cut.
Joseph Brozawski, Flint, bruised about the legs.
Willie Case, 5 years old, head cut.
Clarence Case, leg injured.
Robert Case, large spplinter driven through hip and cut about head.
Walter Farley, knee injured.
Mrs. Sherman Gale, back injured.
The storm broke in Fenton about 7:30 and was accompanied by a heavy rain and hail storm, but there were few who realized
that but a few miles from the village a scene was being enacted which will go down in history, and will long be remembered
by all who have witnessed the result of the tornado.
Following the rain, calls from the stricken region just 3 miles north of the village were answered by all the physicians
in the village and many willing workers who did all they could to relieve the situation.
Deaths at Weitke Farm
Just a week ago Mr. and Mrs. Nash moved into the Weitke farm, north of the village, and had not settled as yet. During
the evening Mr. and Mrs. Walter Ferguson and their two children, one eight weeks and the other two years old, with Mr. and
Mrs. Walter Farley and daughter, Vera, both families being from Holly, stopped at the Nash home on account of tire trouble.
The men were at the barn repairing the automobile tire and all the ladies and children were in the house when the tornado
struck. According to the story told by Mr. Farley, it was all over in a minute. The barn was blown to pieces and when the
men emerged from the ruins they saw the house in flames and a great deal of it blown down. They hastened to the demolished
home and found Mrs. Nash, Mrs. Farley and her daughter, Vera, aged 3, dead. The remains were taken to the Severance home and
kind friends went to the assistance of others in nearby homes who were thought to be injured.
Packard Car Blown from the Road
Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Deer and son and Mrs. Charles Boughner, all of Birmingham, were motoring from Flint on their return
to their home in Birmingham, and were caught in the storm just opposite the Sheman Gale home. The car was turned over two
or three times and all the occupants thrown out. Mrs. Boughner was the most seriously injured. She was brought to the Fenton
House and given all possible attention, but died Monday morning at 3 o' clock. Her remains were taken to her home Monday afternoon.
Cussewago Beach Village a Thing of the Past.
It is surely a sight which one will long remember should they take the time to go to the spot where once beautiful cottages
graced the shore of Long Lake, the little landing bearing the name of Cussewago Beach. This was one of the real summer resort
landings. There were about 30 fine homes there Sunday, but now not a single cottage remains, and the beauty of the place is
marred in having many of the large, beautiful oaks blown down or broken off. There were few of the cottages at this landing
which would, should they be built today, cost less than from $3,000 to $6,000 to erect. Debris from the cottages is spread
over an area half a mile square, and the thoroughness with which the wind did its work is shown by the way in which large
boards are broken up into kindling wood. In one or two instances the whole side of a house was carried several hundred feet
from its former location. Boats belonging to the cottages were lifted bodily and blown from 200 to 300 feet from their moorings.
All the day those from Fenton and Flint who owned cottages at Cussewagowere busy endevoring to pick up a few keepsakes
which they had with them at the lake in the summer.
One who stood looking at what was left of his cottage made the remark that it was fortunate indeed that the tornado came
in the spring instead of the summer when there were hundreds of people camping at the lake. Should the accident have occurred
at that time there would have been hundreds of deaths.
Moving Van Demolished
Joe Tenchall, of Detroit, who owns a large State moving van, with his driver Joseph Brozawski, were enroute home from Bay
City, where they had delivered a load of household goods. The storm struck them just south of the Whitman farm and blew them
both from the truck and demolished the top. Tenchall struck on his face in gravel and was badley cut. The driver sustained
severe bruises about the legs and arms.
Telephone Service Impaired
The wind simply made havoc with the telephone lines and all the roads in and out of Fenton were lined with men all day
Monday and into the night endeavoring to get service to the patrons of the company again. In many instances the lines were
broken and twisted, and in others the poles were either lifted from the ground or else were broken off all the way from six
to twelve feet above the ground.
Arthur Embury Moves Into Trouble
Just a short time ago Arthur Embury and family sold their home in Fenton and purchased the Yates Hunt place southwest of
town, and had but recently moved into the place. The house, barns and all other outbuildings were demolished and five cattle
were killed when the barn went down. Arthur formerly lived near the Catholic church in Fenton, which has sustained a number
of heavy wind storms, and probably thought he was getting away from all the trouble.
