Peoria, IL Fearful Tornado Tears Through Towns, May 1858


The Peoria (Ill.) Transcript gives a vivid description of the recent fearful tornado in Illinois, as it swept over that place, where its power was severely felt. The hurricane commenced just before 6 o'clock in the afternoon, and lasted about three-quarters of an hour.
"For fifteen minutes previous to its commencement the sky was thickly overcast with dark green clouds, and the city presented a sombre and gloomy appearance, which seemed a foreboding of the terrible catastrophe that was so soon to overtake it. No breeze came from any quater, on the lake not a wave rippled, on the trees not a leaf fluttered. All nature seemed hushed, above, nought but a gloomy green, in the city, a solemn silence. In the midst of this scene a vivid blaze of lightning shot up apparently from every quarter of the horizon, and for three or four minutes was accompanied by no thunder. Suddenly, however, the city was shook by a loud and heavy clap, and instantly the hurricane commenced, sweeping through the city with terrible power from the West. With it came the rain in torrents. We never saw such a deluge of water. In less that three minutes the hailstones, as large as hickory nuts, commenced beating down like leaden bullets and the hurricane meantime increased in frightful power.
The scene was now terrible. Hundreds of chimneys in every direction were twisted off, and the bricks sent crashing through the streets and over on to neighboring roofs, large dry-goods boxes were picked up and hurled furiously through the air until they struck against some immovable object, awnings and signs were torn from their fastenings, boards, billets of wood, stones, brick -- everything movable, in short -- went flying through the streets and over and against buildings, boats at the wharf, becoming perfectly unmanagable, were tossed over the waves to the opposite shore and to sure destruction. For a moment the terrible gale seemed to have spent its fury, but it was only for a moment. Again it swept through the city, and this time with the sinews of a giant. Church steeples were snapped off and went crashing through the roofs, exposed frame buildings were fairly lifted from their foundations and crushed into a heap of ruins, roofs were torn up and shattered into fragments, and large brick buildings in process of construction were blown over upon the roofs of smaller adjoining buildings. With the pelting rain and hail, the vivid flashes of lightning, the terrific claps of thunder the roar of the hurricane and the noise of falling chimneys and buildings, the scene was one of great terror. At one time, when the gale was at its height, it really seemed as if the entire city would be laid in ruins."
Several steamers were blown across the lake and the lives of their occupants greatly endangered. A number of lives are known to have been lost upon the lake, and others are reported. MR. GEORGE A. BESEMAN, of Peoria, was sailing upon the lake with his family at the time, and his wife and four children -- three boys and one girl -- were lost. He was himself saved by accident, being discovered by some men who were in search of another party. When rescued he was nearly exhausted.

The New York Times New York 1858-05-26