From the Archives: Easter tornado of 1913

March 23 marks the 99th anniversary of a tornado that devastated parts of Omaha on an Easter Sunday. It was, at that time, the most disastrous tornado to property in the United States, and 150 people were killed. I have included excerpts and photos from the March 24, 1913, World-Herald.

 

1913 Page

The March 24, 1913, Evening World-Herald

Click here to see a PDF of the full page.

 

Unidentified house ... toppled and shattered.

An excerpt from the paper: “Great residences and buildings were cut so cleanly in two that a mathematician might employ calipers in aligning the exact, razor edge of the storm.”

 

24th and Lake... streetcar smashed.

“As far as can be ascertained, the twister started upon its career in horror somewhere in Cass County, wiping out the town of Yutan, and then striking through Waterloo and Ralston.”

 

Ruins of the Omaha Furniture Manufacturing Co. at Ralston

“Its zig-zag course was baffling, and many towns report losses which which indicate that the main stem of the tornado was constantly giving off smaller twisters which acted as flankers with the deadly intent of making a clean sweep over the outlying territory.”

 

Page from The World-Herald booklet "In the Path of the Tornado"

 

Below is a 1913 illustration of the path the tornado took through Omaha.

There were actually six tornadoes in this area that day. This National Weather Services page details and maps their paths.

Sacred Heart Convent, 36th and Burt

Sacred Heart Convent, now Duchesne Academy, suffered one of the heaviest losses. The entire north wing was torn off, and the roof and the fourth floor of the south end were destroyed.

 

34th Street and Lincoln Boulevard

 

34th & Cuming

Above is a 1950s photo of the only house that remained standing in Bemis Park after the tornado. Drive down Cuming Street and you’ll still see it there.

 

24th and Grant. LOUIS R. BOSTWICK

The photo above was reprinted in the March 22, 1971, World-Herald. The caption: “Crowd gathers to watch rescue operations at the Idlewild Pool Hall. … Pool table shot straight up.”

According to a World-Herald account in the late 1920s or 1930s, fifteen people were killed in the pool hall and four were found under a pool table.

 

Relief station locations

A sign on a demolished building at the right gives the locations of relief stations. Hundreds were in need of food, clothing and shelter after the disaster.

 

48th and Leavenworth relief station

 

42nd and Harney

Knights of Columbus workers rake for valuables in the ruins of the home of Mrs. Sullivan, who died in the storm.

 

And finally, my believe it or not photo.

Kuhn's Studio picture of C.M. Sizer

“CM Sizer & board with straw blown through board in tornado” was the only thing written on the back of these photos, and I was unable to find any information in the archives.

 

Jolene McHugh

About Jolene McHugh

I was a graphic artist prior to coming to the Omaha World-Herald in 2007, and now I’m a photo imaging specialist, which means I prepare photos to print properly in the newspaper. I also have the incredibly fun task of restoring old photographs from our massive library. My favorite part of my job is getting lost in the history and stories behind the photographs. Many of the archive photos have little or no information attached, so I need to properly date and identify the people and places in them. Researching the stories is a bit like being on a historical scavenger hunt. The largest challenge I face is restoring photos we run in our books. Our newest book, “At War, At Home: The Cold War” is filled with hundreds of old photographs, and most of them small and in poor condition. I live in Omaha with my husband, one of my daughters and three very furry Maine Coon cats.
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Comments

  1. Aquaholica says:

    March 23rd. Awfully early for tornadoes. Damn global warming.

    1. Terrapene says:

      In case you forgot, this year we had a tornado in February. The hottest recorded average world temperatures have all occurred in the past 10 years. So yes, you can blame global warming.

      1. Mike Bishop says:

        The February tornados were kicked off by that snowstorm which tracked further to the north. The southern edge of that storm kicked off tornados from Nebraska to Michigan as the lower part of that snowstorm clashed with the warmer air to the south. No doubt that global warming contributed with the latter part of February being so unseasonably mild for this part of the country.

  2. Cassandra Hicks says:

    Jolene you have the BEST JOB EVER!

    1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

      I know!

  3. Joel Bader says:

    Is there any memorial to the tornado and its aftermath in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area?

    1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

      I don’t know. I was searching online, but couldn’t find anything. Not sure where to look. I’ll let you know if I find out anything…

  4. Trenton Mussmann says:

    Hello, maybe you could help me. I live in the Bemis Park area and I have been looking for more pictures of this area after the 1913 tornado. Do you have any?

    1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

      We have several photos, many in that area. I am forwarding your request to our library, they can help you out with that.