James Butcher Farm Buildings All Gone
The farm buildings on the James Butcher place on the west lake road are a mass of ruins. The place has been occupied by
Mr. and Mrs. Ed. Case and five children. They were about to move away, in fact were all packed and Monday morning were to
get out. Mrs. Case and the five children were in the house when the storm struck. She says that the first thing she remembers
is being in the yard and finding her children scattered about her, and the house entirely gone. Of all the buildings blown
down, this house was broken up more than any other. It would hardley be possible to build a chicken coup out of what remains.
Mrs. Case was cut about the head, Willie, aged five, sustained a cut on the forehead, and another little son, Clarence,
was slightly injured on one of his legs.
At the time of the storm, Mr. Case was at the barn owned by Mrs. Toomey just south of the Butcher place, doing his chores.
he had two cattle in the Toomey barn and both of these, with a team belonging to Mrs. Toomey and John Welch, were killed.
Parts of the barn and house were scattered all about the fields on both sides of the road.
Robert Case, brother of Mr. Case, was the only one of the family who received any serious injury. The wind took a piece
of wood about the size of a hammer handle and blew it through the fleshy part of the thigh, he also received injuries about
the head. Robert was taken to Goodrich hospital Monday morning for treatment.
Turned Out to the Weather
Thomas Segen says that this part of Michigan is sure some funny. Mr. Case and family being about to leave the Butcher place,
Mr. Segen was the incoming tenant. He had arrived at the farm with a load of goods Sunday and there being no room for him
in the house he made up a bed on a steel cot in the barn. When the storm came it took the barn from over him, and, as he says,
"I was sleeping in the barn; when I woke up there was nothing over me but rain." Mr. Segen miraculously escaped further injury
than a bruised shoulder.
Sherman Gale Dug for the Cellar
The house and barn of Mr. and Mrs. Sherman Gale, who reside just beyond the Whitman place on the Flint road, were both
levelled to the ground. In conversation with Sherman he informaed us that he was mighty glad to be here, and said all he had
was on his back. Mr. Gale happened to look out of the window and saw the storm coming. He told his wife and his father-in-law
to get for the cellar and he followed. The father-in-law stopped to blow out a light and Mr. and Mrs. Gale reached the cellar.
When the wind had passed the father-in-law found himself out in the field.
Whitman Farm Buildings Escape
These cyclones sure do some funny things. It tore down the house and the barns on the Weitke place, just south of the Whitman
farm, took out large trees and totally demolished the Sherman Gale house and barn and the house and barn for Will Carey, but
aside from tearing out some trees in the front yard, the Whitman place entirely escaped damage. The same thing occurrred at
Case's Island. The Island lay directly in the path of the storm, but in some unaccountable way the wind rose and passed on
over. The only thing at the island which took place out of the ordinary was the toppling over of chimneys.
Aetna Cement Plant Badly Damaged
The plant of the Aetna Cement mill suffered the largest individual loss of any. Here the wind tore down the big smokestack,
which was put up new just last summer. It tore off the greater part of the roof of the entire plant, and caved in one side
of the stock room. The kiln room, in which are two of the largest cement burning kilns in the world, which were placed there
a few years ago at great cost, is a bad looking mess. This part of the plant was of steel construction. The pieces of steel
which form the framework of the building are warped and twisted all out of shape, and are so badly damaged that it is probable
that the enclosure will have to be rebuilt. None of the machinery was injured, so far as officials at the plant can ascertain.
It is very fortunate, indeed that no one was injured at this manufacturing plant. Ike Stiff, of Linden and Dave Carey, of
Fenton were in the kiln room at the time the wind struck. Some who have knowledge regarding the cost of material and the probable
cost of rebuilding the plant, have placed their loss at $100,000, independent of the amount of business which they must necessarily
lose through inability to keep up their production.
