Clay City, IN Tornado, May 1883
The 28th day of May, 1883, is the most vividly memorable in the history of violent wind-storms in Clay county, when the Eel river bridge at Centennial Mills was totally demolished, and the Croft farm house, just across the county line, completely swept away, resulting in six deaths at these points. To escape the exposure to the coming storm in the open, several persons had taken shelter on the bridge, where there was also a team of mules hitched to a wagon. When the crash came, bridge and all were precipitated in common into the river. The mules disentangled themselves and went ashore with the wagon. John Moody was caught and wedged in between timbers, lying on his back, wholly unable to extricate himself, his mouth and nostrils barely above the surface of the water. In due time he was released by those who came upon the scene. John Kay and a man whose name is not remembered were killed. Clay City was directly in the path of the storm, but on the west side of the fair grounds, at the line between underbrush and open timber, it lifted and went over the town, partially unroofing the bank building and damaging several other properties. Beyond the town eastward it dipped into the timber, twisting off tops and limbs and before crossing the Owen county line had come down to terra firma. Just beyond the line it struck and lifted the Croft house (a large frame of heavy timbers) clean from the stone walls upon which it stood and scattered it "to the winds." Fred Pfiester and George Croft, young men, who had just come in and were on the porch, intending to go to the cellar, were caught up by the force of the storm center, carried high up into space, then hurled aside by the fury of the elements and precipitated lifeless at opposite points on the farm. Mrs. John Croft and Mrs. William Williams (sisters), who were on the top steps of the stairway leading into the cellar, were caught in the same way and at the same instant, but were dropped a few rods from the house, Mrs. Williams killed and Mrs. Croft so severely injured that she never recovered from the effects, dying some years later. The eighteen-months-old child which Mrs. Williams had in her arms at the time was picked up dead under the top of an apple-tree which had been uprooted. Fred Croft, a youth, who had been caught up and dropped but a little distance from the house, by hard struggling made his way to the barn, stripped of his clothing, with a broken arm, bruised and skin discolored to the point of being practically unrecognizable. In the cellar were John Croft (the father), Mrs. Halt, the mother-in-law, and four children, all of whom escaped. But the force of the storm had carried an empty flour-barrel from some place, both ends of which were out, and placed it over Mrs. Halt as completed as though done by friendly hands, without any injury to her. The hour of the cyclone's crossing the county was between 4 and 5 p. m. Before the close of the succeeding day, more than 50 percent of Clay City's adult population had been upon the scene of destruction on the Croft farm. It had to be seen to be believed. The suction force of the storm currents had lifted all the water out of the well. Chickens denuded of all their feathers lay scattered about the grounds. From a wagon standing aside on the barn lot one wheel had been wrested off and carried a distance away, the spindle showing a square cut, the other three wheels standing unmoved in their tracks. There were also other phenomenal sights in evidence of the freaks of the storm. Standing on the site of the buildings, which is elevated ground, and looking in the direction of Lancaster, the narrow track of the cyclone through the timber to the northeastward was plainly discernible. Many houses were damaged and some blown down at Lancaster. Of the latter was the Christian church, on the eastern border of the town, from the alter of which the Bible was lifted and lodged outside on a rail fence, where it was found but little injured, and open at the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew, where the destruction of Jerusalem is foretold and the Savior answers the question, "When shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world ?" This circumstance gave rise to considerable comment and speculation, the superstitious interpreting it to mean that the end of the world was near at hand. A bureau drawer from the Croft residence was picked up at a point seven miles distant, and bed-clothes, garments, etc., including a feather-tick, were found near Gosport, a distance of nearly twenty miles.
Two days after the storm, the Clay City Independent, in publishing a detailed account of its ravages, said that it had blown the tail from one of the horses at the Kline livery, which had been left exposed on the outside at the time. This was not believed at the time, but was, nevertheless, true. However, it was the tail of the wooden horse suspended in front as a sign.
It should be added that in the Croft garden was a bed of onions, through the middle of which was a narrow vacant space, on one side of which the onion-tops were wilted, lying flat on the ground, while on the other side none were in the least affected. A few days later Mr. Croft followed the track of the storm, finding his feather-tick between Quincy and Gosport, where it had dropped down into a front yard frozen as stiff as a board.
A history of Clay County, Indiana : closing of the first century's history of the county, and showing the growth of its people, institutions, industries and wealth, New York: Lewis Pub. Co., 1909, pages 386-387