Remembering the twister of 1941

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Sister Eucharista Ward, who lives in the Holy Cross Convent in Northeast, said that although she was a child at the time, she can still remember how worried her mother was on the night of Sept. 4, 1941, when a tornado hit Northeast and North Minneapolis.

“We were at my grandmother’s house in South Minneapolis, listening to the radio.” When they heard that a tornado had hit the Soo Line Railroad’s Shoreham Yards, she said, they were all frightened because her father, Leighton Ward, worked there. (The yards, now run by CP Rail, are north of 27th Avenue NE between Central and University avenues.)

He emerged unscathed, to their relief, and was quickly reunited with his family. But he told a harrowing story of near disaster. “He said he had just left one building when it collapsed right behind him.”

Ward’s mother, Margaret Ward, kept a copy of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, dated Friday, Sept. 5, 1941, as a memento. Recently, Sr. Eucharista sent it to the Northeaster, along with photographs of the storm damage.

According to the news account, the twister’s path was 75 miles wide. Four people died and at least 50 were injured as it swept through Minneapolis and the Twin Cities area shortly after noon. It hit North and Northeast the hardest, passed over New Brighton and “spent itself after raging through White Bear Lake.”

One Shoreham Yards worker died and 34 workers were injured, when three Soo Line buildings collapsed. The three other people killed included a Minneapolis man who suffered a broken back and was died when his car went of the road near Becker, Minn.; a boy who had been in a rowboat on the Mississippi River when the storm struck and he drowned; and a man who was crushed by a shack that collapsed in North Minneapolis on 26th Avenue.

The Soo Line death toll might have been much worse, according to the paper, had it not been for the timing. The storm hit just five minutes after the lunch bell went off, and 100 men left the shop where they’d been eating to go back to work.

The tornado reduced the front of the shop—where the tables were—to “a rubble of bricks and twisted beams and girders.” E.F. Johnson, 2931 Hayes St. NE, was the foreman of the shop workers. He said, “The coaches in the car shops saved our lives. When the wind collapsed seven sections of our car shops our only shelter were the coaches. Men rushed underneath and inside of them. Fortunately, the cars did not collapse under the weight. I raced for a car but didn’t have to move very far for the coach was blown toward me, fully 15 feet distance.”

Frank Budzynski, 2228 Madison St. NE, had a closer call: he’d been outdoors watching the storm and was blown into the machine shop through an open doorway. Another employee, George Morin, was also outdoors and was thrown against a passenger coach by the wind. He saved himself by clinging to a “grab iron” while the car shops collapsed nearby.

The Tribune reporter wrote of overturned wood railway cars, pierced by tin and wood, and included a scientific explanation. “Scientists explain that such things happen because normal air pressure inside the wood be-comes greater than that outside as the wind tears by. Pores in the wood are opened to admit flying splinters.”

Other sightings
Alfred Hitchcock might have appreciated the story of Mrs. E.A. Burmeister, who resided at 3000 California St. NE at the time of the storm. Burmeister was sitting in a streetcar at Grand St. and 30th Avenue NE when the tornado hit. She told a reporter she saw the funnel-shaped cloud sweep northeastward from the river. “And it was filled with birds, hundreds of them,” she said. “I presume they had been drawn up into the cloud by its suction. The car motorman and one other passenger saw the cloud and the birds.”

And H.G. Harren, who lived and had a grocery store at 3101 Central Avenue, reported that while his automobile out back was undamaged, the garage that surrounded it had gone missing.

Mrs. H.E. Merrifield, 3200 Tyler St. NE, had a close call: As she was closing windows against the storm, a timber came through a window just over her head. Her garage was missing, too, and her car was overturned. Her next door neighbor, Mrs. George Luedke, had taken shelter in her basement with her “screaming children.” She reported, “I thought I was going to die right in my tracks.”

News of the day
The tornado shared the Tribune’s front page with worldwide news of World War II: Hitler had invaded Russia and was preparing for a showdown with America, predicted writer John T. Whitaker. “Germans in Italy, Spain and Portugal are confident America will not enter the war now,” he wrote. “They predict that later, when Hitler is in a position to deal with America, the morale in this country will collapse…” Whitaker concluded, however, that the Germans had sized up America wrong.

Today at Shoreham
Some of Shoreham’s old buildings are still standing at the rail yard near Central and 27th avenues NE, although the historic roundhouse is reportedly not in good shape. A team of consultants who looked at the building this spring reported that the roof is bad—even collapsing–in some places, with deteriorating wood and brick work and probable mold damage.

Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail), which owns Shoreham Yards, is working on a pollution cleanup at the site, which has soil and ground water contamination. The Shoreham Area Advisory Committee, a resident group that monitors activities that involve the yards, meets the second Monday of the month, 7-9 p.m. at Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association’s office, 2516 Central Ave. NE. Their next meetings are June 12 and July 10.
To contact the committee by email, write saac-mpls@earthlink.net. The web site is www.shorehamyards.org. The CP Rail representative is Laura Baenen, 612-851-5659.

Tornado reflections? Share them in our “Environment forum”:https://www.tcdailyplanet.net/forum/63.

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