W.W. Sargeant Loses Barn
The large barn on the W.W. Sargeant place just across the road from W.H. Simmons place was torn down. Mr. Sargeant and
son Ray were in the building at the time, but neither of them nor any of their large herd of cattle were injured. Mr. and
Mrs. Isaiah White, who live the first house east of the Sargeant farm, suffered the loss of their barn and one cow was killed
when the building went. Both of their horses were uninjured. They stood in seperate stalls and a large beam at least ten inches
square fell between them. When the place was visited by a reporter Monday morning the team seemed to be the most collected
of anything about the place. They stood quietly munching their hay just as though they had not suffered a narrow escape from
School Children of the District Happy
The school children of the cement plant school are pretty happy as they do not have to attend any sessions now. They are,
however, pleased that the storm came at night instead of during the day. The school house was entirely blown down, and nothing
remains to remind one of it being a school house except the desks, which are intact.
Several of the houses that form a little settlement at the plant were twisted and torn and made uninhabitable. Boats which
were at the shore of Silver Lake were picked up and scattered about in the field east of the Silver Lake hotel, owned and
run by Mr. and Mrs. Farner.
Hard to Estimate the Loss
When one endeavors to estimate the loss which was sustained by all concerned in the storm it is very difficult. There were
seven or eight barns and at least thirty houses which were a total loss. Then, with the farm machinery, the loss of live stock
and the many articles of furniture, together with the financial loss at the Aetna Portland Cement mill, it is safe to say
that $300,000 or $400,000 would not any more than cover that which one can see within a fifteen minute drive from Fenton,
and there are many things, little keepsakes, that money will never be able to replace. Should there be a call upon Fenton
people for aid to assist in getting some of the families back to as near as possible the place where they were happily located
just prior to the storm, it is hoped that all will do what they can to help in the matter. Those who are more fortunate should
indeed feel happy and grateful to think that they are safe, and should let this happiness find voice in assistance for others
Other Places Heard From
Scattering reports have come in to The Fenton Independent office regarding smaller losses suffered by those living south
and west of the village. These losses are on a par with those that come to us every March, when it seems we must have the
The Map below is a close time period of the lots at the time of the Tornado. The land owners are not all correct
but it is the lands that were effected.
|Click on map to enlarge- CAUTION Very Large
The Fenton Courier
Thursday April 1, 1920
Four Killed in Cyclone
Sunday Evening Storm Leaves Path of Death and
struction in Vicinity of Long Lake --Fifty Fine
Summer Homes and Farms Torn to Pieces
Pinning Many Under Piles of Wreckage
Cussewago Beach Unrecognizable Mass
Twirling Cloud Levels Everything in its Path-
en and Little Girl Dead and Many Injured as Buildings
Collapse and Disappear, Automobiles Lifted from
Fenton Road and Dashed to Pieces Killing
A cyclone carrying death and destruction, twisted across Fenton township
and Grand Blanc early Sunday evening destroying homes and buildings, killing four people, injuring many and doing many thousands
of dollars worth of damage. The storm is the worst in point of destruction and death that has ever visited this section of
Low, hurrying gray wind clouds were noticed in the west just before dark
Sundayevening about 6:30 o'clock. The storm seemed to be rushing towards Fenton from the west, when all of a sudden the wind
seemed to change and blow directly from the south and east. The several heavy currents of air seemed to unite near the Aetna
Portland Cement Plant and formed the twisting cyclone that twirled death and destruction before it.
The storm in places reached a quarter of a mile in width, uprooting the
heaviest trees and carrying them for rods. Fine homes, farm buildings and barns were practically wiped off their foundations
and that more people were not killed or injured is considered a miracle.
The whirlwind first struck the Will Sargeant farm just east of the cement
plants: the barns and home were destroyed, Mr. and Mrs. Sargeant finding refuge just in time in their celler. The Silver Lake
school house was totally wrecked. The Aetna Portland Cement plant was partly unroofed and the large smoke stack smashed to
The twister then started across Mud Lake destroying the James Butcher farm
home and buildings but fortunately not injuring any of the occupants. Buildings on the S.K. Freeman farm across the road from
the Butcher farm were leveled to the ground, and two horses and several head of stock killed. Several cows pinned beneath
the wreckage were rescued the next morning.
The storm then jumped across Long Lake between Orr Point and Case's Island
and struck Cussewago Beach, one of the thickest populated residential district about the lake. It was here the storm did its
worst and for over a half mile beautiful summer homes to the number of between 35 and 40 were literally wiped off the map.
