Column: 'Gone with the Wind,' nearly literally, in '49A question came up, “What do you remember about October?”
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The straight, south wind was blowing 65 miles an hour. Maybe those were only gusts to 65 but they were sustained gusts, stretching through a minute or two. You could lean against the wind and feel that you wouldn’t fall; the wind tried to knock you over backward.
What do you mean, 65 mph winds?
Those were 80 mph winds; they clocked them at Mankato. Eighty mph? They were 85 mph; they clocked them officially at Minneapolis.
A question came up, “What do you remember about October?” Well, golden sun and blue sky. Azure sky, really, without a cloud. Colored leaves, falling leaves. Raking. Cornpicking. Apple picking. Apple pies and pumpkin pies. The most wonderful month of each year, ending with the Halloween celebration. Kids in masks and sheets. Tricks or treats.
There was that one October when the wind blew. There was a day (Oct. 10, 1949) that had no equal in these parts before or since. Worthington did not have weather equipment adequate for measuring such winds precisely. There was a finely-calibrated barometer at the municipal power plant along Lake Street. The power plant barometer fell to 27.34. I had to look this up. The Daily Globe reported, “Barometer readings in Worthington are the lowest in history.”
City workers stood along the beach beside the city dredge Shawano on Lake Okabena’s north shore. They calculated waves were five feet high.
There were funny things. Men’s hats and flat caps and feathery plumes from women’s hats blew here and there. A lawn covered with leaves at 8 a.m., a householder resigned to raking leaves when the day’s work was done. Then — noon — not a leaf to be seen.
There also was peril. Shingles flew through the air. Branches fell. Whole trees came down. This seemed to be a special problem at Windom where the report came that some streets were blocked.
In South Dakota, two men were killed by falling beams. At Minneapolis, a 60-ft. brick chimney toppled onto a wing of the Sheraton Hotel, trapping 20 persons. Two of them were taken to hospitals.
It was some day. It was Monday, a wash day. Some women pinned laundry on their clothes lines and then didn’t pay close attention. Towels and clothing and pillow cases flapped and lifted and fell.
There was sunshine and a fair sky. The day grew ever more strange as the sun followed its course. Leaves disappeared and in their place, here and there, corn husks and dried leaves from cornstalks began to drift.
Worthington still had its Gay Drive-in Theater on the east side. Of course photographers got pictures of the movie featured on the marquee: “Slattery’s Hurricane.” Scheduled next was, “Gone with the Wind.”
The list of woes across the area grew longer with the passing hours. The power line to Wilmont was down by 7:30 a.m. Wilmont had no electricity. By 2 p.m., 40 telephone lines were down at Worthington. Then the long distance lines began to fall. Daily Globe teletype machines began to type out only garbled, meaningless dispatches. Nobles County Co-op Electric linemen were out before noon repairing fallen lines and they still were at work at midnight when, at last, all was still.
By Tuesday morning it was evident that damage was serious and extensive. This was one of the early years of the European corn-borer infestation, and cornstalks were weakened. The wind brought them down. Whole fields lay flat. There was nothing to do but make plans for picking corn by hand — stooping and picking, going back 20 years.
One of Worthington’s busiest insurance offices reported 50 percent of all local policy holders filed claims by early Tuesday afternoon. Claims took many forms. Shingles were gone. Cars were damaged by falling trees and limbs. On farms, where windmills still were a common sight, an uncounted number of windmills bent or toppled completely. The whole east wall was torn from one barn north of Worthington. Outdoor advertising companies were near despair. Signs and billboards fell helter-skelter along scores of miles of highways all across South Dakota and Minnesota.
There was no record of another such day from times gone by. There has not been another day just like it since.
(Cross your fingers.)
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.