  5. Turk Mully says:

    I would also be interested in any additional photos of the tornado as well. My grandfather was 3 years old at the time and lived at 3312 Charles St. He remembered trees that had been pierced by boards. To see any pre or post pics would be super – thanks.

    1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

      I just sent your request to our library. Michelle will contact you soon!

  6. Jim Adams says:

    Wasn’t there a big snow storm right after the tornado? I’m sure that complicated things.

    It’s interesting to see some of the works dressed in coat and ties and dresses.

    1. Alan Tast says:

      The tornado hit on Easter Sunday in the afternoon. I really would have loved to have seen pictures of the damage in Yutan.

  7. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

    Yes, I read about that somewhere! But I couldn’t find any photos of the snow.

    1. Mary Jochim says:

      I’ve seen photos of snow on the ground at Joslyn Castle. The tornado destroyed the beautiful glass “Palm Court” greenhouse which was full of exotic plants and a world class orchid collection. What the tornado didn’t destroy the freezing temperatures the next day destroyed any hope of saving the orchids.

  8. Katrina says:

    You have an amazing job! I would love to do that! Do you need an assistant? LOL! I love going through old photos and such. My grandmother kept newspapers (she was from River Sioux, Iowa) and I think there might be one from a train wreck?? Not sure about that. Now I’m gonna have to check!

  9. Will says:

    Contact Jim Fogarty at Omaha Press Club. He has a book of photos of the 13 tornado. Not sure if it was a published book, or a photo album.

  10. Maureen says:

    My Grandmother was 8 at the time. She Lived on a big hill South of the tornado’s path. She told my Mom that she and her sisters sat on the porch and watched it tear up Omaha.

  11. Vince says:

    Join us on The Deuce – the North 24th Street Walking tour where we learn about one of the hardest hit areas the day of the tornado – 24th and Lake Streets in North Omaha. Check out the website – north24thomahatour.com.

  12. That is so sad to see that hardship!! Back then they didn’t have anything technilogical to help them rebuild like they do today (cranes, forklifts) so sad! Beautiful photographs though!!! Was anyone killed from these tornadoes?

  13. Colleen O says:

    Neat old pics, even though the subject was sad it is amazing to see them!!

  14. stephen p says:

    I Live in southern dundee (harney place) and I was told by my neighbors our home was knocked off its foundation ! Make’s you think about nature’s force then and now.

  15. KT says:

    I love how they wrote back then – would make the articles very interesting to read!

  16. Reader says:

    Minor typo… Scared Heart –> Sacred Heart

    1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

      Corrected now, thanks!

  17. Larry Shupe says:

    I’d love to find more info or photos on the Idlewild Pool Hall!! Any help would be appreciated.

    1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

      There was a comment from Vince above about the North Omaha walking tour. north24thomahatour.com

  18. Rich says:

    Jolene:

    I too envy your job. It has been some time since I’ve had the chance to work with old negatives from some of the historic archives around town.

    The OWH printed a special booklet following the tornado, which our family still has. There were pictures of the following snow storm as well as the National Guard patrolling damaged neighborhoods. The booklet came from my Grandfather. He told of just getting home from his paper route near 24th and Ohio. The tornado was just a solid wall as he described it – too big to just be a single, narrow funnel. He also described the neighbor’s chimney coming through the parlor window as they were heading to the cellar. I don’t believe their house received too much damage, as to be unlivable.

    Do your files still have a copy of the booklet?

    I’m sure there will be more historic coverage next year.

    Thanks for the photos!

    1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

      Thank you!
      We actually have a copy of 5 booklets printed. I based the blog on just hard copy photos I could find, we don’t have negs that far back. I am sure we will have much more coverage next year on the anniversary.

  19. Randy Lee says:

    I really enjoy seeing old history photos of Omaha. We live in a great city and thanks to the World Herald for doing what they can to preserve this rich history.

  20. Mychelle Fada says:

    Just showed my 5 year old grandson these amazing pictures, and he asked if we could watch the video!

  21. Allana says:

    Folks interested in seeing more photos of the tornado damage may want to look at the Nebraska Memories website. Nebraska Memories is a cooperative project to digitize Nebraska-related historical and cultural heritage materials and make them available to everyone via the web. The Omaha Public Library’s contribution to the project includes 74 photos of the damage caused by the Easter tornado. Learn more about the Nebraska Memories project at: memories.ne.gov.

