Twister Tall Tales

Crazy tornado stories are pretty common in Nebraska, but the Columbus Journal published a pair of especially unbelievable ones in the late 1800s.

Tall tales of the freakish nature of Nebraska tornadoes are sometimes found in the pages of early newspapers. 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 cyclone 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 a vivid picture it is of a massive black cloud extending a whirling finger toward the earth, and sweeping with great fury whatever came before it, 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.

Exhausted, but in an erect position she was at last lowered to the earth as lightly as a feather would fall, having received no material injury, though almost frantic with fright. The storm proceeded on its way, leaving her in sight of the town, and in half an hour she again put in an appearance at the hotel where anxious friends were bewailing her sudden and mysterious departure.

More than twenty years later, on June 26, 1901, the Journal carried another cyclone story, which topped the earlier one of Jennie’s travels. Attributed to Dr. W. H. McHenry, it reported the experience of a disabled woman during a cyclone at Nelson who was asleep in her home directly in the path of the cyclone.

That storm picked her up so gently that her somnolent senses were deluded into the belief that she was making a quick voyage in an airship. Her bed sailed gracefully through the air for almost a mile the invalid smiling in her dreams. Then she was gently deposited between two straw stacks upon eight or ten feet of chaff. But that wasn’t the wonderful part about it.

Down in town Warren Knapp runs a soda water fountain. That cyclone whisked around his store pretty lively and in the general confusion mixed an ice cream soda, flavored it with pineapple syrup and carried it to the bedside of the invalid. By her pillow it descended with a gentle thud and she awoke to find two long straws carefully selected from the farmers straw pile protruding from the glass. An hour later the invalid was rescued and taken to the home of a neighbor. The soda water glass was donated to the museum of the local High school.

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