Melrose Park, IL Tornado, Mar 1920

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The wind tore into the business quarter of Melrose Park, ripping roofs from buildings, shattering windows and piling the streets with debris.

The Church of the Sacred Heart was severely damaged. The church bell, weighing nearly a ton, was thrown 100 feet away.

The roof of the parish house adjoining was carried away and three nuns were injured by flying debris. Fire for a time threatened to add to the havoc, but the flames were confined to the wreckage.

Several Melrose Park houses damaged by the tornado were destroyed by fire Sunday night when gas from broken mains ignited. The town’s water supply had been cut off and water had to be pumped from wells.

All of the villages swept by the storm wore without fire protection. No electric current was available.

The Idaho Daily Statesman, Boise, ID 29 Mar 1920


Known Dead:
Melrose Park, 9:

Tulsa Daily World, Tulsa, OK 29 Mar 1920


In Melrose Park, Mr. and Mrs. STEIBEL regained consciousness to find themselves in their own basement with the adjoining house above them, resting upon the foundations.

Several houses were split in half one portion jumbled into a mass of splintery debris, the other portion standing firmly on its foundations, exhibiting its contents in cross section.

Orders to “shot and shot to kill” were given soldiers on guard against looters in Melrose Park today by CHARLES WILTZ, the village president.

CHARLES PETERSON was buried under the ruins of his house and spent the night at a hospital. This morning he left, declaring the storm had demolished his chicken house and he had to find his chickens.

Melrose Park a small residential suburb of Chicago lost eleven lives. More than 200 were without homes today. Every house standing sheltered wounded who had been dragged from the debris of seventy-five shattered buildings.

Over $410,000 of flour was scattered when a mill was destroyed. The flour lay inches deep in some parts of the streets.

In almost very place where building were wrecked the menace of fire followed. Torn gas connections and burning gas stoves in the wreckage contributed that danger.

The Fort Wayne News And Sentinel, Ft Wayne, IN 29 Mar 1920


The suburbs are practically under military law. Soldiers are guarding the Citizens State Bank of Melrose Park, in which all the windows were broken and the roof carried away. Colonel STUART, in charge of the troops, has issued orders to “shoot to kill” if looting is attempted.

As far as could be learned little tornado insurance was carried by residents of the storm areas and individual losses are heavy.

In Melrose Park and Wilmette fire further added to the havoc.

The New York Times, New York, NY 30 Mar 1920


Melrose Park tornado

The tornado may have been the same storm that devastated suburbs to the southwest and indeed a large funnel cloud was seen moving over the western suburbs for a long distance. The tornado which hit Melrose Park came to earth just north of Madison Street and just west of 25th street at the junction of the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin electric railway and the Chicago Belt steam railway.. The junction tower at that location was blown down and the gentleman working in it thrown out. From there the tornado moved quickly north northwest into Melrose Park. The public had no warning. The tornado continued northwest through the inner suburbs and then Chicago and when seen at Dunning at Irving Park Road near Central was large, wide and carrying everything but the kitchen sink in it including chicken coops. The tornado continued all the way to WIlmette (!) and then into Lake Michigan. Communications and weather expertise at the time was limited and there was no plan or protocol for informing the public a tornado was underway. At Wilmette the storm was still strong enough to suck a boy out of his second story bedroom window (!). Today the warnings would be out and the sirens blowing before anyone saw anything and cellphones would be speaking the word "Tornado."

Melrose Park Tornado

The storm completely devastated the community of Melrose Park. Ten of the fatalities occurred when the storm scored a direct hit on the Melrose Park Catholic Church and Convent, where people were getting ready for Palm Sunday services.