Large, beautiful, substantial summer homes like those owned by the Buckingham Brothers, Dr. Beckwith, Charles Miller, Wingarten,
Warwick Brothers and Arthur Bishop, all of Flint, were crushed like egg shells, and timbers and furniture scattered to the
four winds and carried in many instances over half a mile. Cussewago with nearly all its fine homes was a wreck Monday.
For over a half a mile the Fenton to Flint road was blockaded with uprooted
trees and wrecked buildings. County Road Commissioner Wilbur Becker was on the scene early and directed the efforts of several
men, sawing the largest trees in two and clearing away broken buildings. The road was opened to the public about 9:30 o'clock.
Together with those who sought refuge in the Brush Nash home there were
eleven persons in the building when it collapsed killing Mrs. Nash. and Mrs. James Farley, of Holly, and her two year old
daughter. Mr. Nash was badly bruised but managed to save the body of his wife from being cremated as the wrecked building
caught fire. Mrs. Nash was but 24 years of age having been married but a short time. The husband is grief stricken.
There were five persons in the home of Winifred Carey, and all were seated
in the sitting room and watched the appraoch of the black funnel shaped cloud the tail of which circled and twisted along
on a level with the house tops. Mr. Carey was attempting to hold the door shut to keep out the wind when the entire house
seemed to crumble over their heads.
All five of the occupants were thrown through the bedroom out onto the
lawn a distance of several feet and all escaped with only minor bruises and cuts. Mrs. Carey sustained painful cuts on the
head and face and back and chest were badly hurt. All five had a miraculous escape from death. Besides Mr. and Mrs. Carey
in the house were their adopted son and his two boy friends, Earl Taylor and Roy St. John, of Saginaw. The property damage
is estimated at a quarter of a million dollars.
Trees, heavy timbers, parts of roofs, and furniture were one tangled mass.
No estimate of the loss and damage can be made but the figures will be high. From Cusswago Beach for a half mile over to the
main Fenton to Flint road the fields were strewn with wreckage, launches and boats. It was here the storm seemed to wreak
its fury and on the fenton road where the loss of life occured.
The Bliss farm house, a heavy substantial building, formerly owned by George
Weitke, was twisted to nothing and the barn across the road carried away. It was here that a Packard limousine and a Ford
car returneding to their homes from Flint were caught in the storm. The Packard car was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Boughner
and Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Deer and son of Birmingham. Their heavy car was lifted from the road and carried several feet turning
it upside down and crashing into a lumber pile where Mrs. Boughner was injured and died a short time later in the Hotel Fenton
where she was taken. Mr. Boughner was caught beneath the car but was rescued by the rest of the party.
The Ford car contained eight persons including Walter Farley and wife and
three children and his brother and family were returning to their home in Holly and had stopped to fix a tire in front of
the Bliss barn. It was here the loss of life was heaviest. Both the house and barn were entirely destroyed killing Mrs. Farley,
Mrs. Nash and Mrs. farley's little three year old daughter instantly. Walter farley was struck by a heavy timber and had his
left leg broken, the other members of the party escaping, but none of them knew exactly how it happened. The two men survivors
of the party rushed to the wreakage and hearing the moans of the injured women and children, dug frantically and finally rescued
them all but three were dead.
Mrs. Edith ferguson, one of the women in the Ford car was painfully injured
and was taken to the home of Dr. A.G. Wright. Her little baby of but a few weeks old and a small boy were found some time
after the storm by the roadside, having escaped injury, and were returned to their mother at the Wright home who was frantic
not knowing but they too had been killed.
Mrs. Marion Nash, who was killed in the wreck of the Bliss farm house,
came to the farm with her husband a few weeks ago from Flint. She was killed outright.
Dr. A.G. Wright was one of the first to respond and with Doctors Smith,
Gould, Ingrahm, Hoskins and McGarry, cared for the injured and rendered valuable assistance.
In spite of the terrific storm that followed the cyclone, Dr. Wright headed
his Ford coupe for the scene.
The doctor's car was caught in the heavy wind that followed the storm and
blown off the road into a deep ditch the car overturning and quite badly damaged. The doctor had to break the glass in his
car window to crawl out. He left his car and proceeded on foot to where the dead and injured lay and superintended the removal
of three of the more seriously injured to his home where they were comfortably cared for by Mrs. Wright and the neighbors
who rendered very kindly and much needed assistance.