  22. Travis Sing says:

    Wish I could’ve used some of these pictures in my book, “Omaha’s Easter Tornado of 1913″ (2003). Whoever was the OWH archivist at that time was not helpful in the least.
    Nonetheless, thank you Jolene for making these photos accessible on the web!

    The Bemis Park in the 50s caption is misleading. There were many houses that survived the tornado in Bemis Park (albeit in various states of damage), including the Lehnhoff house, right behind the Hanson house (pictured), and one to the east down Lincoln Blvd.

    Larry Shupe: my book includes several photos of the Idlewild Pool Hall, including some of the funeral procession for the men who died there. The pool hall was picked up, slammed down, then caught on fire. 25 men perished there. It really became a spectacle after the tornado during the recovery process.

    Not only the OWH, but several other newspapers and print houses produced souvenir booklets in the wake of the tornado. One version was even in German.

    1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

      I wish I could have referenced your book for fact checking!
      I started this with a folder of old photos (and almost no identification.)
      I am so sorry you had a difficult time in the past, I know the people we have in the library now are terrific. They are the ones who are the actual archivists.

  23. Joellen Phillps says:

    My mother was an 11 year old girl living in Omaha when the tornado went through. The remaining 74 years of her life she was terrified of storms.

  24. Mark says:

    My home was the only one on the block not destroyed and all of the neighbors took cover here. The world Herald reported that a bottle of brandy floated from the dining room to the library and to quote the article ‘Nary a drop was spilled’. My home is on 39th and Davenport. The former Offutt family home. I have only seen one picture of my home and it was in the background of a picture of the Castle. Anyone else have any?
    Great pics on here!

  25. Gwen says:

    My great aunt and uncle were just married in January and were killed in that tornado. Oliver and Ina Said. They were found in each others arms and were buried in each others arms in Ruskin, Nebraska. Ina’s sister Vivian told me the whole story..Wished I could read that page of the newspaper you posted…

    1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

      There is a link below the picture in the post for a full size version of the front page!

    2. Trenton Mussmann says:

      I’m from Ruskin, Nebraska. What were their last name?

  26. Vince says:

    Several mentioned Global Warming. All earth activities are controlled by our Maker-God.
    As in the past since begining of time, man reaps what he sows. We, America, have turned away from following the Comandments which God gave us to follow. He is reminding us all, repend and humble ourselves and asked God’s forgiveness and change our ways.

  27. Mike Lemmers says:

    Very interesting! I grew up (from 1936-) at 3419 Hawthorne. I had always heard that the east pillar had fallen back into the house & all the houses West of there had little or no damage, but East to 34th & then North had major damage. The occupant of the house you showed that can be seem from Cuming St was Francis P. Matthews who was the Ambassador to Ireland at one time.

  28. Bob says:

    Incredible work, thank you! I am also very interested in history and I have heard stories about this tornado and seen some photos. I have never seen many of these though and it is shocking, even to imagine that happening today. I didn’t know that house on Cuming was the only one standing. I am going to drive by it. I heard about the piece of straw over the years going through a 2×4…I guess it was a bit smaller piece of wood haha!

    1. Bob says:

      I just read the comment about the house in Bemis park, no matter though….still very interesting and I will drive by it. :-) Thank you all for what you do to preserve history.

      1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

        Sorry about the misinformation, I was working from a folder full of photos with little or no info on the back and that info was on a 1950′s photograph.

  29. Linda says:

    This is a really superb article. Over many years, I have tried to accumulate as much information as possible about the 1913 tornado. I live in one of the neighborhoods that was in the tornado’s path and many of the injured and fatalities are addresses in my current neighborhood. I have found a few original booklets with pictures that were published in 1913 at estate sales and also on Ebay. Mr. Sing’s recent publication is one of my favorites. Omaha history is so interesting and I hope that there will be more articles like this one. Well done, Jolene!!

    1. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

      I try to do a blog weekly. I have been randomly choosing subjects, but would love any reader’s ideas!

  30. Candice C. Floyd says:

    I have deep roots in Iowa and Nebraska. My siblings and I are in the process of going through old family records, photos and letters. Today I read a very discriptive letter about the tornado in 1913 that is amazing. The storm literally stripped the person that wrote the letter of everything she had.except for the mud coated clothes on her back. I have to do research on who she was, it was just signed Aunt Loma and she lived near Glendive. She writes about lives lost, the power of the storm and living through it. I can’t imagine going through anything so horrific and having your entire life shattered in minutes.

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  32. [...] you would like to view the entire book, click here. Last year’s blog on the tornado. Showcase with more photos of the [...]