Jefferson, IL Tornado Causes Destruction, May 1855

From the Chicago Tribune, May 24.

Never before has it been our dity to record so awful a calamity as that to which we now set down to write. The scene of the tragedy is still before our mind's eye; the wrecks of the tempest are still lying scattered about; but were it not for the unimpeachable character of our informants, eye-witnesses of that dreadful calamity, we should be inclined to believe that they had been laboring under some mental hallucination, and that what we are about to relate was but a dream of the imagination. The reality, however, is too true. The bodies of the three victims and the wounds of the other persons constitute evidence too palpable to be set aside.
Our readers will remember the violent hail storm that took place in this city yesterday afternoon between four and five o'clock, and the oppressive heat of the rest of the afternoon. At the same hour the events to which we allude took place in the town of Jefferson, near Jefferson Mills, 16 miles distant.
A cloud of a peculiar shape was first observed approaching from the northwest, and terminating in a funnel-shaped point, the apex towards and nearly reaching the earth. As it came nearer, it was discovered to be a whirlwind rapidly revolving, and whirling up various objects, in which were plainly seen large sticks of wood, boards, small trees and chairs. It was coming towards our informants, but did not reach them, but turned to their right, described a semi-circle, and fell upon a large frame house. In an instant, and with a crash, the roof was torn off, and immediately the whole house was lifted from its fountadion, literally torn to pieces, and the pieces carried up in the horrid vortex. The furniture of the house, all of it, shared the same fate, the weight of the articles appearing no obstacles to their ascent whatever.
And now we come to a part of the narrative sad indeed to relate. In the house were nine persons. They were all drawn up into the air, and fell at different distances and with great violence to the ground. The wife of one of the eye-witnesses, MRS. PAGE, and two of her children, were instantly killed. All the other persons in the house were greatly injured. The injuries, with two exceptions, consist of singular and heavy bruises all over the body. One man had his arm broken, and another his wrist badly sprained. MR. PAGE only saved himself from being drawn up into the air by holding on to a large rock. The house stood upon four large granite boulders. These were all moved several feel from their places.
The whirlwind went on and passed diagonally across a post and rail fence. Of this it tore up twenty rods so effectually, that there is not the slightest vestige of a fence remaining. From this it passed to the barn, tore away one side of it and threw it against a horse, causing his death. The side of the barn then fell down of three calves, and injured them so badly that they died during the night.
The whirlwind seemed to pass off in a southward direction.
Many of the fragments of the buildings, &c., fell to the ground from a great height. In coming down they fell nearly perpendicularly, and entered the ground like stakes. Hundreds of these were counted by our informant.
The force of the storm was tremendous. Not only were the boards torn off from the beams to which they were nailed, but the beams themselves were wrenched asunder.
The whirlwind was accompanied by a storm of hail, many of the hailstones being of the size of walnuts. Some of them were nine inches in circumference.
We have neither space nor inclination for comment on this sad affair to-day. Nothing like it has ever occurred here before, and we hope never will again. It realizes the utmost horrors of a South American tornado. Had it spent its force in the city, hundreds of deaths might have marked its progress.

The New York Times New York 1855-05-28