Two Detroit men, John J. Brozowski and Joe Tenchall were driving a heavy
truck from Flint to Detroit their car being between the Ford and Packard cars in front of the Bliss farm house. Both men were
blown from their seats several feet to the roadside, the heavy truck was pushed to one side of the road where it acted as
a barricade for the two men, the truck caught heavy timbers and trees otherwise the two men would undoubtedly have been killed.
Practically everything but the iron works and frame were blown from the truck.
The Sherman Gale farm house and barns were leveled to the ground. Mr. and
Mrs. Gale saw the storm approaching and ran to the cellar steps followed by James Misner 70 years of age. Mrs. Gales father-in-law.
Mr. and Mrs. Gale reached the cellar just in time but the old gentleman who was close behind was caught in the wreckage and
thrown several feet under a pile of timbers where he was rescued a few minutes later by the aid of Mr. and Mrs. Gale, but
The Bee Bee barn was wrecked together with many large beautiful trees.
With the terrible destruction on the Fenton road the storm then headed
for Grand Blanc wrecking the farm buildings and barns of Harry Hodges, Will Barbous, William Hewitt, and George Alberts. Their
homes and buildings were wiped out.
Mr. and Mrs. Alberts were both painfully injured when their home collapsed
but managed to crawl across the road to farm neighbors who cared for them until Dr. Hoskins could be summoned who dressed
The storm cut up some queer pranks. A chicken coop full of prized chickens
at the rear of the Bliss farm home was destroyed and every chicken killed and thrown in the roadway. Three ducks were the
sole survivors but were marching in a circle around the spot where their former home was.
Cows at the Freeman farm were pinned beneath the wreckage and were unable
to stand up but were patiently chewing their cuds and waiting to be rescued.
One of the beautiful summer homes owned by Flint parties were wiped off
the earth, but a piece of a partition still stood with several hooks and there on still hung several nice dresses apparently
hadn't been even moved by the terrific wind.
Charles Matthews house boat cottage was one of the few houses left at Cussewago
Beach but it has another roof now and its a puzzle to Charlie which cottage its off of.
The storm produced some unusual atmospheric conditions in Fenton. Seemed
to form a vacuum. Doors and windows slammed shut like magic, even two miles from the center of the whirlwind.
Fenton doctors were deserving of the highest words of praise in their untiring
efforts and aid rendered to the injured and dieing. Fenton is full of people with genuine human sympathies who graciously
open their homes and are willing to render every possible assistance to those in distress. Fenton people are among the most
hospitable to be found any where.
Newspapermen, and photographers were on the scene early and fixed up their
stories. Thanks to Mr. Bradley of the Flint Journal for some of the pictures of the terrible storm wrecks.
The Aetna Portland Cement plant received the full shock of the storm and
was damaged to the extent of nearly $50,000.00. The Kiln room was completely wrecked, roof dismantled and the steel frame
Carlton Glass a young farmer living on the Baldwin road drove his Ford
car up beside the house of Will Hewitt and was calling on the Hewitt family. Mr. Glass heard the approach of the storm and
thought the chimney was burning out. As he entered the parlor all the windows burst in. Glass and the Hewitt family made for
the kitchen just as the room in which they had been standing started to move from its foundation.
The Hewitt house and barn buildings were demolished but all escaped injury
with the exception of Mr. Glass who was struck on the arm by a heavy timber. All that was left of Glass' automobile was the
wheels and engine and running gear.
The house and barn of George Watson was demolished and one horse killed.
Very few of the wrecked buildings carried cyclone and wind insurance and
a large percentage of the property owners are facing serious loss.
All phone service wires, electric light and power lines running into Fenton
were out of commission when the cyclone destroyed dozens of poles and tangling the wires into a regular mess. Linemen and
other employees were working all day Monday in an endeavor to resume service for Monday evening.
A farm hand on the Butcher farm on the west Long Lake road received serious
injury when a stick of stove wood was driven three inches into his left hip. The injured man is in a serious condition but
the physicians in attendance predict his recovery if no complications set in.
