St. Louis, MO Tornado, May 1896 - Cyclone Horror


Graphic Stories of the Awful Tornado--Path of the Cloud Demon


Loss of Life Over Five Hundred--Thousands Injured--Fire and Toppling Buildings Add to the Terror and Fright--Disasters on the River--Eads Bridge Partly Wrecked--Death at Liggett & Myers' Factory--Night and Day Accounts of the Cyclone Visitation.


St. Louis, May 28.--Death and destruction reign supreme in St. Louis and vicinity at 1 o'clock this morning as the result of the most terrible storm that ever visited this region of the country. So widespread is the destruction in both St. Louis and East St. Louis that it is impossible to estimate the amount of damage and the loss of life. Buildings of every description are in ruins and as a result hundreds of people are reported dead and injured. But until daylight comes and order is restored it will be impossible to make a definite estimate.

Reports are in circulation that seven steamers lying at the wharf boats on this and the East St. Louis side of the river have been sunk with all on board.

The city is nearly in darkness as the electric lights and trolley wires are down. With one or two exceptions all the street car lines in the city are at a standstill and thousands of people were compelled to stay on down town or walk home.

The storm broke at 3 o'clock in the afternoon after a most oppressively hot day and rain began to fall. It soon developed into a fierce thunder storm with winds from the east. A little later the wind had gained a velocity of eighty miles an hour, driving the rain before it and tearing loose signs, cornices, chimneys, and everything in its way. Many buildings of every description were demolished and set on fire by lightning and downed wires.

The fire department responded to fourteen alarms. The streets were full of people going home from work and a panic ensued as soon as the storm broke. Men were picked up and hurled against buildings, horses and carriages sent flying here and there, and falling wires full of deadly fluid added to the horror of the scene.

Suddenly the wind veered around to the west and completed the destruction. It is asserted by some of those who have traversed the down town part of the city, that there are but few buildings in St. Louis that have not suffered in some way from the storm.

The wagon way of the Eads bridge on the East St. Louis side is a crumbling mass of mortar and stone, and parts of the tower and pier No. 1 are also torn away. The roof of the Republican convention hall was blown off and twenty-foot sections of the western wall of the city yard are clear down, exposing the interior. It was during the exercise hours and the prisoners who were exercising in the building were panic stricken. They were too frightened to try to escape. Jailer Wagner was on the scene in a moment and with the aid of a number of detectives and policemen, the prisoners were placed in their cells.

Convention hall and the Four Courts were in the past of the cloud as it passed from the city hospital toward the river. Convention hall lost a part of the roof at the eastern end, was punctured in several places by flying timbers, and sustained some derangement of the interior. Ten days work and the expenditure of $5,000 will make the hall good again. A section of the brick wall of the jail went down, and the prisoners were panic-stricken.

In the district between Sixth street and the river and northward from Chouteau Avenue the tornado tore a diagonal path. The district comprises business houses, many of them of the older type. Every building within the path sustained damage. Smoke-stacks and chimneys were toppled over. Walls were leveled. Roofs were lifted.
Thousands of windows were smashed. Miles of telegraph and telephone wires were left in a network on the ground. Through this district the streets were impassable. They are covered in places with debris ten feet deep.

Along the Levee front the hawsers snapped and boats were sent adrift; some to go down, others to go ashore on the eastern bank. The loss of life which might have taken place at this point was averted by the hour at which the tornado came. A little later the excursion steamers would have been going out. None of them had left the wharf. One up-river passenger boat had gone an hour before, and, although not heard from, probably had passed beyond the path of the storm.