New Richmond, WI Tornado, Jun 1899 - Took Bark Off Trees

Took Bark Off Trees

Freakish Work of the Wind at New Richmond

Swept as by Flames

Path of the Storm Presents a Scene of Absolute Desolation -- Strange Escapes and Peculiar Incidents Recalled

(By Associated Press)

New Richmond, Wis., June 15. -- Words can give no adequate impression of what that cyclone of Monday night did to New Richmond. Racing up Willow river and the Omaha tracks from North Wisconsin Junction the maelstrom of the air seems to have deliberately chosen the center of New Richmond for the most fearful demonstration of its awful power.

Having mowed down two rows of residences on the west side of the track the great tornado wheeled to the east just at the precise moment when its progress would take it through the three or four blocks that comprised the business district of the town. In an inconceivably short time every structure in this district, frame or brick, low or high, was crushed tot he earth and the tornado had disappeared to the northeast after striking also the east side residence portion of the town. It rushed away from the village along the course of the winding Willow river, and as it left the south bank of that stream and the environs of the town it gave a parting expression of its wrath in the stripping of the bark and leaves and all the smaller limbs from such a fine grove of trees as it left standing.

Viewed from a commanding point the destruction is so complete, covers so large a territory and shows itself in so many forms that it is difficult to believe that the force of moving, whirling air was equal alone to the accomplishment of the task. The bare tree trunks suggest a fire, and yet, not being charred, a casual observer would know that the wind had not brought with it a mass of moving fire.

Entering the town from the south the storm covered about two blocks in width, and for about two blocks moved straight north on both sides of the Omaha tracks, but as the blocks on the west side were built up with rows of cottages, while those on the east were not occupied, the destruction is most noticeable there. Some thirty or forty houses, all frame, were dashed to the earth in a twinkling of the eye. They all have a flattened look, as if the force that demolished them had come straight down from the heavens. The roofs are broken to pieces and spread out over the foundations. Generally floors adhere to the foundations, but not more than one dwelling house on the west side in the center of the storm's path retained its shape. All the rest were utterly torn to pieces and pushed down into the earth. The street running north and south between these dwellings is entirely overcast with wreckage, but as the debris is deeper over the sites of the houses, the two rows of demolished structures look like two great swaths of houses cut down by some colossal reaping machine and thrown into irregular swaths by a hay rake that was more powerful than careful.

Contrasting with this appearance of having been crushed into the earth as if by some mighty tamping machine from above, are the very obvious results of forces that plainly exerted themselves upwards, circularly, spirally, and in fact, in every direction. Many of the trees have all their remaining limbs bent upwards and the bark was most often peeled from them from the roots upwards. Their poor stumps of limbs are the hanging places of a lot of miscellaneous rubbish, which varies from a costly piece of lace to a strip of tin roofing. Then, too, the myriads of small slivers, pieces of boards, planks, roofs of houses, bedsteads, trees, clothing, machinery and furniture, which are strewn everywhere, show how the tornado caught up objects of great weight, and how it tore them to pieces while it was grinding structures down into the earth.

When the great whirling cloud of death and destruction came upon New Richmond, Mrs. Wears, wife of the mayor, was on Main street. Before she thought of taking refuge the twisting, grinding, crushing, blasting storm struck down upon the town. In the fearful volleys of debris that rushed through the air and amid falling walls and buildings she crouched unharmed, not even bruised. On the right of her and on the left two men gave up their lives under pitiless blows from wind-propelled missiles.

In is a singuar [sic] fact that while there are many buildings in New Richmond which were not touched by the storm, all the business houses of the city have been completely wiped out. Not one remains. To make matters worse, total destruction overtook the electric light and water works and the city is left in the darkness and without water. This adds to the difficulty of prosecuting the work of recovering the remains from the ruins. The city also suffered a financial loss by the destruction of the Main street bridge across Willow river.

Of all the hair-breadth escapes that were recorded, none surpassed that of Miss Lottie Johns. She was standing in the front part of her father's store when the collapse came. A few minutes later, after the terrifying crash and a succession of blows which mad her think that her end had come, she found that she was in a sort of a cavity in the ruins, comparatively unhurt, and was quite able to crawl out without assistance.

Two pretty little Maltese kittens escaped from the ruins and were playing hide and seek all day yesterday while the dead were being taken from the ruins.

Of Mike Heffron's body nothing was found except some ashes which were lying with his suspenders.

The body of an unknown boy was so badly charred that, though the workers were near it all day and their eyes had rested on it many times, it was not until six o'clock last evening that it was recognized as a body and taken to the Catholic church.

There are many in the village who believe that when the waters are drained out of the mill pond it will be found that many persons were swept into it by the storm. It is conceivable that such is the case, for an immense amount of debris was deposited there. Nothing could be done yesterday in the way of search, because the river rose rapidly, and though the sluices in the dam were opened, the level of the mill pond was not lowered.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI 15 Jun 1899