W.W. Sargant and son, Ray Sargant, had a narrow escape from instant death
Sunday evening when the cyclone struck their farm near the Aetna Portland Cement plant. Both were in one of their barns feeding
stock. They heard the roar of the approaching storm and everything turned inky black. The big barn overhead seemed to weave
first to one side and then to the other then it collapsed everything going into the air except the stock and a buggy on the
barn floor. The elder Sargant ran to the door and outside just in time to avoid a heavy timber that fell behind him. Young
Sargant was struck and knocked several feet but in a dazed condition crawled out through a small opening over behind a projecting
piece of stone wall. The entire orchard and barn and other stock buildings were in the air and falling all around them. They
saw the storm pass a black twirling cloud full of flying timbers and wreckage and saw it strike the Aetna Cement plant where
damages to the extent of $50,000 were made. Sargant sold a big barn to I.H. Stewart adjoining the Sargant farm and that was
completely gone. Heavy timbers in falling killed a fine cow but the other stock and a team were quietly eating when found
beneath the wreckage. Mr. Sargant said his loss is a severe one and he had but a few hundred dollars in insurance, however
he was thankful his house and wife and children were not harmed.
John D. Oren and wife and Bert Rollins were returning from Holly Sunday
evening in Mr. Orens Limousine when they were struck by the big storm. John is no quitter, however, and stuck to his steering
wheel and drove for four miles through the worst of it. Rain, hail, lightening and wind did not stop the intrepid John and
he would have weathered the gale but for mud and slippery roads near Fenton where his car slid into the ditch. Even then he
refused to budge from his seat but Bert Rollins weather beaten and rain soaked finally managed to reach the Worthington garage
and with another car raced back and extricated Mr. and Mrs. Oren and they returned home safely.
A Royal Oak undertaker arrived in Fenton Monday morning and took the remains
of Mrs. Boughner back to the Boughner residence in Birmingham. Mrs. Boughner was a charming young woman, but 37 years of age
and is survived by the husband and parents. The Boughners accompanied by the Deer family had been on a pleasant visit to Bennington
for the day and were enroute to their home when they ran directly into the terrific storm in which their large heavy Packard
car was lifted from the road and smashed to pieces against a lumber pile and wrecked building by the roadside. Her death and
the terrible accident is a severe blow to the husband and relatives who mourn her loss.
November 2, 1967
The Day a Tornado Struck The Lake Fenton Area
Towards the latter part of the month, March, 1920 was warmer than is to
be expected at this time of year in Michigan. Temperatures for the week of the 21st through 28th averaged a daily high of
68 degrees. By Sunday, march 28, the weather bureau had predicted rain.
It rained all right, but a good deal harder and more violently than was
Now-A-Days, whenever the weather looks a bit threatening we turn on our
radios and televisions and listen for word of weather warnings. On March 28, 1920 tornados struck the eastern half of the
U.S. without warning. When communications could be repaired and a count taken it was found that 161 persons had perished and
countless more were injured and homeless. Hardest hit in the norther tier of states was a suburb of Chicago where 29 people
died, a small community in Ohio which had not a building left standing and Battle Creek, St. Johns and Fenton, Michigan.
THE STORM began in typical tornado fashion as a warm muggy day, a line
of black clouds formed late in the afternoon, hail and then tremendous destructive winds followed by a calm colder air mass.
There is no doubt this was a series of storms but reports of that day seemed to link them together into one long storm.
There was at that time a cement plant owned by the Aetna Portland Cement
Company located on Silver Lake road between Fenton and Linden.
The storm struck there first and continued north along Fenton rd. until
it reached just beyond North Long Lake road about to the Peabody farm.
"The tornado was first felt at a point about a mile northeast of Fenton
where the plant of Aetna Cement Company was hit and partly unroofed and several farm buildings nearby wrecked. From there
it swept across the south end of Long Lake (Lake Fenton), striking Cussewago Beach and then across the highway from Flint
to Fenton where a number of dead, dying and injured were left in its wake." So stated the Flint Daily Journal of March 29,
It touched a farm house or building here and there after that and by the
time it reached Grand Blanc it had again picked up force and a number of buildings to the south of that town were demolished.
DOZENS of unoccupied cottages at Cussewago beach and much of the woods
surrounding them were leveled. The hardest hit home in the area was that of Brush Nash. Several people who were driving along
the road noticed the storm approaching and had stopped to take refuge in the farm house. There were 11 people in the house
This house like the cottages was totally destroyed with nearly everything
inside, side walls, furniture and people tumbling into the basement. Mrs. Nash was found by her husband under a pile of debris,
dead. Also killed were Mrs. James Farley of Holly and Mrs. Farley's three-year old daughter. Lowery Nash of 1309 Dauner rd.
is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Brush Nash. He was just a small boy at the time but he does remember a good deal about that storm.
There had been two men in a light truck going by on the road at just about
this time and one man was blown out of the truck and later found to have a broken leg, but not before he had helped some of
the people escape from the rubble of the Nash home. The other man was still sitting in his place in the truck when the big
blow passed but all of his clothes were ripped from his body except his collar and cuffs and the fabric of his trousers that
he was sitting on.
The wind did many strange thingsduring that storm. Several days later some
of the Nash's chickens were found wandering and one rooster was crowing his heart out without a feather left on his back.
Curtains at closed windows of the larger log cabin at Log Cabin Point were sucked outside through the tiny bottom crack.
PEOPLE HAVEN'T CHANGED MUCH over the years. Even the looters came out in
the wake of the storm. The next day when the Nash's came back to try to find some of their possessions people were boldly
going through dresser drawers as if they were their own. The family lost many of their mother's momentoes to the looters.
Needless to say there are other Fenton folks who were caught in the storm
and who remember it clearly. One woman remembers that the storm struck just about at milking time. Her father was in the barn
with the cows but he heard the rush of wind. Knowing he could not get to the house in time he dashed for a smaller farm building
with a cement floor and managed to curl up inside just as the wind hit.
Nothing on that farm was destroyed but the chimney of the house next door
tumbled to the ground. The woman in that house became so excited and confused she dashed outside but to this day she is not
sure if the chimney fell on the porch just ahead of her or if it fell just after she passed through the door. In either case
it was miraculous that she was not hit. There are many stories of just such escapes. The wind was very choosy; not one head
of live stock on any of these farms was killed except a few chickens found the next day lying in the ditch across the road.
For years afterward clothing and other debris still clung to the branches of an apple orchard nearby.
CLARE S. SEVERANCE who now lives at 1063 Tinsman rd. lived at that time
on the farm on Fenton road now known as the Triple Bee Farms. The tornado just missed their place. He remembers a search party
going out afterwards. The farm just south of them had been hit hard and the entire house had collapsed into the basement.
The stove had fallen in too and rescuers got the little girl out just before the wreckage burst into flames. A small boy was
found by the side of the road.
The early advent of spring had inspired several people to put their boats
into the water much sooner than usual. Many of the boats were never found again and in some cases just the motors remained.
The weather that day had been warm and muggy as is the case now when we
are apt to hear severe storm warnings being broadcast. John Cox had taken the opportunity to visit friends in Flint and he
was driving back home at just about this time. He saw the sky becoming dark as night and when the winds increased and the
hail began to fall he pulled his car up onto the yard at the Peabody farm. He says the storm looked to him more like a rolling
wind than a funnel cloud and his car shook for what must have been about ten minutes but he admits he was so frightened he
couldn't really tell and he surely couldn't see anything. When things calmed down a bit he discovered a strange car parked
on either side of him. He had been totally unaware of anyone even being near him.
A huge elm tree had been picked up, roots and all and blocked the road
just about in front of what is now the Holland-American Landscape Co. John decided it had just been a big blow and in order
to get home he went along North Long Lake road to Torrey road. None of these roads were paved at this time and rain continued
to fall, the air turned much colder at this point and some of the rain turned to slush and John's little car had some hard
going. In some places he had to drive up on lawns in order to get through. Finally he had to stop as the radiator was overheating.
He stopped at a small house on the road to get some water for the motor but no one seemed too alarmed. He was completely unaware
of the destruction on the east side of the lake until the next day.
Communication lines were down all over and it was the next day before people
learned of the real extent of the storm. More than 40 people had been killed in georgia and Alabama. The property damage ran
up into the millions. Just as now the Red Cross was quickly on the job finding shelter and food and clothes for the folks
in this area who had lost everything except their lives.
In Flint a meeting was held the following Tuesday so people wishing to
aid directly the victims could could pool their help. The storm had hop-scotched all around the country side and for days
people were searching ruins for bits and pieces of their property.